In the last week, I witnessed a life being reduced to a box first-hand. The day after Thanksgiving, I was horseback riding when I got the text that my grandma was in the hospital. She had been in the hospital before, so I figured this was no different (I think most of us in the family felt this way). She was 83 and on dialysis, but certainly didn't have any issues that would have made us think she would be leaving us any time soon. A couple of hours later, it became clear that this time was different. It took almost 7 hours to get off the mountain and drive to the hospital but I made it. My grandma was surrounded by family. She had an oxygen mask on but was not technically on life support. The doctors were very frank with us. While we looked at her laying in the bed, kind of out of it, but still responding when we talked to her, we couldn't comprehend what they were telling us. She had hours left, maybe a day or two, but that was it. That can't be possible.
On Facebook, I referred to her as Sassy Grandma. My brother and his wife moved in to give her round-the-clock care a year or more ago. She was able to walk but had fallen a couple of times and it seemed important to keep her in her own home as long as possible. We watched my poor Great Grandma Ruby (arguably the sweetest person in the world) suffer when she lost her independence, so the longer we could keep my Grandma Myers in her home, the better. When my brother and his wife needed a break, some of the family stepped up to help (probably not nearly as much as we should have now that I look back). My Grandma was always slightly grumpy, but she got super sassy as she got older and had more pain. So I called her Sassy Grandma. I think she actually had a little following on Facebook as I would talk about all the funny things she would say.
So, back in the hospital room, the doctor tells us that once the oxygen mask is removed, it would probably only be 10-15 minutes before she would pass. It was slightly frustrating that the doctors weren't more caring, as she couldn't communicate well but seemed to be understanding everything that was being said in the room. All of my Grandma's sons were out of state when she was taken to the hospital, so we were hoping to get everyone there before she passed. One uncle came from Idaho and was there by around 9 PM. The other came from visiting my dad in Texas, and was there by around 10 PM. My dad was still in Texas and hoping to come the next day. We were also conferring with her brother in Thailand. Once the doctor mentioned that she would pass after the mask was removed, she started trying to push the mask off. I think she knew. The mask came off sometime around 11 PM. Her entire family, save a couple of people who couldn't travel that far in time, surrounded the bed. We cried. We said our good-byes. We waited. Without the mask, she was so much more at peace. Her breathing was slow and ragged, but she didn't pass immediately. We waited until around 1:30 AM, then we decided to go get some rest. We stayed up until 2:30, just talking about how fast this happened and how we were in disbelief, and still somehow holding out hope that she would wake up in the morning and yell to get her out of that damn hospital! We finally went to bed but received the call at 4:45 AM that she was gone. We got dressed and went to the hospital to say our final good-byes.
I have seen dead bodies before. When I was 9 or 10, I was at a Great Grandmother's funeral and I touched her hand. It was so cold and I was scarred from it. My Grandpa Myers passed in 2000, my Grandpa Last in 2003, and my Great Grandma Ruby also in 2003 (among others). But there was something about being involved in the process of helping her pass into the next life that was comforting. I was sad. I cried. But I was relieved. I know she was in pain. She had been going through dialysis and it was taking its toll on her body.
Anyway, I wasn't planning to write all of that, but apparently I needed to get it out. My Grandma passed early Saturday morning. The funeral was Wednesday. In those days between, we all had jobs to do. Plan the funeral. Order flowers. Write the obituary. Enlarge a photo and get a frame for the funeral. Do a slideshow. I had four external drives filled with photos. It took me several hours to go through. My Grandpa took thousands of photos (I guess that's where I get it from...I've heard he's my Guardian Angel). We went through photo albums -- and kind of enjoyed talking about old stories. I actually took those photo albums with me. I have three large storage bins filled with those albums. Eventually I'll figure out how to get them scanned to share with my family.
I thought it would be nice for the grandchildren to wear pieces of our Grandma's jewelry to her funeral. So we went through her drawers and boxes. It felt like such a violation. Even though we were told to do it, it felt wrong. At the same time, it was another walk down memory lane. We found photos and other items that reminded us of our childhood. We opened up a cedar chest that included newspaper clippings from back in the 1970's. It seemed to be a lot of stuff my Grandpa found interesting and important. We found a box of my Great Grandma's things -- many of them things I was surprised my Grandma kept. But then I realized, that was her mom and I'm sure it was hard to throw anything away. Here was this tiny box with all of the memories of my Great Grandma Ruby.
The last week has been one of the most sad, tiring and stressful, yet, strangely, one of the happiest I've had in a long time. No one gets together after you pass to talk about the bad times. You remember the good and the happy times. In death, we all deserve that respect. I was surrounded by my entire family and we got to remember all of the amazing people who helped make us who we are. However, every time I found a box with a deceased loved one's belongings, I couldn't help but think how sad it is that our lives are reduced to the contents of a box.
I realized life is too short for jobs we hate, friends who backstab us or activities we don't enjoy. I feel like some changes are coming for me. And, someday when I pass, I hope that my box is filled with interesting things that make my family smile and remember the good times. I hope that you are filling your box with love and fun as well!
Rest in peace, Sassy Grandma. I know that you loved us and we love you too. I am grateful that you're with Grandpa. And I can't wait to see you again.