Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fifteen years is a long time, but sometimes, it feels like it was yesterday

It was a Monday.  We received a call from the nursing home and the nurse on the other end told us she wasn't doing well. I immediately went there and found her gasping for breath. She had an oxygen mask which covered most of her face.  It was difficult to imagine what she was like several years prior - still a spry, spunky, independent woman. The last three years had certainly taken their toll. Her body was visibly smaller from the weight loss she experienced.  Her face drooped on the right side, as did her other right extremities. It had been two years and six months since I had heard her speak a word to me. Sure, we communicated, mostly with her head nods and I often just knew what she was wanting or needing; but we hadn't had a verbal conversation for two and a half years.  Strokes aren't forgiving, strokes aren't relenting and strokes do not discriminate.

Soon after I arrived she woke up. She made motions with her left arm making half moon swoop towards the ceiling.

After a series of absurd questions ranging from, "Do you want to go outside?" and "Do you want to go to the hospital?" to "Is the room too cold?"  my mother and I both asked her, "Do you see something there?"

She adamantly shook her head yes.

More random questions continued.

Her frustration grew. She started pointing at a photo frame that had photos of all the family. You know the kind, those that have the different shaped cutouts in the mat. In a medium sized oval was a photo of her son who had passed on three years prior. It was that single event that I truly believe was a catalyst to her stroke.

"Mothers should never have to bury their children," she told me on the day of my uncle's funeral. "I was supposed to go first. Not any of them!"

Eight months later, she was in the hospital paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak after a blood clot blocked a major vessel in her brain.

She continued to point at the frame, frustrated, tired and afraid. I can't even begin to imagine what it was like to be in your right mind, have 100% of the cylinders firing for conscious thought but have no ability to speak words and communicate verbally.

We finally asked the question, "Do you see him?"

She nodded her head and burst into tears with what little energy she had left.

"He's here, now?"

Again, she confirmed that he was, indeed, there. Her son. Her oldest son.  She then did a wide, swooping motion with her arm. A HUGE half-moon towards the ceiling.

"Are they all here?"

Softly, with tears in her eyes, she nodded. Her family had come for her.  She wept. My mother and I wept.

I think many would have dismissed these events as psychological breakdown during the dying process. I think many would say that due to the congestive heart failure her brain was slowly dying due to deprivation of oxygen which caused hallucinations and delusions. Perhaps, for them, that is the best explanation for events of these types. For me, I had seen it far too often.

After my grandmother had the stroke and after she had gone in the nursing home, I decided I wanted to be a nurse. Immediately after high school I enrolled at a branch of WVU as a pre-nursing major. A friend of my mother spoke to her about me training as a hospice aid. I jumped at the chance and soon I was working with cancer patients, aids patients - individuals that were terminally ill with less than three months to live. Honestly, it was the most rewarding job I have ever had.  Needless to say, I saw a lot of deaths as an 18 year old college freshman.  It wasn't uncommon for these events from "the other side" to happen during the active dying process.

I truly believe it was my destiny to do that work. It was training for the event that was about to take place. Without that training, without the greater understanding of death, which I had been given by witnessing the dying dance time and time again, I'm not sure I would have been able to handle the grief that was about to be handed to me.

I knew what my grandmother was seeing was real.  I stroked her head, softly cried, and told her to go with them. They were there to take her home.

More events took place throughout the night as I sat by her bed, listening to the soft mechanical hum of the oxygen machine and humidifier. Some were signs sent to me from above to comfort me. Some were signs sent to comfort her and lead her home. I am forever thankful I received and saw those signs the night of May 6, 1996.

The next morning, upon arriving home for a quick shower, the phone rang. My grandmother had passed away fifteen minutes after I left her bedside. It was clear that it was too difficult for her to let go with me there, pulling her to stay on this earth with just my presence; while they all gathered around her, encouraging and comforting her to go with them.

On May 7, 1996 I lost my grandmother. She was like a second mother to me. I miss her each and every day. Tomorrow, May 7, 2011,on the fifteenth anniversary of my grandmother's death, I will walk to accept my A.A. degree marking the halfway point to my R.N. degree.

I know she will be there with me.


  1. Congrats on finishing your degree! I completely believe that those we've lost watch over us, and your grandmother will certainly be with you tomorrow, proud as can be. ♥

  2. That was a truly moving story. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your degree. You are making your grandma a very proud angel. :)
    Debra Deal