January 20, 2011

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Weekend... and Me

I have to start with a few apologies: first, for the serious lack of levity around here recently. I really do like to write about happy things too, and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to do more of that soon. Also, an apology to Judith Viorst, author of one of my favorite kids' books:
for borrowing her choice of words to describe my own plight. All weekend, it was the title of this book that was running through my head, as I kept asking myself, "how much worse can this really get?"
Right after lunch on Friday, I got a call from my mom. My grandmother had been in and out of the hospital for several weeks, struggling with numerous health issues which all boiled down to a single cause: cancer. She was diagnosed in the spring of 2008, at the very end of my sophomore year of college (Sorry, we seem to be working backwards here) Chemo was successful for a few years, and she fought her way into remission several times. Through it all, she lost her hair, her appetite, and her strength, but never let go of her sense of humor and a fierce determination to stick around. Just before Thanksgiving, though, her body started to give up -- she fell and broke her hip, dealt with intestinal problems, caught a bad case of pneumonia, and had to be "isolated" (visitors had to wear gloves and gowns) for a Vancomycin resistant infection. She seemed to be doing well despite these major setbacks, but as soon as I heard my mom's voice on the phone Friday I knew something was wrong. Her doctors think she had a stroke during the morning, and by the time I made it to the hospital that afternoon it was clear that she was uncomfortable and unhappy. As I sat there Friday evening, with my grandfather, my mom and stepdad, my aunt, and Dan, I was still amazed at how much my grandmother continued to laugh and smile with us, even through her pain. Leaving the hospital that night, I was hopeful that she would again be able to beat the odds and go home.
By Saturday morning, though, we knew that our time with my grandmother was running out. My uncle arrived from Florida very early that morning, and Grama's final words were to tell him that she loved him. When Dan and I arrived at the hospital later, the last of the family to get there that morning, she smiled at me and then, in a gesture I will never forget, looked right at Dan and winked. These responses were our final glimpse, and until she passed away Monday morning, she remained unresponsive, although we hope that she heard all the things we told her in her last days. Luckily, the hospital released her on Sunday to return "home" -- the Westminster Canterbury Retirement Community in our town. I am so thankful that she was able to leave the hospital and that my grandfather, my mom, and my aunt and uncle could be by her side when she passed away.
I am incredibly sad, however, that I was not there with her as well... but truly, I had a fairly good excuse. After spending basically the whole weekend in the hospital, I started feeling kind of icky Sunday evening. By midnight, that dreaded monster known as the flu had reared its big, ugly head and positioned mine, to put it delicately, just above the toilet. Too much information? Trust me, that's nothing -- I will spare you the really gory details. Suffice it to say that those were some of the longest hours I've ever lived through (and the most sleepless). I lost almost 10 pounds in approximately 24 hours... worst. diet. ever. The only good thing about these kinds of bugs, though, is that typically if you make it until morning the worst is over. My wonderful dad brought over a survival kit at about 10:30 the next morning, and oh my goodness gatorade has never tasted so good. I was achy for the rest of day, but that was positively delightful after all I had been through. All in all, a fitting end to a truly awful long weekend.
I don't feel that the real weight of my grandmother's passing has settled yet -- when my grandfather (on the other side of the family) died my senior year of high school, it took months for me to completely grasp the loss. As it did then, the realization that she is not here anymore hits me at odd times: doing the dishes last night, in the shower, and driving home from work. I went through a gazillion pictures yesterday (more of which would be included in this post if my scanner wasn't being a jerk) and loved seeing the ones of my grandmother with me as I grew up. She was without a doubt one of the most talented and inspirational women I have ever known: an intelligent lady who raised three wonderful kids, an excellent gardener, a skilled knitter, an incredible cook (I loved anything she made), a fantastic host, an avid reader, an able hiker, a world traveler and, perhaps most importantly, an extraordinary wife. She and my grandfather, married for over 60 years, were the most loving, faithful, and inspirational couple you could ever meet. My heart breaks for my grandfather, because I know that he is going to be so lonely without her.
Aren't they a cute couple?
I am missing her more than words already, but I know that I am lucky to have such wonderful memories of her life. I learned so much from her and hope that I can be half as determined, resilient, and happy as she has always been.
For now, I am just thankful that this miserable weekend is over, and hopeful that life will get better soon. I am anxious to write about happy things again soon!



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