This is a work in progress. I started writing shortly after my Grandma passed away in November. Most of the time, writing is cleansing and therapeutic for me. Words don't come as easily when emotions are so high. As I have moved along on my own path of grief and mourning, I have discovered that every one grieves differently. From losing someone so dear to me, I have gained strength from the comfort of friends and have been learning how to comfort others. I have learned that loss is a personal journey, but it does not have to be a lonely one.
I was still the unsuspecting owner of rose-tinted glasses in 1987 when the angels took my Pappy to Heaven. That’s how my Mom explained to us that he had left his physical body; the Angels took him to Heaven because God needed him there. As I tried to wrap my 6-year old brain around the idea that my Pappy, my self-appointed ‘best-friend’ was gone, the pink veil that separated me from the world began to lift. I was angry. God could have anyone; why my Pappy? My first enemy in life was the “eye in the sky”, the invisible Father of all fathers. The memory of my anger with God is comical to me now. I see a small girl with long, blonde hair, shaking an angry fist at the Heavens above. The caption reads: Show me my opponent.
Early this October, I had a dream about Grandma. It was a relatively normal dream; nothing about it was upsetting. It did make me think the following day that I had not talked to her in awhile, so I picked up the phone and called her.
She didn’t sound like herself at all. She seemed confused and slightly irritable. I told her I could call back later if she wanted to go back to sleep, or if she needed some coffee. After about ten minutes the line went dead. I assumed it was my cell phone that dropped the call, so I immediately called back. It worried me when I got her answering machine. She always has her phone with her and it was odd for her to not pick up right away. I called my mom and told her what had happened and she said she would go check on her. When my mom got there, Gram was in quite a state of confusion. She was trying to put her pants on over her shoes. After she drank two glasses of chocolate milk at my Mom's request, Gram’s confusion started to lift. They tested her insulin and found that even after she drank the chocolate milk, her sugar levels were still extremely low.
Grandma giggled later when I talked to her. She laughed, “I couldn’t figure out WHY the phone was ringing while I was talking to you.” I laughed with her and then gently scolded her for giving us such a scare. Later, I scolded myself for not thinking of her blood sugar being low when she sounded so confused. My Mom’s voice echoed in my head, “I’m glad you called me, Zigzee. I don’t think she would have made it if you hadn’t thought to call me.”
October 10th, 2010 was the last time I hugged my Grandma and she was able to hug me back. Tim and I visited with her for a short time. She hugged me so tightly before I left and said, “I love you Megan Marue”. I guess that it is best that we don’t typically torture ourselves with thoughts like, “Will this be the last time I see you?” And so I smiled when I said, “I love you too, Gram. See you later alligator.”
October 14, 2010 was the last time I talked to my Grandma (that she was able to talk to me as well). It was her 83rd birthday. I called to wish her well and to make sure she received her flower delivery. She had a house full of people and she sounded very tired, so I kept the conversation short. We said our “I love you’s” and hung up.
October 15, 2010 I woke up to find a voice mail from my Mom. “Grandma went to the hospital last night by ambulance. She was having a hard time breathing…I’ll update you when I know more…Love you.”
I wanted to go see her that weekend, but Tim and I were both stuffed up and didn’t want to expose her to our germs. At some point during the weekend, they got her oxygen levels back up and things were starting to look better. The doctors were optimistic that she would be able to go home soon. I almost called her. I should have called her. I talked myself out of it (She needs her rest.)
October 20, 2010 I was laying in bed trying to convince myself that all I had to do was put both feet on the floor and then the rest of the day could start. Just as I sat up, I saw my phone glowing across the room. The volume was off, but I could tell someone was calling me. Early morning phone calls have a way of setting the mood for the rest of the day; as I approached my phone and saw, “Mom calling” lighting up on the screen, I took a deep breath and answered.
“Hi Dearie…” I began running for the back door as she started talking. Tim had just left moments ago; all I could think about was getting to him before his car pulled out of the driveway. My mom was saying things to me. “Grandma stopped breathing….Your Ungle Wege thinks this is it….ICU…ventilator…” The cold pavement barely registered on my bare feet as I yelled for him to stop. “Please, don’t leave me.”
Butler Memorial Hospital: ICU
As the elevator doors opened on the 5th floor at Butler Memorial Hospital, my eyes were greeted by a sea of familiar faces. As I made my feet move forward and got closer to the faces I saw that every set of eyes was rimmed in red.
The details of Grandma’s stay in ICU are beginning to fade now; the numbers on the screens, the web of tubes connecting her to machines and all that medical jargon are mixed together in a meaningless lump of bad memories .
It’s a blessing to forget those things; knowing too much about it now would only add to the “shoulda-coulda-woulda” section of the mind, which only serves to cause more detours on the highway of Grief. There are many detours as it is: Denial Street (She’ll pull through; she always does.), Guilt Alley (I should have visited her more often), Bargaining Boulevard (Dear God, if you get her out of this coma…), Anger Avenue (the doctors should have…), Reflection Road, which leads to Depression Cul-de-Sac (All these memories at the end of the road).
The moments stand out; it’s cliché but true. I was nervous when I walked into her room. My aunt, Mary Ellen, was in there. “Talk to her, Ziggy. She can hear you.” She left the room then to give me some time alone with Gram. I approached her cautiously. The hum of life-support filled the room; complete silence would probably have been worse. Someone had placed one of her favorite blankets over her; it was a cozy, angel-print fleece.
“It’s ‘me’, Gram.” Oh wait, she can’t see who ‘me’ is… Can she recognize my voice? Let’s try this again…
“It’s your Megan MaRue…I’m going to hold your hand…Can you squeeze my hand if you’re awake?”
No squeeze. Stop shaking… Don’t cry… Don’t upset her if she can hear you… Don’t feel sorry for yourself; she’s the one who can’t breathe on her own… Be strong. This voice kept me in line for most of her stay in the hospital.
I made the hour-long drive to and from the hospital almost every day while my Grandma was in ICU. Of course I was welcome to stay with my parents or Tim’s parents, but I wanted to be at home. Home. I reflected a lot on what defines “home”. The house I live in now is a cozy, 2-bedroom rental in Clarion. Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly Tim and I have filled up this house with the things that make it our place. But those things are not what make this place home.
When Tim lived in a small apartment in Akron, I would make a 2-hour drive to see him after work just about every other Friday. I was usually tired and admittedly cranky by the time I got to him. My husband has this amazing, built-in, make-Megan-happy feature. (I don’t believe this is the standard model of husbands). In Ohio, in Clarion, in the beach house in North Rodanthe where we were married—we have always had our deepest conversations in our special “conference” room, our bed. Usually, the conference begins with me collapsing in defeat after a long day or bad news. Occasionally, Tim will already be in the conference room, and I’ll barge in and declare a meeting is in session by waking him with a “good morning” song or by placing my cold feet on his warm body. He always laughs as he says, “You’re so mean!”
Home is the way his face lights up when he gets me to smile (sometimes I’m a tough customer). Home is the no-strings-attached-back-massage I get while he listens to me talk about my day. Home is Tim telling me, “I have big shoulders, baby” and me knowing that it’s true as he wraps his arms around me and the challenges in life don’t seem so difficult.
As it became more and more clear that my Grandma was not going to go “home” from this hospital stay, I wondered if she was tired of going to that place after over 20 years without her husband. How many mornings did she wake up, expecting him to be there, only to be reminded that he was gone?
The first day I went to see Gram in ICU, I brought a picture with me, her “movie star” photo is what I always called it. This photo was taken of my grandparents on their wedding day. The split sleeves on my grandma’s dress were a new style. Every time I would dig up that photo in her albums, she would tell me the same story. I never stopped her; in fact, I loved hearing the story each time she told it. I think she fancied herself a plain-jane in a lot of ways, and so she seemed to relish the scandalous nature of her dress (and she married a Catholic!). She would start, “You know, that dress was the style. When MY father saw that dress he said, “Louis couldn’t wait for the wedding night? Did he rip your dress?!’” Then she would chuckle and her grey-blue eyes would light up at the memory.
"I brought your photo, Gram. You know, the movie-star photo." I had to catch my breath. I felt so stupid; she couldn't even open her eyes. She squeezed my hand. There it is; Hope.