My grandmother died in August 2009. She had been very sick for a long time, and when it came time, her insides were eating her, slowly shutting down one by one. It was time. I remember how swollen she was; she had always been a slender woman, and in her later years her skin had become delicate and paper-like. The woman on the bed before me didn’t seem like my grandmother at all, a red, swollen, Gramma-shaped creature.
This is her in December 1987. I am the baby on the left, saluting.
We all arrived at the hospital to say goodbye, and to watch her die. My grandfather told us that someone had to hold her hand at all times, so that she wouldn’t feel alone. I replied that hearing is actually the last sense to go, and so talking to her would be better. Grampa snapped at me for being so cold. I felt stung and walked away sulking, but I know now why he snapped at me.
She died surrounded by her family; her husband, her two children, their spouses, several of her grandchildren. Unable to come up with words, we took turns reading the Bible aloud. When all of our voices gave out, we sat in silence, watching her chest rise and fall, less and less and less.
Two hours had passed.
Gramma’s chest rose.
Gramma’s chest fell.
Mom stood up.
Gramma’s chest didn’t rise.
“Sit down,” Katie hissed.
Mom sat down, but Gramma’s chest didn’t rise again. Gramma was gone.
Most of James’ family did not attend our wedding. They live several hours away and have small children, so it made sense. We invited them, but didn’t expect them to attend. But at the last minute, several of the Yesses on his side of the family dropped out. Even one of his groomsmen cancelled. James’ grandfather was dying, and most of them felt it was more important to say goodbye to him than to see James married. Which made sense. If we weren’t getting married that weekend, James probably would have gone to see his grandfather as well.
This is one of the few members of his paternal side that was able to attend. Almost everyone else from James’ side that attended was from his maternal side.
My grandfather’s girlfriend also wasn’t able to attend. She was still recovering from surgery. In fact, she’s still in recovery. We were able to see her the next day after the wedding though, which was wonderful, because she’s a lovely human being.
James’ grandfather died while we were on our honeymoon.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in a public setting ever, but James’ mother has been in and out of the hospital for the past four years. It was a trial for her to be able to attend our wedding. But James is her only son, goshdarnit, and Deb was bound and determined to attend.
Deb was admitted to the hospital while we were on our honeymoon.
She ordered everyone not to tell us because she didn’t want to disrupt our honeymoon. We found out as soon as we came back.
Today, her spasms returned with a vengeance. We spent five hours in the hospital with her today, doing what we could to ease her pain. She took a strong painkiller, but she was too tense to have it actually work. She panted and squirmed and shook on the bed. We helped her with her bedpan. I waved a magazine, hoping to cool her down. We helped her drink water through a straw. James helped bend her legs at the knee, hoping to ease the tension. It didn’t. Nothing helped. For five or more hours, Deb could do nothing but sweat and writhe in pain on the hospital bed.
I took a break and got some coffee from the Starbucks downstairs. I did a crossword puzzle. I watched Deb gasp into the phone that she wanted a strawberry milkshake for dinner. The nurses arrived to try to get a liquid painkiller in her, so we left and sat outside the room. We listened as the nurses struggled to get an IV in her, but she couldn’t stop shaking. I worked some more on the crossword puzzle, sipping the coffee and trying to think of something, anything.
James drank some water. The nurses were gone. I didn’t want her to be left alone, so I came back into the room.
I looked down at Deb. She gasped and shook with pain. The spasms were much less violent, but they were still there, and they were still painful.
“They should put you on some knockout gas,” I said.
Deb chuckled. “They should,” she said.
Then a strange look crossed her face.
“It’s gone,” she whispered.
Then she closed her eyes and went still.
I thought, Oh my god she’s dead. Oh my god I killed her.
But a quick look showed that her chest was rising and falling. She was fine. She was just asleep.