I got the call yesterday. My grandmother, who usually tried to help take care of herself at the nursing home, suddenly became very lethargic and had no interest in anything. They couldn’t get hold of my aunt or uncle. I was next on the list to notify before they called an ambulance to take her to the emergency room.
Two hours later I got another call that my grandmother might not make it through the night. So we got in the car and drove to see her one last time.
My grandmother did not respond to our voices. They carted her off for tests soon after we arrived, which gave me a chance to talk to my aunt and uncle some more. Granny’s eyes opened as the doctor confirmed that her organs were failing, but she didn’t really look around or even blink. I wonder what was going on in her head and on what level she was aware of the things going on around her.
I remembered how warm my grandmother would say my hands are in church. So I paused to hold her hand one last time. My daughter and I stood in the room a few more minutes, talking with my aunt and uncle and saying a few last words to Granny. Then I gave her a hug and we had a quiet ride home.
I don’t know how to describe the feeling when I woke up this morning and learned that my Granny passed away. I am thankful that we got to see her one last time and there isn’t really any point in being sad. She was breathing differently but did not appear to be in any distress last night. She was ready. She made it clear years ago that she has already lived her life and more. She raised her kids and helped with her grandkids and great-grand. She even got to meet some of her great-great grandbabies! She was a nurse, a neighbor, and an active member of her church. But these last few years were hard as she experienced the heartache of losing one of her kids and as her body and mind were deteriorating fast.
Is there regret?
I thought of the times that I could have called my grandmother on the phone or went to see her through the nursing home window. (covid restrictions) I didn’t call much because I didn’t know if it would cheer her up or make her sad, but I did know it would be awkward for me when she asked for things that were beyond my control. I didn’t make the trip to the nursing home because of an injured leg that I hoped would heal before I drove or rode that far.
My daughter and I have dentist appointments near the nursing home next week. I thought we would see her then. I debated if we should settle for seeing Granny through a glass window or exaggerate our exposure level so we could get tested for COVID to see her in person. A moral dilemma that I no longer have to face. But I have to say, it really stinks that I can’t visit a nursing home without a COVID test and I cannot get a COVID test without saying that I have reason to believe I am sick. I am not opposed to being tested before I enter a nursing home. But it doesn’t make sense that you would either have to let yourself be exposed or lie to get the test to prove that you are safe to visit.
So do I have regrets?
Life is full of decisions, both good and bad. There are times I could have done better for my grandmother. But I did what I could to help her stay home a few more years after being diagnosed with dementia. Last year she officially reached the point where it was too much. We decided to let her stay home until she got sick enough for a hospital stay. Then we would have another look at nursing homes.
My grandmother managed to stay out of the hospital until COVID-19 became a threat. Then in April, she had a stroke that affected her personality more than anything else. We didn’t want to send her to a nursing home in the middle of a pandemic, but she needed more help than I could provide without sacrificing my own family’s needs.
The Take-Home Lesson
It has been four years since my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. We knew that she was headed for a nursing home. I never thought we would be able to keep her at home as long as we did. I imagined myself making regular trips to take her on outings or sit and keep her company. But we didn’t get to do those things. I hope to be more attentive the next time a loved one has to leave their home.
These last four years of helping my grandmother deal with dementia have shown me just how human she is. She admitted to thoughts and fears that I never knew she had. I learned of her strengths and her insecurities. And I was reminded how important it is for a person to know they are useful and important.