Sitting Vigil: Holding a Hand at the End
The truth is, I spend far too much time on the computer. I search for images, articles and interesting tidbits to share. While I do my best to step away from the world of social media when I can, the ping of status updates, new emails, and the lowly lure of my turn of online games tempts me more than I would like. Over the last week, I have been distracted from writing, sharing, and caring about that world though. My grandmother is dying and these could be her last days. My task: sitting vigil at her bedside.
The end of life is never easy or pretty. As my grandmother’s days wane, the family has had to step up on caregiving duty. The challenge is no one is immediately nearby: she lives 1 1/2 hours from me and 1 1/2 hours from my sister in the other direction. Of her three daughters, one lives in BC, the other is currently in Florida, and the third is closer to home, but set to leave on a trip in a few day’s time. We have taken turns sitting at her bedside, but as of next week burden of care will be shared between my sister and I until she returns. And there is nothing I can do about that, but be thankful that I am able to.
It’s not the first time I have had to deal with serious illness. My husband was sick with cancer for 2 1/2 years before he passed away. I was on constant vigil then, plus had two children under 3 years when he died. This time is different, but brings back hard memories of those difficult days. And as much as my grandmother is 94, has dementia, and has had a long and full life, it’s still hard to sit beside someone wondering how many breaths are left to them. Each rattling gasp could be the last. Or could give her the strength to open her eyes for one more day, week, month, or year. There are some people who survive well into their 100s. Will she be one of them? Or will I be making arrangements with the funeral home within the week?
When I sat by my grandmother’s bedside in hospital a week ago, I held her thin, gray hand. Her eyes occasionally fluttered, but consciousness was fleeting at best. The ding from her IV pole when the tubing pinched shot me back almost nine years to when an alarm sent my husband over the edge and I lost what little was left of him. It is not pretty. But it is a part of life. This is death. Rather the hard process of dying. There are no rules, timelines, or guides to help you plan your life around. It is one day at a time and there is nothing to be done, but wait to see what tomorrow brings. Today, I needed to unpack that.
I love my grandmother and wish her only the best. At present, I wonder what the best is. Should she let go her tentative hold on this universe to move on to the next? Do I beg her to stay to satisfy my greedy need of holding her lifeless hand once more? The choice is hers. I have told her that in whispered tones, as silent tears trickled down my cheeks. I wish her no more pain. Her better self will always live in my memories of baking bread, walks on pebble-littered beaches, and fishing in the wide-open expanse of the ocean. She will always be the baker of the best cookies, the one that kept her household running, and a soul who loved me generously and for always.
This post has nothing to do with grammar, writing, social media, or business. It has everything to do with life and allowing it to touch us, hold us, and carry us forward to tomorrow. My grandmother might not be here for much longer, but I will sit by her bedside holding her hand as long as I can. And when her hand is gone, she will own her place in my memory forever more with love.
Love you Grammy
March 8, 2016 @ 10:11 am
Wow! What an amazing post. I totally get what you’re saying about reminders because, as you know, we share similar memories of our husbands being sick and in hospital and dying (how else can you say it). You are kind and brave. I really admire you. Your grandmother is lucky to have you by her side to help her on her journey. XO
March 8, 2016 @ 11:17 am
You do it because you have to, because you can, and because you would want someone to do the same for you if the roles were reversed. It’s not easy, as you well know Suzanne, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can. Being here is the least I can do for a woman who deserves to know she is loved