Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hold a Good Thought, Please

Can you do me a favor? I need you to hold a good thought for my dear friend. He flew home yesterday to say good-bye to his father. The radiation therapy didn't help the tumor. In fact, where there was one, now there are two. He's in hospice. He says he's talked to people who have already passed. He asks for his son, my friend. He is waiting for him to say good-bye.

There is a process to dying. Signs that alert the watchful that the time is drawing near. In a sense, it is a blessing. To know, to be there, to sit and hold your loved one's hand as they cross over.

And it's the hardest thing to do. I've been there.

Many of you know that my father passed away when I was 19. I wasn't there when he died. And I am not able to share that story with you now. It's too heavy, too complicated, too much to unearth. Maybe another day...

Next month will mark 4 years since my grandmother passed away. She spent her final days in hospice, surrounded by her family. All 6 of her children. All 16 grandkids. That was her favorite thing- to be with her family. It was such a gift to her, for everyone to be there to say good-bye. To laugh and share stories. To kiss and hold her hand. I think she held on for so long because she didn't want to leave us- our rowdy energy, our hopeful futures. All the moments ahead of us, without her.

My grandmother was an amazing woman. Polite, classy, kind, loving, forgiving and generous. My sister and I were quite close with her and had made a point of listening to her stories so that she was not just a grandma in our eyes, but a woman who had lived a full life with integrity, bravery and character. She loved so many things- like a good stiff drink at cocktail hour, Lawrence Welk and dressing up in costume for Halloween. She was quietly stoic and quick to laugh and cry.

It had been a few days since she had eaten. The morphine helped ease any pain. We sat in vigil at her bedside, even though she hadn't spoken in a day. We knew she could still hear us, even if she couldn't respond. We'd retell old funny stories, letting our laughter fill up the emptiness in our hearts. We'd brush her hair and bring a moist sponge to wet her dry lips. We'd tell her we love her and hold her hand. Time travels differently in the light of such loss. Minutes feel like hours. The days creep on- torn between wanting the suffering to end and not wanting to say good-bye. I would try to go to work but couldn't concentrate- what is more important than being there?

I was able to spend some time alone with my grandmother when my aunt and mom went to get some dinner. It had been another long day. I pulled a chair close to her bed and took her hand in mine. I told her it was me. I told her I was going to sing her her favorite song and apologized ahead of time for screwing it up. With a voice cracked with emotion, I began, "Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby..."and as I sang, tears streaming down my face, I heard her hum. She was humming the song along with me. "Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me..."And she squeezed my hand as I sang, "If happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow, why, oh why can't I?"

Crying, I said, "Grandma, it's okay if you need to go. I will take care of mom. I promise. Will you say hello to my dad for me?" In a hoarse whisper she said, "Ok." I was trying not to sob when I said, "I love you Grandma." She turned her head a bit towards me, without opening her eyes and managed to say, "I. . .love you, too." I kissed her on the cheek and told her to rest. I let go of her hand with a final squeeze and walked out of the room.

She never spoke again. She passed away the following night.

That moment with my grandmother was priceless. I carry it with me, knowing that she is with me all the time. I wasn't able to be there for my father when he passed on but somehow, being there with my grandmother soothed that regret. As painful as it was to see her go, I am so grateful I was there.

As I think about my dear friend, his father, their journey, my heart is full of emotion. I can only hope that their final moments together brings them each peace.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

i almost cried in your office, and i am crying now. we should all be so lucky as to be loved so well.

- jules

Mo-Pie said...

It sounds like your grandmother was a very nice person. I'm glad you got to have that time together with her before she past. It sounds like your friend will have a good friend to talk with about his father. I will say a prayer for them, also for your grandmother to keep her eye on you, which I'm sure she will.

Thanks for sharing your story, very touching. I'm sure you feel better, letting it all out.

God Bless.

Neil said...

I'm sure you'll carry those memories of your grandmother always. I send good thoughts to your friend.

Kris said...

What a beautiful memory. I consider it an honor to have been present bedside in a hospice when my grandfather left this world. Those are things no one can ever take from us.

I am thinking of you and your friend now!

AJ Gentile said...

My thoughts and prayers to your friend. What a wonderful story.

I'm calling my parents and my grandmother right now because of you.

Sizzle said...

jules- sorry to make you cry. :( though, the tears remind us, right? so it's not entirely bad...

mo-pie- thanks for that. i do feel better.

neil- appreciate the thoughts. :)

kris- "no, no they can't take that away from me..." exactly.

aj- aw, that's sweet. good! :)

Bill said...

I'm sending good wishes and hopes out to your friend. Your post actually has me wondering why I've never made myself sit down and write a few things about my parents and grandparents, all of whom are gone now, but worth a bit of scribbling on my part.

I don't have any of those final moments such as you had with your grandmother. But I have other moments. It's curious how time, as it passes and removes you from the moment of passing, allows other memories to take their place. I find when I remember those people now, their passing isn't the first, second or even third thing I remember. Those memories are actually way down the list.

Everyone is different, and we remember in our own way, but for me, when I remember (especially my mother and father) the things I remember most are the things that, when I recall them, almost have me peeing my pants. Like the time one Christmas when my mother almost set me and the house on fire as she passed me a basket of warm buns through lit candles. (You had to be there, I suppose.)

Or the time my sister and cousin almost diced and sliced my father and I with kitchen knives thinking we were marauding sex maniacs who had broken into the house (my father crying out, "For chrissake, you're trying to kill your own damn father! Damn!") (My sister and cousin had been watching a slasher movie and my father and I had come home from somewhere. Again, I guess you had to be there.)

Anyway, what's most interesting to me now is how I see myself as a unique individual yet also as a kind of distillation of the people my parents and grandparents were. It may sound sappy but the fact is we lose people but somehow never lose them. Figuring out what we keep of them sometimes takes time though. I'm still figuring it out.

gorillabuns said...

death and dying is such a strange concept for the living. I lost my grandmother 3 1/2 months ago. you brought back the flood of emotions of sitting by her side when she finally passed.
i will say a prayer for your friend. It's such an honor to be with a loved one when they pass but it's also so heartbreaking witnessing the passing of a soul that you can't see or call. anymore.

Sizzle said...

bill- i loved hearing your stories. thanks for sharing. :)

gorillabuns- it is an honor, i agree. difficult but worth it.

thanks everyone for thinking of my friend and his father. i know he appreciates it. as do i...

Her Daddy's Eyes said...

Wow...just wow.

~Eyes

Jenny said...

i was interviewing someone this morning and somehow we got on the subject of life and death and how we need to cherish every moment. i couldn't believe this was coming out of a mans mouth...but how great to hear it! and i was talking about JB and his dad and i almost started crying in the interview.

i only met your grandma a couple of times, but what i did experience was how sweet she was with you and your sister and how much she truly loves(d) you. sizzle, thank you for sharing such a sweet memory with us.

Bex said...

this post made me cry. i'm holding a good thought.

sue said...

Oh, Sizzle... this is so beautiful. You got me with Somewhere Over the Rainbow - it has special meaning in our family. I'll hold some thoughts for your friend. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely story.