Ending Lives, Beginning Sorrows

It’s hard to see someone at the end of their life.  I’ve, unfortunately, seen many.

When I was a small child, I watched my mother slowly deteriorate from colon cancer.  She struggled for three years before it took her.  I still remember seeing her for the last time.  My father took me to the hospital to see her shortly before her death.  At that point, there was nothing else they could do for her besides keep her comfortable.  She didn’t know me.  She didn’t see me.  She lay there with a glassy expression.  To be honest, I think she was already gone, but her body was still hanging on.  For years, that last moment with her haunted me.  This was my beautiful, strong, loving mother, and she was now unrecognizable to me.  The cancer ravaged her and turned her into someone I didn’t know.  To a six year old, that’s impossible to understand.  Over the years, my understanding became clear, but that memory will always linger.

My great-grandmother, my Nana, on my father’s side was one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.  I loved her so much, and held her close to my heart.  After my father abandoned me, she was devastated.  She lost contact with him, and subsequently, my sister, who he kept with him.  Before this, we would visit her at least once a month, and we always enjoyed our visits.  My sister and I were her only grandchildren, and she cherished us.  After my father gave me up, she held onto me tightly despite living across the country.  I wasn’t able to visit her for about 6 years, but we kept in constant phone contact, and she would send me care packages monthly.  When I finally visited her when I was 14, I didn’t want to leave.  I loved being there so much, it felt like home.  Alas, I couldn’t stay, but I was able to visit her again when I was 16, and again, it was wonderful.

I got a call just shortly after my 18th birthday that my Nana’s health was failing fast.  I flew down, and walked into her hospital room.  The doctor said that her kidney’s had all but shut down, and she wasn’t going to last long.  I told her that I came to see her and that I loved her while I held her hand.  Not 30 seconds later, she took her last breath.  To this day, I believe she held on just long enough for me to arrive.

My uncle on my mother’s side was so precious to me.  He stepped in and became my father figure when my own father didn’t want me.  He was there for me growing up whenever I needed him.  He was also an alcoholic.  Last summer, my aunt rushed him to the hospital because he was quite yellow.  Obviously jaundiced from his liver shutting down.  He got medical help too late.  Shortly after his liver shut down, his kidneys followed.  I went to the hospital to see him, knowing that he wasn’t going to make it.  He couldn’t wake up, and they were just keeping him comfortable.  I told him I loved him, and sat with him for awhile.  He died two days later.

Just recently, my grandmother went into the hospital for the last time.  She had surgery to clear up an infection, and it was touch and go for awhile.  She hadn’t been to the doctor in about 45 years, so she had a lot wrong with her.  She was in the intensive care unit for about a week after the surgery while they monitored her to see if she would recover.  Despite some episodes with her heart, she did start recovering.  I took my daughter up to the hospital to see her, and my grandmother was happy, smiling and said she felt good.  I held her hand for awhile, and so did my daughter.  That was the last time we saw her.  She was recovering so well, that they moved her to the rehabilitation center to recover even further.    She was there for a few days, and then she had a massive heart attack in her sleep.

Despite going through this multiple times, seeing someone at the end of their life doesn’t get any easier.  Every circumstance is different, every relationship is different.  The surrealism doesn’t change.  Even if you know that your loved one is going to pass, it doesn’t seem real for a time afterward.

It’s like a bad dream that you hope to wake up from, but never do.

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