As I mentioned earlier, my grandmother broke her leg badly last week. In fact, there was a lot of concern that she wouldn't survive the surgery necessary to repair the break, which was at the neck of her right femur. (There are no good places to break a bone when you're nearly 96, but that's an especially bad place.) She went into surgery Friday morning, and Friday afternoon I got a call from my aunt telling me that the surgery had been successful, and that the hospital staff thought that Nana would be moved back to her nursing home on Monday (good news, which I shared here). It sounded like the best time for me to go down and visit her would be Sunday, so I made plans to take Amtrak down from Boston to NYC, and take NJ Transit from NYC to New Brunswick, so I could spend a couple of hours with her. My mother and my youngest brother drove down on Saturday (through torrential downpours - not my idea of fun), planning to visit on Sunday as well; we arranged to meet at the hospital around one P.M., when Sunday visiting hours began.
So, I get up at zero-dark-thirty on Sunday morning and cruise down empty highways to the Route 128 station to catch the first southbound train. I'd splurged on a business class ticket southbound - for the extra twenty-odd bucks, I got significantly more legroom than I would have had in coach, free coffee and a Sunday New York Times. The legroom was worth the extra money (the coffee was pretty good, too), and I was even able to get some work done thanks to Amtrak having installed power outlets at every seat. Despite having to dodge a few work crews, we made it into New York on time, and I was able to catch an NJ Transit commuter run that got me into New Brunswick just after noon, giving me some time to wander around some nicely-redeveloped blocks and get some lunch at a new Mexican place. (Found out that they'd just opened that week!) The weather was just about perfect - sunny, warm, low humidity, slight breeze - that I decided to walk the mile or so to the hospital. I got there a few minutes before one, and spent a few minutes sitting in the park across the street, just enjoying the day - blue skies, breezes, birdsong and green grass. Finally, I went into the hospital, met up with Mom and my brother, and headed up to Nana's room.
When we got to her floor, we saw that her door was closed - so we stopped by the nurse's station to see what was up.
Nana had died around eleven that morning.
Apparently, she never fully recovered from the anesthesia used on Friday. It was a peaceful death, so the nurses told us. Nana had had a Do-Not-Resuscitate order in place for several years, and the hospital honored it fully - for which I am truly grateful. They probably could have kept her body going for a while with respirators and such, which certainly would have helped train interns (this happened to be a teaching hospital); but the cost would have been what little quality of life she had left. She'd buried her husband when Mom was only eight; she'd outlived all her brothers and sisters; her dementia was so bad that she thought Mom was her older sister (!); and she kept telling my aunt that she was ready to die.
Now, she has found her rest.
We sat in her room for a while - the nurses told us that they didn't need to move her out right away, but that they'd take her body down to the morgue once the family had finished visiting. Of course, my aunt was the one who had all the power-of-attorney and similar paperwork, and we kept getting voicemail or an answering machine every time we called her. So, we each said our goodbyes, in our own personal ways, and we spent some time just sharing each other's company. Eventually, just before I had to leave to catch my train back home, my aunt and uncle arrived and we spent some time grieving together.
This is the fifth time I've had someone near and dear to me die. My father's mother died when I was only eight, and I remember almost freaking out when I saw her body at the funeral home. My father died while I was in the Navy; the circumstances were such that I couldn't get home for the funeral or the memorial service that MIT held - in fact, I couldn't get home at all for six weeks, and what I had to go through to get home from Hong Kong is almost worthy of a sailorjim tale. I wasn't prepared at all for either of those deaths. My great-uncle Parker died nine years ago, after a long bout with cancer; his wife Helen had died ten years earlier, also of cancer, and I'd had at least some chance to say goodbye to both of them.
This death is painful, to be sure - but I've known it was coming for a long time. I've seen Nana deteriorate over the last few years, and I know that, barring a miracle, she would only get worse. I've been able to make my own peace with her death - and, importantly, I've been able to accept that I had no power to "fix" what was wrong with her, and that all I could do was accept what was. I don't particularly want any more practice at this, but I think I'm finally getting better at dealing with death, and in dealing with the issues surrounding death.
Today has been a day of sitting, and thinking, and remembering, for me. Tonight, I think I'm ready to share this with the universe - and to share one other thought. It was one of the first things that crossed my mind when the nurse told us that Nana had died. Once that first flash of pain swept over me, and I knew that she was free from her worn-out body at last, I realized that she'd found an absolutely perfect excuse for not doing the physical therapy ...