Recently the 3 year anniversary of my grandmothers death occurred. As I reflected on this loss, I spent some time recounting the day she died.
Sitting vigil while my grandmother dies is equal parts nightmare and peace, it is love and devastation. I am knitting as she sleeps. Stitch after stitch, watching her breath after ragged breath. Sometimes I cry. But mostly I sit and I stitch and I listen to her breath and wait for a moment of lucidity. Tending to her needs as mother might tend to a newborn. Learning expressions and moans like a new language. Here is the woman I have known all my life. The one who I have feared and revered and in my late teens befriended. Here is the woman who is a powerhouse of will and determination, whose curiosity is as rich as that of a toddler exploring the world for the fist time, she is capable and proud, and she is dying. It is a strange thing to watch someone die. To know they will be gone from this realm. Now in this moment as I stitch this memory into a scarf and a cowl, skein after skein of yarn, I am hoping death comes soon. As painful as it is to know my grandmother will be gone, seeing her suffer is far more excruciating.
In the past few weeks, she has allowed me to travel this journey by her side. As she has straddled worlds I have held steady on this side. Keeping her balanced, tending to her physical body, attempting to be present with her in her psyche and giving her permission to leave when she is ready. I have held her while she cried in pain for her mom and assured her my grandfather now long dead was fine when she worried that he wasn’t home. I have fed her, given her water from a small pink sponge, helped her with her bedpan and cleaned her up, administered medication and at times wished I had the courage to give her just a little more.
Watching my grandmother die feels a bit like what I imagine a receding tsunami to feel like. A disappearing and reemerging only to have her disappear again, reemerge again. A waiting for the moment when the tides settle and the surface is once again calm.
The day of her death I left her for a time as my mom took over the watch. As I was away my husband called me. After weeks of not wanting to see her he told me he was having an overwhelming feeling of grief and needed to go be with her. He joined my mom and spent a short time saying his goodbyes to my grandmother.
They were a pair my husband and grandma. She loved him in a way he had never experienced from a grandmother figure. They treated each other as friends and yet, she also let him know she loved him as her own grandson.
He sat with her, and talked to her, even in her unresponsive state. He sat with her and said his goodbyes. I still believe she was waiting for him. I still believe this was the visit she needed to be able to let go.
And later that day when I retook my position at her bedside, stitch after stitch, breath after breath, I knew somewhere inside of me she was preparing to go. Her will and strength that had kept her here in this realm, that had kept her lingering in pain for so long, finally was ready.
I left my grandma at 4:30 or 5 and just after 10 that night the call came. I dressed hurriedly, in these past weeks of vigil re-learning how quickly one can be ready in the middle of the night and I drove to her. The Reindeer King was playing on my car stereo as I drove through the dark, the February night chilly and so dark. The stars sparkling even as the streetlights glowed. Inside the home where my grandma had died, she lay in her bed, mouth open, face relaxed. A wash of relief moved through me to see her features so free from the pain she had been navigating for weeks and weeks.
I opened the window for her spirit. Allowing passage from this room that was her home only as she lay dying and I asked for warm water and a washcloth. I gently washed her skin. Removing the brace that had held her broken arm uncomfortably at her side. I washed her sacred body, the one that had born my Mother, the one that held a piece of the blueprint that would become me. I rubbed lavender scented lotion into the thin and wrinkled skin of her 95 year old body. I did not weep then. But I did sing quietly to her, I did whisper love letters to her. My mom and sister and niece came in and we sat in a semi circle holding the space for her spirit to leave this room. And we said goodbye.