Saying Good-Bye in a Pandemic

There are many things outside of a global pandemic that have really made 2020 be like damn, what the hell man?  My Grandma Helen passed in January before I made it home, I unfortunately was not able to change my plane tickets and I was in the process of starting a new job.  I worked at my new job for one day and hopped on a plane to Michigan to surprise my mom and my other grandma.  I planned to be there before Bingo and had actually planned on selling the Bingo sheets to them.  My plane was delayed, flight was changed and then delayed again.  Instead of flying into Milwaukee, I flew into O’Hare because I didn’t want the seven hour layover, when the drive was 45 minutes for my brother.  I got to see my niece who wasn’t even two months old (she still had the new baby smell) and my other niece who is two (I was the aunt who bribed her with cookies).  We drove the 4 hours to the UP and honestly it doesn’t feel like 4 hours, it isn’t like the drive from Savannah to Atlanta (that drive is brutal).  I was starving so I made my brother stop at a Culver’s for a burger or course this is not the family way, we drive and drive and only stop if the driver has to go to the bathroom.  I had a coffee and an egg biscuit at 4am so 12 hours later I was starving and no way I would make it to Escanaba without food.  

We went to the local church where they were playing Bingo!  My dad, brother, me and his fiance filmed it.  I had spun this tale that I was going to a training for a new job so my mom wouldn’t know.  My dad, brother and the whole Bingo hall were in on it, hell half my hometown knew I was coming home but my mom and grandma didn’t.  My brother walked up and said, “I picked up this hitchhiker.”  My grandma was in shock. My mom started crying and hitting me, “You aren’t supposed to be here.”  My grandma said, “Well if we would have known you were coming we wouldn’t have come to Bingo!”  I told her this is exactly how I wanted it.  

I helped open the family business and even worked.  My grandma was starting to slow way down, the cancer she was diagnosed with five years ago, started to ravage her body.  She is a fighter, she underwent chemo, radiation, surgery to remove part of her stomach, two bad infections that almost killed her.  Somehow she was still around, still fighting, she finally decided last year when they found new spots, she was not going to go through the treatments again.  By this time she had lost a lot of weight, if she was 90 pounds when I saw her in January, that was a lot.  She was tired and was in pain.  I knew this was it, I jammed in as many conversations with her as possible and even recorded many of them because I am selfish and wanted them.  I helped as much as possible and have never felt so helpless because there was nothing I could do.  

I came home, wrote my grandma several times about life, my new job and how everything was going.  You have a tendency to be bored at a concierge desk so I would write letters to my grandma.  Tell her about crazy interactions and why I love what I do.  Then St. Patrick’s Day was cancelled and then I was laid off from my dream job.  I got to be home with my family for eight weeks, it was really nice and I enjoyed it.   My grandma had started having some really bad days, she was still living by herself because she is stubborn.  My mom would go over and try to help, with COVID-19 my mom was instructed to stay isolated as much as possible because of her health issues.  So my grandma was doing more and more on her own and not having someone to babysit her.  My grandma started having really bad days and my aunt decided to come up to take care of her in April.  They then realized she had stopped taking some of her medicine, she said she forgot.  They got her back on the medicine and she seemed to be doing better.  Mother’s Day we sent daisies and let me say how difficult this was because most of the florists in my hometown were closed.  She loved them and left a voicemail, she sounded so weak, she had started sleeping more.  Then she fell, she broke a bone in her neck and one in her back, my aunt made her go to the hospital for x-rays.  The x-rays showed a large mass on her kidneys and the broken bones, that can only be attributed to the cancer spreading.  I talked to her and she seemed upbeat and was ready to have surgery to remove the mass and fix the broken bones.  I was shocked, she was talking like this, like what are you crazy?  This is not her.  We were all shocked and like there is no way you are well enough to have surgery.  She finally gave in, with that the call was made to Hospice.  Her pain had increased and the doctors were unable to control it with standard pills.  Once she was in Hospice, she rebounded and she had three really good days.  My brother called me and told me, I will call you when I get out of work so you can FaceTime with grandma.  I told the kids to get all their pictures they want to show and we will chat with grandma when I get home from work.  She looked better, she sounded tired but we chatted for almost an hour. I got a great picture of the top of her head because she didn’t understand the whole camera thing.  I thought it was really funny.  I also knew that is probably it, she fought a long, hard battle and she is tired. 

The screenshot of Grandma and I – this makes me laugh so much

Her pain has increased over the last couple days.  So much so on June 5th they decided to switch her to liquid morphine for the pain.  She was sleeping more and last rights have been given and we are waiting for the end.  The morning of the 20th on my way to work my mom put me on speaker and I said good-bye.  It sucked, I am really glad my mom did that because she was not expected to make it through the night.  I told my mom, she isn’t that selfish, she wouldn’t die on my aunt and cousins’ birthday (the day before), I was right.  I did tell her she didn’t need to hang on any longer and to go be with Bob.  I waited all day for a text or a phone call.  I clocked out (rather late people kept coming) and got to my car, backed out of my parking spot and started to drive out of the garage and my phone rang.  It was like she planned it, I clocked out at 5:39pm she passed at 5:40pm.

My grandma was one of the founding members of OSF Hospice in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  She has been involved with the organization for 40 years.  With my grandma’s involvement we handle death differently than most people, we handle dying differently than most people.  It sucks but as long as they are not in pain, I am okay with it.  I never want to see someone suffer, I remember when my Great-Great Auntie Boo was dying, she was in such pain, she screamed for more drugs because her whole body hurt from cancer.  The doctor wasn’t giving her any because she had maxed out on Morphine.  My grandma told him, she is dying and is in pain, nothing you can do will help her, make her comfortable.  Hospice was not available in the nursing home my Auntie Boo was in so there was lots of red tape in making that happen.  Boo died the next morning, and from what I remember was not in pain at the end.  

I remember the day I got the call about my grandma. It was October 2015, I got a phone call early in the morning from my mom (much earlier than normal).  “Grandma had a heart attack,” my mom said.

I replied, “Is Grandma Helen okay? ” My mom said,

“No, Grandma Dona.”  I was in shock,

“What?  She can’t have a heart attack, is she okay? ” My mom said they were running tests and stuff. 

In December, we found out my grandma had Stomach Cancer, she had started bleeding and they didn’t know why.  They did a scope, and more tests.  They found a mass in her stomach, which was cancerous.  Nobody knew how long she had or if she was going to try treatment.  My grandma shocked us all and decided for an aggressive treatment, involving chemo, surgery and radiation.  Honestly, I flew home in 2016 because I wanted to hear from her that she wanted the treatment and wanted to go through all of this.  I sat in her kitchen and asked.  Her response was, “Yes, I have things I want to do.”  Okay, I can respect that.  I spent the whole time between grandmas, playing cards, doing homework and spending time with them.  I flew home in 2018, I could definitely see neither of my grandmas were doing well.  My Grandma Helen had broken her foot so she was sitting in the rocking chair.  I, being the good grandchild I am, brought a flask and made brandy old fashions.  My thought was my grandma was 94, if she wants a damn drink she deserves it.  I of course had to do this very sneakily because not everyone thought the way I did.  My grandma and I sat there played cards, talked and drank “tea” (Brandy Old Fashions).  It was great, my grandma also chatted via FaceTime with my kids and it was really cool.  However, I knew after lunch the next day with both grandmas that the next time I would visit home, one of them wouldn’t be there. 

Taken in 2018 (Grandma Dona, Me and Grandma Helen)
This photo was taken by my cousin in 2018 – I love this photo with my mom, me and my grndma

I try to fly home once every two years. I did explore increasing the frequency, however working in a business that is opened 365/24/7 is very difficult.  I talked to my husband and we both agreed yes, however getting time off is another thing.  I started at a brand new property and the thought of asking for time off 3 months after we opened was not possible.  So I put it on the back burner, my Grandma Helen, started to slow down in November.  Things were just getting harder for her, I spoke to her on Christmas, she seemed winded and told me I needed to come visit more often because Grandma Dona isn’t going to be around forever.  After that phone call, I talked to Jeff and I made arrangements to go to Michigan.  My Grandma Helen, unfortunately died in early January and I was unable to make the funeral as I explained above.  I did fly home and spent as much time with my grandma as possible.  I didn’t spend the night because she has lots of dolls in her house and they all stare at you while you sleep (creepy as hell).  I knew that this was it, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, it was.  

My Grandma Dona, the one person who I related most to in this crazy world.  She taught me how to paint, how to interact with people, and how to be crazy stubborn (I learned from the best).   I am sad, I am confused and I know she wouldn’t want me there.  Even if I was up there, I would not have been sitting with her. I would have been working at the family ice cream shop because that is how we are.  I told my boss this day was coming, she has had Last Rights and it is only a matter of time.  He looked at me and asked me if I wanted to go home.  My response was, “And do what?  No, I will stay this is how we deal with stuff in my family.  Even if I was home, I would be working the family business because someone has to.  It sucks, but life doesn’t stop because someone died.”  I guess, I grieve differently than most people.  

When I finally got the call, I was sad and relieved she passed (no more pain), she passed how she wanted to, when everyone finally left the room.  She had someone by her side for the last 48 hours straight and she was fine, everyone stepped out for a moment and she passed.  When I heard this, I burst out laughing because that was how she always said she wanted to go because she didn’t want any one person to have that burden.  She held on until she had a moment to herself, I will probably be the only person who finds the humor in this and to me that is okay.  I also had to post something on The Dari’s Facebook Page because they decided to close for the evening (something she would have hated).  I posted what I wrote the day previous and it was approved by everyone in the family.  It was instant, the outpouring has been overwhelming, I always knew she touched a lot of people, it has truly been incredible to see what she meant to people.

I unfortunately cannot go home for the funeral. I mean we are in the middle of a global pandemic and the thought of flying was not that appealing and a 22 hour drive wasn’t either.   I also am awaiting for the results of my COVID-19 test because I came into contact with someone. After that my family said absolutely not, we do not want you here in person. I can Zoom it, which I also find very funny.  I told my mom, she really knew how to pick the timing of her passing for a person who didn’t want a funeral or a memorial service.  I mean die during a global pandemic to ensure no one can come, I once again find this funny because the last thing she would want is a big thing.  

My grandma was one of a kind and it is very hard to believe, I lost both grandmas within six months of each other. I am grateful for the memories and the love both grandmas showed me. I know they are both up there with my grandfathers, playing cards, watching over us all and that gives me so much comfort.

Grandma and I – taken in January. I love this photo and plan on getting it framed.

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