Sunday, January 25, 2009

I love every rotten last one of you.

The smell of burnt coffee and instant hand sanitizer is on my hands. I don't remember what day it is or what I'm supposed to be doing tonight. We've been at the hospital for days and I might have an ulcer. Maybe not, but lots of coffee and no sleep = not good. Singin' in The Rain is on right now and I'm remembering watching this movie as a child, with my Grandma. She's watching it with me now, but in and out every few minutes. I see her feet twitching and I'm imagining her trying to keep pace with the music. She's been holding on all week, waiting for something, to just let go. I imagine her first day in Heaven, greeted by her Aunt Beth and Mother, with chocolate cake and mashed potatoes and gravy in hand. "My aunt Beth made the best chocolate cake," she said to me a couple weeks ago. So good, I hear, that she woke up in the middle of the night dreaming that Aunt Beth made her a delicious treat and went and made brownies. By the time they were done, she was too exhausted to eat them, but took one to bed with her anyway. When she woke up hours later, a nicely cut little brownie was perched upon a plate on her chest. She laughed and ate it. Days later, as she finished off the last of the brownies, she dropped it on the floor in the middle of the night. Damn, she thought. But, with the sass and will that has got her this far said "I will get that brownie if it's the last thing that I do." Thankfully, it was not the last thing she did.

I've never watched someone die. I've never even thought about watching someone die. And before last week, I wasn't sure I ever wanted to.

But, as we've sat here all these days, these long and wearing days, I'm seeing a side of death that I'd never seen before. A side of death that is peaceful and forgiving where hope is present and love is near. I am not sure what happens first: your body telling your mind it's time, or your mind being made up and waiting for your body to follow suit. Whichever way is happening here, it's almost beautiful.

Now, to know myself and watch myself type the words, I am in utter disbelief. I have historically been terrified of death and it's processes that I've only experienced via email from friends or movies found in "Drama" section of the video store. But even with the hope of Heaven, I thought that I'd want to hold on to the bitter end, at all costs, with every intervention and only give up when my body could go no farther. But as I watched my Grandma fight while it was time to fight and surrender when medicine could do no more, I saw grace pour in.

My aunt Mary calls the pain medication "truth serum." Yes, it's as wonderful and scary as it sounds. Grandma is being awful truthful, as she asks my cousin Dante and his wonderful girlfriend, Rachel, "How do you guys do this when you live so far away?" (referring to the fact that Rachel is in graduate school in Illinois and Dante is in graduate school in Oregon). Obviously a question that has been on her mind, but was too polite to ask. We were told today to "not name our children dumb names," and that Papa would be enforcing this law. But other, less laughable things were said, like "I love you and I'm proud of you." I'm sure you could imagine the earth shattering tears that accompanied that comment. She held out her hand and said "We are either going to have this conversation now or in the next 6 months (referring to the 6 month or less Hospice involvement rule), so let's have it now." My stomach was in knots and turned and as she said the words that everyone needs to hear. I grabbed her face with my hands and I kissed her all over and tried to memorize the way her face felt and her skin smelled. She told me how proud she was of Nick and I for the way we dealt with the Ella situation. She knew it wasn't easy and thought we had handled it with grace. No one has ever said that before. I regret many decisions I made and many that were made for me. I feel like we were and still are a complete and utter mess. But, Grandma doesn't.

One of the things I will painfully miss is our weekly lunches. For the last 3 years, we've been going out to lunch together, with the micros (Grandma and Papa's name for my kids). We talk and laugh and usually go get fancy coffee afterwards. I get double tall soy lattes and she gets a small cranberry orange tea. We usually get a large cookie that we have no room for and chase the kids around Barnes & Noble until we all need a nap. Of course, in the last few months, the nap times have come quicker and quicker. Anyway, when Grandma had her "reducing everyone to tears moment," as she so wittingly named it, with me, I told her I loved and would greatly miss our lunches. They were something I really looked forward to every week, as did my children. I told her that I felt like she was the only person who understood what I was going through with Ella. Not because of the diagnosis, but because she knew what it was like to be poked all the time and to feel scared in a way that could never be explained. She had a special understanding of Ella, as we saw was reciprocated when Ella discovered Grandma's port and touched her own G-tube as to say "You understand!"

Not to sound too much like a Tom Cruise movie, but I will miss our conversations.

Right now, I'm watching Grandma sleep and listening to Singing In The Rain, again. Something about dying makes you remember what you love, like musicals. And lemon donuts. And chocolate cake.

We can't tell what is going on here, but know it is close to the end. She's said goodbye half a dozen times, but keeps coming back. We've heard everything from "Sweet dreams, I'm going home" to "Bon voyage!" (my personal favorite)

I am surprisingly calm as I watch her labored breathing. I believe I'll see her again, in another place where we can be together uninterruptedly. I picture Grandma in Heaven doing all the things she always wanted to do, like roller skate and bike ride. Her body will be new and strong, she'll wear her old cat frame glasses. She'll play cards with her mother and aunts. There may even be some dancing and- hold on to your hats - cussing. I won't know for a while, but I think that the people we love are waiting with signs and a party when we come home. All the things we love most in life are there, and Jesus. Lots of Jesus. There is peace and grace and fun. I don't often hear people talking about Heaven and saying "It's going to be a blast," but I think we should! It all comes together there, every last messy detail. And all the treats are fat free!

And so we sit and wait for a woman we love so dearly, to go home. To be healed. To have the body that she always dreamed of- without creaky knees and bad blood sugar, without cancer and blood clots, to be free. It hurts like hell, but is life. And to have the beauty, we too, must gasp through the pain.

She's laughing and smiling and saying "Hi" to so many people. Could it be that she is in between here and there? That she sees the signs saying "Welcome Sharon!" and knowing the crowd, "It's about damn time!" She jokes about her wings and them not working right yet.

We ordered Chinese food in on Friday night. Papa opened up his cookie and threw his fortune onto a plate of trash, without reading it. He turned back, thinking it might be significant today, and grabbed his fortune back out of the heap. It read: Time heals all wounds, Keep your chin up. We vowed to remember that in the coming days, in the rain or sunshine, but most likely, we will too, be singing in the rain.
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