My grandma had been sick for awhile, struggling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which basically means that her lungs were slowly but surely filling up with liquid. When Emily, my twin sister, called me from St. Bonaventure on Monday evening saying that my mom had called her crying, I knew that my gram was not far from reaching heaven.
Things got chaotic after that. I had to drive to Olean to pick up my sister. My little old Ford Focus (Betty) was sliding on the pavement that was freshly covered in slick snow and not yet sprinkled with salt. My horrible vision made it difficult for me to adapt to the curves of the road which so conveniently lacked light. To top it all off, my windshield wiper fluid ran out 20 miles before I reached St. Bonaventure. All the while, I held on to the necklace I received after my Kairos retreat last March. I found myself praying and saying, “Hold on, gram. Just wait til we get there.” I still don’t know how I made that drive without crying. Shock, I suppose.
From Olean it was another two and a half hour drive to Rochester. My sister was the perfect companion to share that road trip with. We reminisced about times with my gram when we were kids – like when she thought that the life-size Barbie Emily threw down the stairs was me and nearly had a heart attack. I laugh every single time I think of that day.
We reached my gram’s nursing home and sprinted to her room. I will never erase the image of my grandma lying on that bed out of my head for as long as I live. Despite barely being able to recognize her, I sat next to her, held her hand and told her how much I loved her. I said that it was okay for her to go, that I was excited she could be with my grandpa again and that I would miss her dearly. Her fingers were so frail. As silly as it may be, I remember thinking I wish I had nail polish in my purse to paint her fingernails with. She always kept them such a pretty color of pink or red when I was a kid.
The doctor said that they were astonished she stayed alive through the night and that they believe she held on because she knew Emily and I were on our way. I like to believe that’s true.
My grandma passed early the next morning with my mom and uncle, her daughter and son, sleeping by her side. She went peacefully, with no one focusing on her or worrying about her. She was the most humble woman I’ve ever known, and that remained true to her very last breath.
The following week was a blur. I’ve never heard my mom cry that hard in my entire life, and I doubt I ever will again. Never have I seen someone I love be taken away in a body bag. And never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be calling the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and submitting my grandmother’s obituary to the daily paper.
Although it was year three of what I like to refer to as my personal February curse, if you know me you understand why I had to find a silver lining in the middle of this mess. And that silver lining was simple: support. I had it all around me.
My coworkers, who I am proud to call my friends: They did not let me worry about work. They sent their condolences and offered to do whatever they could to ease the burden. I got funny updates from the office and jokes sent to me that put a smile on my face. They picked up the slack and at bottom were there for me when I needed them.
My friends, most importantly, my roommate and best friend Aly: For both keeping my family and I in their prayers and reaching out to me personally. I had text messages, voicemails, video chats, tweets, Instagram messages and Facebook posts waiting for me every time I went on my phone or computer. My hometown friends took my mind off of things for a few short hours. I was provided with laughter when all I wanted to do was break down and cry. Heck, Aly even made my bed for me and had homemade ice cream (chocolate with peanut butter and bananas. AKA heaven in a bowl) waiting for me upon my return to Buffalo. What more could a girl ask for?
Most importantly, my family: For being strong enough to stay by my grandma’s bedside as she fought through her last breaths. For ordering garbage plates (a true Rochester delicacy) because none of us had eaten for hours on end. For telling funny stories to keep things positive while we waited with heavy hearts as each second ticked by on the clock. The grief and burden of the loss was never carried by one person. We shared it amongst us all, each taking our part and picking each other up – sometimes literally – when it was needed most. And for celebrating my grandma’s life all together, just as my grandma would have not only wanted, but insisted upon.
My family has never been too shy to say I love you, and I’ll make sure that is something that the family I have of my own someday takes seriously.
Rest in Peace, Gram. Thanks for teaching me to fight like hell for what I deserve.