Over the years, I've learned not to question, just to listen and follow my intuition. Tonight, I am feeling grateful and blessed. For I now know the answers.
I came to her house right from the airport. She was sitting up in the chair, waiting for me. She knew I was coming and wanted to sit in the chair. She was dozing. I woke her up. I'm fairly certain she recognized me and knew who I was. I talked, I kidded, I goofed around like I always do. She said a few things but mostly nodded yes or no. She kept falling asleep, so I had to keep rousing her to have a conversation. I was my usual sarcastic and humorous self with her, teasing her about her troll doll-esque hair and the fact she was actually wearing shorts and I think it was the 3rd time in my 43 years I'd seen her legs! I fed her rainbow sherbet because she was too weak to feed her self. I helped to get her back to bed with my aunt. I positioned her in bed. I gave her Reiki. I talked with my family about them, her, hospice and more. I spent all day with her and my family.
Her only son asked for some quiet time alone with her that night. So the rest of us went out for dinner. It was lovely. A nice break for my mother and aunt who have been caring for her non-stop for the past several weeks. We chatted about the importance of giving her permission to die and about them giving themselves permission to let her go. About my 'uncanny' intuition. About the horrible weather! We talked about calling the priest to give her last rites because it would be important to her. We toasted to family and peaceful passings. She slept well and peacefully that night, hardly waking up at all.
Thursday morning I went to her house again. I painted her toes pink, just like I told her I would and probably much to her dismay! I gave her Reiki again. She woke up about halfway through my session. She was trying to sit up in her bed. She was more confused that day. But also more alert and active than she had been in days, just not coherent. She had that faraway look in her eyes. She would look at you, but through or past you. She seemed to see things we couldn't. Whether they were memories, hallucinations from the meds she was on or those on the other side calling her over, I don't know.
I helped my aunt put what I learned was her favorite necklace on. The one she had reportedly worn every day. It has a heart locket with a picture of my daughter in it, a pendant depicting Mother Mary holding a child and a St. Christopher Medal that was her mother's! I had asked her if she wanted us to put it on and she nodded her head yes, quite convincingly. She was still in there, just very intermittently. I later told her she could go to the light. I asked her, "Isn't it pretty?", she nodded her head and mumbled "yes".
The hospice nurse came and Gram continued to get more agitated. It was the beginning of what would be nearly 6 hours of hell for everyone. She escalated by the hour. She would desperately try to get out of bed, moan and then fall back and sleep for a few minutes, only to wake again and start where she had left off. It reminded me of laboring women napping between contractions, only I think Gram had one foot in the earth realm and the other in the spiritual realm. We gave her different combinations of medicines to try to calm her down.
I doula-ed her and my family. We took turns supporting her physically, everyone emotionally and trying to be sure they ate and drank at least a little bit. I tried to facilitate what I knew Gram would want and avoid what she wouldn't want. We reminded her she could go whenever she was ready, we'd all be OK here. She was safe. I asked if she needed something else to be ready? Was there someone we needed to call? Something she needed to be wearing or have near her? We found her rosary and put that on her. She received her last rites. She did settle for most of the priest's visit. On some level she knew he was there. He too, gave her permission to go to God, Mother Mary and the saints and angels. He assured her they were ready and waiting for her. He prayed with the family, recited the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer.
He no sooner left and she got more agitated.
It was difficult to witness her agitation and hard not to imagine it difficult for her to experience. Far more so for her daughters than for I. At times she looked scared or in pain, but mostly she was just restless. It was clear she just didn't know what to do or what she wanted, she just wasn't comfortable and was clearly trying to go somewhere. We allowed her to sit on the edge of the bed with our help, we even finally helped to transfer her to the chair and then back to bed again. She just didn't know what she wanted or needed and neither did we. It was the most emotionally difficult and draining 6 hours I think any of us might have ever experienced. Finally, she slept.
They call it 'terminal restlessness'. The hospice nurse later referred to it as 'dancing with the angels'. A period of time many people go through in the process of dying. It's a transitional period when they are not comfortable in their earthly skin anymore, but are not yet ready to leave it behind and make the transition to the next place. It manifests as agitation and restlessness for they are also often lacking the mental and verbal capacity to explain what they are feeling. For some, it's very brief, for others it can last days. For her, it was really just those very long 6 hours. Relatively short overall, but still far too long for anyone you love, no matter how much you understand the physiology behind it.
Today is Friday, May 3rd. Exactly 6 weeks to the day since she was diagnosed with a massive cancerous tumor in her lung. 6 weeks since she decided she didn't want to biopsy it let alone treat it. She knew what she did and did not want. Good for her!
When I arrived this morning I was told she had one more 'episode' early last night of agitation but much shorter and less intense than the one earlier in the day. The new medication regimen was helping to keep her calm and restful. Then, she slept soundly. By this morning, she was essentially unresponsive but resting comfortably.
I went in to see her and the first thing that struck me was that she looked so peaceful. Her energy was totally different She was truly at peace, her spirit had already left, just her body was left to finish it's job as her spiritual vessel her on earth. I knew she was finally ready. She had made her peace with it and was going to transition soon. Her breathing was 'funky', with periods of apnea. Her color was pale. I gave her some Reiki again, I reminded her of the messages we wanted her to bring to Meggie, I told her to go to the light, to feel it's warmth and love, to fly free and whole. I felt the familiar sense that there were those from the other side hovering, waiting to welcome her.
The home health aide came for her bath. She was delightful and sang to her while she got her cleaned up and even washed her hair. She was dressed in a coordinating outfit. If there is one thing Gram always was, was monochromatic and matching!! I pondered if we should put her knee socks on...
Shortly after she left, I felt a nudge to go check on her. As I walked into the room, my aunt was kneeling at her side holding her hand and crying, she had just called out for my mom as I was walking in. I got my mom. No words were needed. She knew. Gram had left us. She was free. She was at peace. It was over. She looked SO amazingly peaceful.
I was surprised it happened that quickly, although I know how quickly it can happen, I also know how long it can linger. Initially, when I arrived, I thought she'd pass Friday night or Saturday. My gut told me it was going to be today when I saw her this morning, but I expected it would be later in the day. Her body had caught up with her spirit a bit faster than I thought it would.
She chose to pass when no one was in the room, yet we were all there in the next room and it had literally been but a few minutes that she was alone in the room. It always fascinates me how some people wait to be alone and others wait for certain people to be in the room. Gram was a woman of control. No doubt, she felt it was best to slip away so no one had to witness her last breath. Knowing it wouldn't be long before we checked on her to discover she had quietly made the transition, on her own terms and in her own way.
We joked it was because she wanted to look good to meet God, so she waited for her bath and hair wash. :-)
My gut told me when I booked this trip 2 weeks ago, that I was not only coming to say goodbye, but that I would be here for her transition. It became very clear to me when I saw her on Wednesday after I arrived that was part of my guidance to be here. Just as I doula at a birth, I was here to doula at a death. A very special death, that of my grandmother. I was here to facilitate the all important permission, to deliver important messages, to be sure what I knew of her wishes were granted because it can be so difficult for those closet to her and the situation to remember or see the importance of it for her when they are so deep in their own processing of her inevitable death. I was here to support my family in the loss of their mother.
I was here to 'escort' my gram to the next place, to guide her to my Meggie. A place she's said she's wanted to be since the day Meghan died. Today, she is with her favorite granddaughter. I sure hope she rested enough the past few days to keep up! :-)
She knew that's why I was here (though no words were spoken about it between us) and I'm sure she knew that's why I was coming. See, that's what I do. She knew in my coming, it would be 'safe' for her to go.
So, now I know why I am here. There is no more wondering. There are no more questions. It was such an honor to be able to help care for her in her final days and hours. A gift to be able to be here for her and for my mom and aunt and my dad.
I am grateful for my intuition I am grateful for this family that has nurtured me and helped instill the values and gifts that have led me to where I am today. I am grateful I was able to be here and for all the forces in the Universe that conspired to allow me to be. I am humbled that part of my calling is involved both in bringing new life into this world and in being there when one transitions from this world to the next place.
I once wrote about the similarities for doulas in birth and in death. I was reminded again today of how similar birth and death are. How similar the rituals are. How similar the need for information and support is. How integral family is.
Rest in peace, Gram. You will be missed and remembered fondly. Soak in that light. You were and are loved. Stop and visit now and again. Just don't look under my couches. Not that there are any dust bunnies there or anything...
September 22, 1926- May 3, 2013
Pictured here on her 86th birthday, at my wedding. She had a blast!