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I don’t want to say too much, but I can’t go on saying nothing. She’s not well. She’s not been well her entire life, from what I hear. A few years ago she had a stroke which took away most of her ability to make new memories, half her vision, and most of her mobility. A little over forty years ago she suffered a heart attack and a series of surgeries that doctors say she shouldn’t have survived. When she was an infant she was found to have a congenital heart defect, and was not expected to live. Not a year, not ten years, not twenty years, certainly not seventy years and more.
But there she is.
She has a chronic cough, has had it … I don’t know how long. She had it before I moved up here at the start of last year, and before that, I guess. A couple of months ago it became more serious, her breathing was completely cut off and she had to be taken to the hospital. They diagnosed her with pneumonia and put her on antibiotics and after a time, sent her back home. They put her on a nebulizer to put medicine directly into her lungs… When that didn’t solve it, they brought in a condenser so she could be on oxygen most of the time… A few weeks ago, a new doctor diagnosed her with asthma, and prescribed asthma medicine, and for a few days it seemed to be helping… but then she started to go downhill again… not long ago they brought a ‘more powerful’ nebulizer attachment for the condenser, and switched up the drugs again, trying to clear up her breathing.
Nothing seems to work.
And then, about a week ago, I walked into the house … I don’t remember what I was doing, taking a break from tree trimming or hauling wood or sanding or … whatever, and grandma was coughing again, but now she was coughing up … I don’t know what, but she was coughing it up and spitting it down into a small trash can next to her chair. And all of a sudden a memory came washing over me, and a feeling…
See, the last time I ever saw my mother’s father, that’s exactly what he was doing. I don’t remember much else, but I remember the coughing and the spitting and the sound of it that was not like when I’m breaking up some congestion from a cold and spitting it up, but something somehow worse. The entire time we were there, my mother’s father was coughing and spitting and coughing and spitting, through conversations about … I don’t remember any of that, but what burned into my memory is that spitting into a trash can, that sound, a little different from just being sick, and then he was dead. I don’t know if it was days or weeks later, but that was the last time I saw him before he went.
And when I heard grandma coughing, spitting, repeating, it was that sound, that image, all over again. My grandparent, effectively living out their final days unmoving from a reclining chair, sitting up only to cough up more, spit up more, inches from death. I’ve been living here with my grandparents for over a year now, living with cancer and stroke and pain and suffering and slow, quiet death, and it never got to me. And all of a sudden, in that moment, I had to get out of the house. I couldn’t take it. It was too much.
I don’t know if I’m getting this across properly or not, if I’m converying what I felt when I saw her, heard her, knew in my heart that she was dying. Not just sick, not just disabled and confused and upset because she knows that she can’t remember, can’t get around, she’s dying. All at once, from one day to the next, she had changed.
And I wasn’t the only one who knew there was a change, because that night she decided she was fed up with it, it was too much, she couldn’t take it any more, and she didn’t want any more treatments, doesn’t want any more medicine, she’s been ready to go…
Ready to go…
And the next day, she slept straight through, and I heard about it quietly from my father, and because of what I’d seen, what I felt, I understood. And the next day, she slept most of the day again. And on the third day, she roused some, and had some appetite. And she’s still wheezing, and she’s still coughing, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but she’s off all her medicines and it could be any time…
Or it could be another decade. She wasn’t supposed to survive infancy, childhood, past 25, 35, 60, and here she is, 72 years old and for all I know she’ll see 82 or 92. And I haven’t seen, haven’t heard that coughing, that spitting again since that day, but … I’ve been avoiding going into that room as much as I can, too. And she could pass away in her sleep tonight, or tomorrow, or next week, and it wouldn’t surprize a one of us, and we’d all know she was in a better place. And she could surprize us all and hang on another year and another.
But I couldn’t go on saying nothing, keeping quiet. This is important to me. My grandmother, my grandfather, my family is important to me. And it’s really been bad lately. For her, for grandfather too, and … and every morning I wake up and I go downstairs and when I come around the corner, there’s a possibility nagging at my mind that the car isn’t there, that there’s been an emergency or a death or … something in the night, and until I round that corner and see that car there’s this terrible pinch on my chest that says that yesterday might be the last day you ever saw her.
Are you okay with yesterday? I am. I’ve learned to make every day a yesterday I don’t have to be sorry about.
I’ve had to.