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May 25, 2012

She's Been Gone for Five Years

It's been exactly five years since my Grandma Patty passed away.  Growing up I don't have memories of my mom's mom because she died when I was young.  My Grandma Patty was different.  She played a much more active role in my life, especially as I was older.  Around 9th grade (still in the middle school for my school district) she bought a house close to my school and her and her husband Bill would pick me up often, feed me and then drive me to gymnastics multiple times each week.  Grilled muenster cheese sandwiches were our favorite.  We would laugh and talk about anything and everything.  I always felt like I was a different person around my grandma, in a good way, like she brought out the best in me.  She was a very generous woman supporting whatever cause I was into that week.  She drove me nuts because she always patted me on the butt...I would be annoyed, but it was just what she did.  Also, when I did something she didn't approve of she had a specific way of saying my name extra nasally, now even thinking about it makes me feel like I'm in trouble "ELizAbeth".  It's funny the things I remember about her.  

She had known me when I was going doctor to doctor to figure out what was going on with my body.  She would see my pain, sadness and depression that came along with not knowing.  

I remember the last day of my Grandma's life in a few clear memories.  She had just returned from a cruise around the world.  It was like 150 days or something amazing like that, so I hadn't seen her in a while and when she got back to Nevada she was very sick. I remember I was at work (for a hospice agency, nonetheless) and told my boss I really needed to leave because I thought she was going to die.  My boss totally understood and let me off early to go be there.  Unfortuneately, I was right, that she was going to die that day.  When I walked into her hospital room there was some other family in the room and a balloon that said "Happy Birthday".  You see my Grandma was somewhat of a queen and loved having people cater to her every need.  I think in a small way she choose to hang on until her birthday to also let it be her death day - I can see it in her mind as the day being extra special.  When I walked in the room I noticed her doing a strange thing with her hands as she laid with her eyes closed in the hospital bed.  I asked her gently, "Grandma, what are you doing?" She answered something like, "I'm cutting watermelon for the fruit salad...for the party....it's time to go."  Like, I said, I worked for hospice and had heard time after time of people who were about to die say things like, "It's so beautiful there.....I can't wait.....I'm going to see (another friend or family member who had been gone for a long time, we have to pack the car, etc."

When I heard my grandma preparing for her party I was amazed she didn't have us helping her, but also that she was making the final preparations here on earth to die.  So many people find death gross, but to me death is a beautiful thing.  I am completely comfortable around people who are going to die soon or have recently passed.  

Around 6pm nothing had really changed for Grandma and my sister's birthday was just the day before...with all the stress over Grandma we kinda skimmed over Amy's birthday. We thought it would be fitting to go out to eat as a family and celebrate Amy for a little while, afterall, Grandma wasn't too exciting in the hospital because she was just resting and had been for most of the afternoon.  After about 45 minutes of being gone, Bill, my grandma's husband got a call saying to come back to the hospital immediately.  My grandma had declined rapidly.  She woke up and was yelling into the phone (held by the doctor, talking to Bill, her husband) "you can put me on the ventilator, but not for long."  Bill could hear this clear as day and understood and respected my Grandma's wishes.  It is very common before someone dies to have a "last hurrah" and this was hers. We were all gone for hers. I'm pretty sure that's the way she wanted it. We raced out of the restaurant and back to the hospital and by the time we got there she was gone.  She was put on the machine to help her breathe to see if it would help kick her body back into gear, but it didn't and she was gone.  We stood around her, held hands and sang songs (my family is extremely musically talented, except me, but that's another story).  We stood around her and slowly said goodbye one by one.  I held her hand until most of the heat was gone and just the shell of her body remained.  It was a beautiful moment.  She was not in pain, she was ready to go, she had the love of her family around her and (in hospice terms) she 'sprouted her wings' on her 82nd birthday.

Thinking back the last thing my Grandma asked me, was are you happy?  She knew all the pain and struggling I had been going through but didn't know how to help me.  This was in my freshman year in college and I was struggling really bad with depression and not having enough energy to keep up with my new friends. I felt left out and was often very sad. My grandma adored me and I adored her.  To see me sad and hurting with no known reason was really hard for her. She was so worried. I lied to her in my last conversation with her and told her I was happy.  I can say I am happy now.  I have a reason and a name for all the pain and sadness. Lyme disease. 

Estee Lauder Intuition is my Grandma's signature scent.
A few months ago, when I was packing up my room at my dad's house to move back to Reno I stumbled upon the most wonderful thing.  At first I got a whiff of something and couldn't figure out what I was smelling.  It instantly took me back to happy thoughts of my Grandma.  Hidden under the guest bathroom sink was an almost full bottle of the lotion my Grandma wore everyday.  What a special treat.  I can now smell that lotion and remember her. If I remember correctly, this smell has been discontinued so my bottle is very very special (PS if any of my family would like me to scoop some into a smaller container so you can have her scent, I'd be happy to share).


If Grandma Patty was still alive today we would celebrate her 87th birthday and we would rejoice over the progress of my treatment.  We would be so excited for Molly to be getting married soon and for her recently graduating along with Amy graduating high school.  I'm confident she would pat me on the butt and make me roll my eyes, followed by her disapproving tone to say my name that only she can do. I would buy her an orchid to add to her collection because she loved to have her house filled with them.

I miss you Grandma. I love you. I wish you could see how strong I am fighting to get better. I wish we could have a muenster-grilled-cheese sandwich together today, but mine would have to be without the butter, sourdough bread, and cheese because I am off all of those for my treatment....so I guess I'll wish you happy birthday and watch you eat your delicious muenster-grilled-cheese sandwich. ;)

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