Some things are really hard to talk about, and almost impossible to put down in black and white.
This is one of those things.
Teacher and I were about to leave the house for our usual Friday Date Night when the phone rang; “Für Elise,” my parent’s custom tone. Eager to get our night together started, I thought about not answering, but did anyway. On the other end of the line my mother’s voice was thick with tears as she said, “Your grandma is very ill.”
I knew Grandma was sick; she was 92 and had been steadily declining since Christmas, when she moved from her apartment into my parents’ house. I also knew that Mom and Dad had taken Grandma to the ER the previous night, and to her family physician that morning.
But I didn’t realize how serious it was until I heard my mom cry.
You have to understand something about my mom – she’s not a crier. Some women carry their emotions just under the surface and cry at the least little thing. That’s not my mom; it takes a LOT to make her cry. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen her cry in my lifetime.
When I heard the tears in her voice I realized just how serious Grandma’s condition was.
I leaned my hip against the kitchen table and took a deep breath, reaching deep inside myself for the calm strength my mom needed. She went on to explain the details, her voice breaking regularly: Grandma had Deep Vein Thrombosis – a blood clot in her leg – that ran from her foot to her hip. These are very dangerous because a piece could break off, travel through your veins, and kill you instantly. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the breast cancer she had defeated several years ago had reappeared in her hip.
Of course there are treatment options for both, but knowing my grandma’s wishes my mom and aunt decided to opt for comfort measures instead of treatment. Grandma didn’t have dementia and knew what was going on most of the time, but her cognitive function had deteriorated enough that she couldn’t make such a serious decision. She had written out her wishes a couple of years ago, and my mom and aunt’s decision was completely in keeping with her wishes – mom even read the document again to double-check. I pray to God that I will never be faced with such a difficult decision, but if I am I also pray for the strength and bravery needed to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is.
I asked Mom if we should come over, but she said that Grandma didn’t fully comprehend the situation and they didn’t want to upset her unnecessarily with people suddenly hovering around for no apparent reason. She told us to keep our regular routine and have fun on our date night.
As I hung up I thought I was OK, but as I started to give last-minute instructions to the kids I realized I was going to lose it. I didn’t want to tell them until I’d spoken with Teacher so I couldn’t break down in front of them. I cut my normal spiel short, and called “‘Bye, be good!” over my shoulder as I escaped out the door. With tears streaming down my face I stumbled down the driveway to wait in the car, hoping Teacher had covered my abrupt departure.
Of course he had. He’d been watching me throughout the conversation, had figured out that it was bad news about my grandma, and knew I wouldn’t last long after I got off the phone. He knows me so very well. When he got to the car he put his arms around me and just held me as I cried.
To be continued…