Saturday, August 22, 2009

Good Grief

Is Grandma going to die?
Yes love.
This week.
Yeah, but what day?
They don't know.
The doctors can't tell you that?


A million moons ago, sometime in July, began the influx of house guests. They came to party primarily, and say hello, and for my mom there was also the added benefit of a high school reunion. At some point in this initial seizure of good times, my grandmother was hospitalized for dehydration.

I suppose no one ever foresees this kinda thing, but in that bout of institutionalization came MRSA. Followed by organ failure. The day my mother was to drive west for a few days of wine and old yearbook hilarity, we had a conversation in my kitchen about DNR's where I suddenly found the following words leaving my mouth, as though my lips were possessed by their own small wee brain:

I know all situations and doctors are different, but when we were at Children's . . . . . There's a lot of gray area in there between "yes" and "no." You can give them a half-assed answer, there's a lot of wiggle room . . . .

Under what circumstances does a daughter tell her mother these things?

For a while, grandma was "stable." And anyone with time clocked in the NICU knows "stable" simply means "not plummeting in a death spiral at the moment." It does not mean "good," or even "better." She wasn't eating. She recognized a vase from her china set when I brought in flowers. Me not so much. Because of the infection, we all had to suit up, and I had to wear gloves just to touch her.

There is no comfort in latex.

After stabilization came a stint at the nursing home, and decisions were made about hospice. There was no time line, but it was understood that she was seriously compromised and the next step -- whether in days, weeks, or even months; whether a small stumble or a flying headfirst leap -- would be her last. Plans were made to dislodge the house guests.

And then hospice called: we could expect only days. Flights were changed; my brother madly hopped on a red-eye.

And after dinner on Monday I drove out to the nursing home to say goodbye.

Did you touch her?
I touched her hair. It was so soft. She's not in pain, she's very peaceful. She didn't talk. She looked like she was sleeping. I told her you loved her.

It was deja vu all over again, sitting in a dark nursing home room, listening to her shallow, long breaths. Her eyes were closed, she may well have been sleeping, and I sat not knowing what to say. Again. A life so short, I couldn't possibly cram everything in versus a life so long I couldn't possibly cram everything in. I left it at I love you. Awkwardly hunched over a bed, this time with no suiting up but strict instructions to wash my hands very well afterwards. Some things never change.

My brother's plane touched down at 8:19 a.m the following morning; Grandma died at 8:00 a.m.

Bella, Grandma died.
Oh. Will we bury her?
Can I help?

Pieces of conversations slammed me: "We're going to the funeral home. I have no idea how long it will be; I don't know what they do there." I do. But I decided not to regale them -- they'd find out soon enough.

The funeral director offered to include ashes in the casket, and apparently there was a whispered conversation between my aunt and Mr. ABF about Maddy's remains. We were touched, but opted no. Grandma will be buried at her church, where she's been a member for 40+ years -- a move I couldn't argue was more perfect for her. It is not perfect for us.

The burial was Friday, a private affair, just immediate family plus one family who will not be there for the memorial service next week. Plus since my dad can't lift, we needed another pallbearer. We stood in the hot noontime sun, my aunt, my mother, and I wearing grandma's jewelry we had laid claim to the day before while sorting through her apartment. We went to a brew pub afterwards and drank and ate. And that evening, we all dissolved in tears.

Can we visit Grandma?
Next week at the memorial we will. And later this fall we'll plant flowers, ok?

It has been an incredibly long month. We've had uninterrupted house guests since July 29, and more are on the way this week. I have been in constant motion since July 27 or so, always planning the next 48 hours. I am exhausted.

For Bella's birthday my father gave her a fish tank, and since that fateful day, we've been through (I am not making this up) 8 fish. We finally realized the primary goldfish we bought was aggressively trying to make meals out of his/her compatriots, and then sadly the last partner we brought in brought disease with. Before the major cemetery ceremony, we had a few in the back yard. Until that got old.

Do you want to bury Lily in the yard or flush her so she goes back into the water?
Flush her. I'll do it.

Poor kid has overseen 9 burials in the past four weeks. The silver lining is that although there have been tears, there has been only honestly, no mincing of words, no euphemisms. No hiding, no secrets, no lying. No finding a babysitter. She has asked great questions, she understands perfectly that we will never see grandma again.

Mom, can you get another grandma if yours dies?
No love. No you can't.

Sadly, I know exactly where she's going with this.


Hope's Mama said...

Oh Tash. I'm holding your family so close right now. Much love to you all.

Sue said...

Oh, Tash. I'm so sorry.

The professionals all say, make sure you say everything you have to say. But somehow all there is is I love you.

You have quite a child there, in Miss Bella.
I'm thinking of you and your family.

sweetsalty kate said...

Oh Tash, I'm thinking of you.

luna said...

so sorry about grandma, and all of bella's fish too. that's just too much death for such a little girl.

Beautiful Mess said...

I'm so sorry! I truly am.

Sending you and your family lots of love and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry.

caitsmom said...


Sara said...

Tash, I'm so sorry. Your brutual honesty, although you likely wish there wasn't so much to be brutually honest about, is creating a child that will live with such deep compassion and appreciation for life.

Michele said...

Tash, I am so sorry. Sending hugs...

Natalie said...

I am so sorry. All the houseguests, the grief, the questions... how emotionally exhausting. I hope you get some time to decompress a little. Sending you peace in this hard times.

Mrs. Spit said...

Oh Tash.

I read this and thought and "no garden to find peace in".

I haven't got much good to say, other than to tell you that Mr. Spit and I care and we hope and pray that things will get easier soon, and you will have some time and space to process all of this.

And tell poor Bella that I went through 35 fish in 2 months, and guppies are much hardier.

Julia said...

I am sorry. These have been tough tough weeks. I can only hope that the service next week is everything you need, and that after that your little family can have some quiet time.

About the fish: We seem to have inherited an uber-tank. As in, it takes special kind of neglect to kill the fish in this tank. It's a good thing, given how very non-regularly the poor fishies get attention around these parts. And I wish you that kind of luck with the next batch.

debbie said...

Tash, I am so sorry. I had no idea that you have been going through so much these last few weeks.
I know part of the reason family comes in and out of your house so much is because it is just assumed somewhere along the way that your family is strong and the right place for everyone to gather. No doubt, that's partly because of the fact that you are such a rock. I just think that while you are being so strong for everyone else, including Bella, please make sure to take some time for yourself and let it out and/or fall apart when you need to.
I'm here if you need anything.
Thinking of the whole ABF family.

ezra'smommy said...

Oh Tash, I'm so very sorry. You write so beautifully.

Lisa b said...

Tash I am so sorry.
I admire the honestly you have shown Bella and how she is handling this all.

Ya Chun said...


that Bella...

Anonymous said...

Hm..."Yes, we can try, but we're not sure if we should or if we'll be successful."

In the peanut gallery here I wish you'd try.

Of course I've decided that I'll never make another go of it myself.


janis said...

Oh, Tash... this is so rough.
I'm keeping you in my thoughts.
Big love.

Yias Yias Girl said...

Peace to you and your family.

k@lakly said...

I am glad her passing was peaceful and that you were able to tell her you loved her again. It sounds, from what you have written, that she had a good life and that she had quite a family in all of you. And somehow, in my head, as I read your words on not knowing what to say, I thought, 'well done', as in nicely played, does that make sense?
And the fish...ugh. Maybe try a Beta, they are solitary but usually hearty.
I hope the memorial offers more comfort to all of you as you remember a long life and lots of happy memories of what sounds like a remarkable woman.

angie said...

Oh, Tash, just so so sorry. Nine burials in four weeks? It is a lot, for anyone. But her questions, her earnestness, and really her bravery, Bella sounds like an amazingly insightful and wise child. You make me contemplate how I will answer those questions when they come up. Thank you.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Tash, it's 9:30 a.m. and you have me bawling. I am so sorry, sweetie. This post will stick with me all day.

N said...

So sorry for your loss.

loribeth said...

Oh Tash. Poor Bella. Poor you. I hope things ease up a little once all the memorials, etc., are over with. (((hugs)))

G$ said...

Grief is so strange, so intertwined in our lives, an undercurrent that is always there. I am sad for your family's loss of a matriarch. Much love hun


CLC said...

I am sorry about your Grandma Tash. Thinking of you all.

Bluebird said...

Oh, I'm *so* sorry. For you. For little Miss Bella. What an awful lot to go through; to process.

Thinking of you all.

Christina J. said...

A link through a link through a link from Nat's "Relaxing Doesn't Make Babies" page and here I find myself utterly absorbed in your post...and then your blog...for the past hour.

Much to my surprise I was shocked when I started recognizing references to my local area, which is Philly. I hope you don't mind another's refreshing to read someone real and down to earth. My thoughts are with you and your family.

erica said...

Thinking of you & your family, hoping things ease up soon. What an exhausting month.

holly said...

I'm so sorry. I'm thinking of you.

Aunt Becky said...

Shit Tash, I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry, Tash. Just to echo what everyone else has already said, but I think you're spot on with the way you parent Bella through this. I really admire you.


Betty M said...

I'm really sorry for your family's loss.

Michelle said...

I am so sorry for your family's loss. You are all in my thoughts and prayers!

Cara said...

Tash - I am so sorry for all that you are going through right now. The hurricane of emotions and memories must be unbearable.

Thinking of you...


Kristin said...

I"m so sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

You are truly an amazing and gifted
woman. Your strength and passion are so clearly portrayed in your writing. The depths of your sorrow are felt by all that read your blog. Thank you for sharing with friends and strangers, my deepest sympathy to you and your family in the loss of your loved ones.

I am an art teacher in the Midwest.
I was trying to find information on
Keith Haring. Your thoughts and insight on this artist were so
profound it lead me to read more on your blog! You are an inspiration.

Val said...

MORE deepest sympathy...
but maybe I can help you on the fishie disasters - until the biological filter is established (roughly 30 d), water quality can be very tricky & I suspect that's what's killing Bella's goldfish... & of course the smaller the tank, the harder to maintain - if you add more than 1 fish/5 gal the ammonia levels shoot up! (talk about "death spirals") If you could convince her that mollies or swordfish were just as good, they are actually hardier specimens!
[Confession time: we retired Z's too-small 5 gallon tank; after a span of a few successful weeks, the rising death toll just got me down. The bigger the better for aquarium maintenance, but I can't take on the responsibility of a 50 or 75-gal tank at this time!]

Searching said...

Sigh. Bella is a deep thinker and it's so sad a child has a grasp on death and what the reality is. I'm sorry about the loss of your grandmother. It's amazing how things just spiral out of control. My friend died from a flesh eating bacteria that gained entry to her body through a paper cut. From one tiny thing to dead. You know that too well.

And I absolutely agree with the "stable" comment. I have had to use that many times, sometimes after doing a code for an hour and the baby finally comes back. It means there is a heartbeat and the patient is not currently actively dying at this precise second. You ask the same question 5 min later and you might get news of a collapsed lung, blood clot, leg turning black, flat line on the EEG. Bah, I hate that you know this. Really, really hate it.

niobe said...

Thoughts, prayers and love.

charmedgirl said...

we go along in life, year after year, getting older and (we think) more worldly and knowledgeable. life, death, love, blah blah blah...yup, got that. we think.

then, we learn we know nothing. and then we start to crack the surface. and it sucks.

i'm so sorry about your grandma. it's nice that there was so much love for her, after a nice long life.

Lachlan's Mum said...

I'm so sorry about your grandma. Your writing moved me to tears. Thinking of you and your family.

AKD said...

I'm praying for you all. God bless you and that wonderful little girl.

Hennifer said...

Tash, I'm so sorry. Thank you for your words. I will be thinking of your family.

My grandfather had a severe heart attack on July 27th and we thought we were going to lose him. Thankfully he is home now. I am forever changed by this. I know in an incredible way how much I love this man and how life will never be the same.

Wishing you much love and peace and hopefully a quiet house soon.

MsPrufrock said...

Oh Tash, I'm sorry. I am always so moved by your writing, and I tell you that all the time. I also tell you all the time that I tell you how much I love your writing all the time. I'm a broken record.

This - "A life so short, I couldn't possibly cram everything in versus a life so long I couldn't possibly cram everything in." is amazing.

Gal aka SuperMommy said...

Heartwrenchingly beautiful, Tash.

samill said...

I'm so sorry.


A.M.S. said...

My deepest condolences to you and your family, Tash.

I hope you know the depth of feeling behind the shallow words.

I'm so sorry.