My grandmother died on Saturday morning of a heart attack. She was 93. I saw her a few moments in the ICU before I left NYC and headed to Vegas. I decided to leave for my month trip because she woke up from her coma and seemed like she would be better. Unfortunately she wasn't and had two (or three) heart attacks. The last one killed her.
When I left the hospital that day I wondered if that would be the last time I saw her. It was. Whenever I embark on a long journey I always made the effort to stop by and she her. I knew that she was old and that could be the last time I see her. The hardest part about traveling so much the last ten or so years was knowing that my grandmother (or any family member or friends) would die while I was away. That was one of my biggest fears... having to cut short a holiday to come home. I had to do that.
I was over 3,000 miles away in Long Beach when I found out she died. And getting home was harder than I thought. I had to drive four plus hours to Las Vegas then get on a plane and fly five plus hours home. I had a free flight coming to me on JetBlue and I could not pick the dates/flights I wanted. I got stuck with a redeye on Monday night arriving Tuesday morning.
I'm not overly upset at the loss of my grandmother. I feel more sad for my mother and her brothers and sister. My grandmother was old and after she survived a stroke 20 months ago, I accepted that she was in the last stages of her life. That time was bonus time I told myself. And in that span she hit a few slots jackpots at Mohegan Sun. She took down $10K one trip and ht a few small jackpots worth a few grand. Whenever she won she'd always give me and my brother a small cut. I guess that's why whenever I come into money, I'm always sharing it as much as I can.
Some people are just plain lucky and based on her tough life, I'm sure she would tell you that she got lucky in life more than once. Sadly, in the last chapter of her life, my grandmother was severely depressed. Although she had a quick mind, it was slipping and she was not as mobile as she used to be. This prevented her from taking long walks through the neighborhood. She couldn't go to the grocery store a few blocks away without a cane and someone to keep an eye on her.
She also stopped going to church. Everyone thought she had too much pride and didn't want the other parishioners see her have to walk with a cane. The real reason was that she was angry at God. In her eyes, God let her down. I suspect that when she had her stroke, she didn't want to survive. She was stronger than she expected and recovered, but not without a reminder of how awful it is to be stuck in a hospital with tubes sticking out of you and being hooked up to machines and having strange nurses poke you with holes for blood samples. When she was in the stroke ward, the guy next to her was crazy. He would scream uncontrollably because he wanted morphine and pain killers. The doctors wouldn't give him any so he would yell non-stop and rip off his gown until the nurses sedated him. I was watching one of his incidents one afternoon when I visited my grandmother and I was horrified by the wailing naked old guy. In my grandmother's eyes, she was in hell's waiting room and she couldn't get out. She asked God to take her right there on the spot but refused. She's been pissed off ever since.
When I first arrived in LA, I checked my email/messages. My mother wrote me. This was one line about my grandmother that was hard to stomach:
She was saying that when she gets home she was going to jump out the window. Anyway, I hope when she starts to eat something, maybe she'll feel differently. I hope so.My mother thought it was just a phase or a state of mind that would change that some food would cure. I took those words seriously. My grandmother lived enough life and she wanted to leave the party. When I found out she had a heart attack I was relieved. No one should have to wait to die like that. Last week, when I stood over my grandmother and seeing all those tubes in her, my eyes filled with tears. I wasn't sad that I was going to lose her. I was angry, ashamed, and confused on why we were torturing her like that. That's no way to die. She deserved better and that's a tough decision that certain family members are going to have to deal with for the rest of their lives. She was in too much pain and if there is a higher being, then God finally answered her prayers.
Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.