Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sorry about the downer, truly

Not that I've really been on top of the blogging recently anyway, but I've had some weighty things on my mind this week. I just haven't been feeling very bloggy.

But maybe it'll be good to get it out there.

My grandmother is dying. She's had cancer for most of the past year. Actually, she beat cancer, breast cancer, once already, back in the eighties, which was the same decade she lost her daughter, my dad's sister, to cancer. I was very young; I don't remember my aunt before she became sick. In fact, I don't have any memory of her being able to speak because she was already too far gone. So for my grandmother, cancer's never been far from her mind in the years since.

And last spring a strange bump appeared on her head. The doctors were convinced she was just a batty old lady who hit her head and didn't remember it. The thing was, though, she was as sharp as any eighty-year-old can be and would have known if she'd hit her head hard enough to cause a nearly golf ball-sized lump. A month or two later, they finally decided it was a lymphoma. She had surgery to remove it and we all had a good time cracking jokes about the ghastly, stapled wound running like railroad tracks all the way across the left side of her scalp, not to mention her half-shaven head. Hey, if you can't laugh...

The follow-up radiation seemed to be successful and she was in good spirits most of the summer, worrying primarily about the cost of a decent wig. Further tests, however, showed that although the excised lump on her head didn't appear to be coming back, there was a troublesome spot on her liver. More radiation followed, then chemo, and it's been downhill ever since. She was experiencing pretty severe nerve pain all through the fall but didn't like taking the pain killers because they made her foggy. She started saying that she just wanted to make it until November 4 so she could vote. And she did. Like most of us, she'd had enough. I hope she was lucid enough last week to enjoy the inauguration.

Thanksgiving was the first time I talked to her that she was no longer herself. The painkillers were taking their toll and, always a nearly unstoppable talker with a brain that moved at hyper speed, she was even more manic and scattershot than usual. After that, I stopped calling as much, I guess not wanting to confirm the reality that things were probably not getting any better. Two weeks ago, when I called her hospital room, her speech was very slow and slurred, but you could still call it a conversation. Last night I called her (she's now in a nursing home in their small town in Maryland) and she was there on the other end of the line, but all she could manage were unintelligible mumbles. I could tell she understood most of what I was saying, though, but only because the syllable-count in "I love you too" is unmistakable.

I called my grandfather right after that and that's when I finally lost it. I don't remember ever hearing him cry before. Their house is less than a mile from the nursing home, but he knows he'll never bring her home again (and here I am losing it again.) Poppop spends all day, every day by her side but goes to sleep alone at night, something he hasn't done in sixty years. He told me she's decided not to pursue any further treatment, a decision it's difficult to argue with. Only she knows what she's been through.

My parents made plane tickets to go visit two weekends from now and I was going to drive up at the same time, but my dad called me this morning and asked if I wanted to drive up with him this weekend. We all get the feeling that sooner is better than later. So on Friday my father will pick me up and the two of us will drive north, presumably to say goodbye to his mother.

Sure, you never know with these things. She could hang on for another few months for all anybody really knows, because it's not really up to anybody in the end. They'll be moving her to a hospice care facility by the end of this week and, just as much as we'd like to see her before she goes, I think we'd like to be there for my grandfather. My heart breaks for the poor guy. Always a stoic, I've had two conversations with him in the past 24 hours and both times he cried. I think he's doing a lot of that lately.

18 comments:

The Dutchess of Kickball said...

I am so very sorry for what you are going through.

That was beautifully written and really made me look back at the times my grandparents were going through similar things.

Analyst Catalyst said...

Sooner is definitely better than later. I lived about five hours away from where my grandmother lived, who was going down a similar road, and I made the trip up to see her one weekend after the doctors had said that she probably didn't have very much time left for this world. I got to see her one last time and say goodbye; she passed just a few hours after I saw her.

I am so happy that I made that trip.

DailyNewsie said...

Mickey, I'm so sorry to hear about this. I agree that sooner is definitely better than later. It may be difficult at the time, but you'll be so glad you made the trip.

I arrived home a few hours too late to say goodbye to my mother. I hope your dad is luckier than I was.

Courtney said...

I'm glad you're going this weekend, and I'm glad you wrote this. It's good to get these emotions out.

Your grandmother is an amazing woman. She's had a good long life, and she'll be surrounded by the people who love her. We should all be so lucky.

My heart is breaking for you and your family, especially your grandfather. I'm not sure what to say except that I love you all.

Julie said...

Mickey, I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother. That is a truly awful situation.

I hate that you're going through it but I'm glad you let us know. I don't know if it actually helps, but I will be thinking about you and your family this weekend. Strong thoughts, funny thoughts, sympathetic and scream at the unfairness thoughts.

A Free Man said...

Man, I'm sorry.

Jacob said...

I'm really sorry to hear about this. I'm glad you're getting to go, though. When Kim's grandfather passed almost two years ago, I actually made her go up to see him. We were going to go later in the summer but her family was worried he was going downhill too fast. Evan was six months old and he got to hold Evan. The only two times he was coherently and entirely with us were the two times he got to hold his great grandson. He died a week or two after our visit. Kim was really glad we went when we did and I was glad I encouraged her and drove her and her mom up.

And I've written about my grandfather a couple of times before, so you know that I know a little bit of what you're feeling.

Kim and I will be thinking about you and your family.

Allie said...

I'm so sorry, Mickey. It sounds like you have an amazing family, and it must be so hard to face the idea of losing your grandmother and to see the people you love hurting like this. Sending good thoughts.

nancypearlwannabe said...

Aww, Mickey, I'm so sorry. I'm thinking good thoughts for you and I really hope you have a good weekend with your family, even though there is so much pain.

The Modern Gal said...

She sounds like an amazing lady -- to want to hang on until election day so she can vote? How remarkable.

It's such a hard thing to go through and especially to watch someone who was once strong be frail and someone who is usually stoic be emotional. I hope writing about it did help a bit. I find it usually does with these things.

I'm thinking about you and your family.

surviving myself said...

Sending positive thoughts from Brooklyn man.

Noelle said...

I'm really sorry to hear about what your grandmother is going through. You painted a lovely portrait of her, and I'm sure she knows she's blessed to have such a wonderful grandson. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your grandmother, you wrote a wonderful story about her and your family. Your grandfather needs you now...and I am sure she will be happy once you are all there with her this weekend. Its not easy, I know. My thoughts are with you and your family. M. Lou

Moni said...

I'm a lurker but I wanted to come out of my hole to tell you how much I feel for you. My step-dad had emergency brain surgery to remove a golf-ball sized lump the weekend before Thanksgiving and was diagnosed with lung cancer (it spread from his lungs to his brain). I decided to blog about it too and it felt good to get it out. I found lots of support in my friends and readers and it has helped immensely.

I'm sorry you're going through this. My thoughts are with you and your family. Have a safe trip driving up to visit your grandma.

Blogstiny said...

Sorry to hear about your grandmother. I feel for your Grandfather as well. That would be so hard to deal with. Positive thoughts for you and your family.

Tiffany said...

Mick - I'm very sorry to hear about your grandmother. I never really know what to say during these times, but I found this quote while putting together the morning report for the park. It made me think of you.

"It is not length of life, but depth of life."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

em said...

I'm sorry to hear this. I hope the drive you had with your father was a time to reflect. I hope your goodbye is peaceful too.

Stefanie said...

That's so sad. I'm sorry to hear what she's been going through. I remember you writing about your grandma before, and she sounds like an awesome old broad. I hope you got to enjoy some time with her this weekend, despite the circumstances.