I don’t know how to face death, not any of it. Not the no longer living part or the what comes after part or the being without someone part or the whole complicated question of the best way to handle my life knowing that death is coming one day. I don’t know how to do any of it so I keep that all locked up somewhere far away and I try to never visit, not ever, not even for a little bit, to wonder what it might be like.
Only now I’m sitting in a hospital room and the only sounds are the machines feeding into the tubes going into my grandmother’s body and the ones that monitor if she’s breathing and her heart is pumping.
A few minutes ago, she clutched my hand and looked directly into my eyes. “Will you help me?” she said as clear as a bright blue sky and she said my name which only made it harder because that meant she knew exactly who I was, and some part of her knew exactly where she was and why.
It would be easier to think otherwise. After all, only moments before, she asked me what time the people from Bank of America were coming and then demanded I tell her what they said. And a few minutes later asked if I had let anyone know that she was running late and when I said that it was OK and not to worry about it she said “but other passengers are on board.”
She has these great moment when she laughs and smiles. She opened her eyes and asked if she was still living. I said she was and she said, “thank you” and smiled and closed her eyes again. But then she has other moments when you ask if she’s OK and she looks at you like you’re crazy and says she’s miserable and wants to go home. And, indeed, it’s a crazy thing to ask when the answer is so obvious.
I sat outside with my grandfather for a while. We lit two more cigarettes and he talked about how what he really wanted was for her to beat this. And then he said he knew that would be a miracle, but maybe at least she could come home. I don’t know. I know this isn’t something she can beat. I don’t even know if she can come home.
Yesterday, he was asking me about where I had been traveling. Have I been to Italy? No, I haven’t been to Italy.
“I always wanted to go to Venice,” he said.
And it struck me that he never, now, would go to Venice.
It made me want to drop everything and go everywhere and do everything I ever had wanted to do. Because the day will come that it will be me in that hospital room and I don’t want to say I always wanted to go to Venice.
And then he kissed his wife and told her that he loved her more than anything in the world and I thought about that too. Having someone who loves you more than anything else in the world isn’t something you can do or somewhere you can go. You can’t save up to buy it at the store. And that’s my other fear, of course. Besides my fear of dying, there’s my fear that I’ll do that dying alone and that there will never be a time when someone loves me more than anything in the world.
When you’re around death, everything else is dwarfed in comparison, but that’s mostly for everyone else but the person who is dying. My grandmother doesn’t want to be tangled in tubes and to be stuck in a bed and she keeps asking would someone please let her up to go to the bathroom. Everyone ignores her. Surely these things aren’t important next to DEATH, but they matter to her. When my cousins came in to visit, she tried to take the tube that brings her oxygen out of her nose.
“You need to leave that in. It helps you breathe.”
“But it doesn’t look attractive.”
We forget. We are thinking of the big thing and don’t remember that the small things still matter.
Often, when she slips away from the present, from the hospital bed, from not being home (and she is often in the present, which makes the times she’s not that much harder), she slips way back to when she was young. “Is this our first house, when we moved to LA right after we got married? You remember, we just needed a small apartment, just the two of us?”
It’s hard on my grandpa. “Don’t you remember, sweetheart?” He wants her to be better.
Everyone’s been coming by to see her. My cousin said that her favorite thing to do at Christmas is to go to our grandparents’ house. Not because it’s exciting, “because let’s be honest — it’s not” but because it’s them, their house. She had lived with them for a time when her mom went crazy. I have the same feelings of their house as home. Their house was the first place I remembered living.
I was talking to a friend on the phone on the way to the hospital today. I remembered that the town the hospital is in is the same one where I had my wisdom teeth out. Which reminded me that it was my grandparents who picked me up from the dentist and took me to their house and took care of me in the days after.
All of us cousins have had such fucked up lives and childhoods and families. Our one point of stability has been our grandparents. And now they’re slipping away from us and they need help and the same people — our parents, their children — who in many ways failed us as kids are in many ways failing them now. And there’s only so much any of us can do.
As much as I try not to think about death, I also mostly try not to think too much about God. Thinking about God is like thinking about the beginning of time or the edges of the universe and I can’t wrap my head around it and make it make sense. I know God academically. I can quote any scripture you’d like. But where my grandmother goes from here? I just can’t make sense of any of it.
So, I hold my grandmother’s hand and I feed her jello and give her ice chips when she’s thirsty. In her lucid moments, we talk about her cat and how the hospital room sucks and in other moments, I tell her that I’ve taken care of making my cousin a sandwich so she doesn’t have to do it. And I talk to my grandfather about what it must be like to visit Italy. And none of it makes any sense at all.