I am the youngest of three children and my brother and sister are seven and nine years older than me. I’m pretty sure I was a surprise. When I was young, my parents were in the thick of traveling, my father was a successful traveling salesman, so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents whom I loved dearly. I would sneak upstairs at my parents’ house and call my grandmother and say, “Could you please call our house and ask if I could sleep over?” I was her pet, among other things, she would brush my hair, she would buy me Fritos, give me soda, and she spoiled me rotten. She really doted on her baby granddaughter. She was a most important figure in my life.
Twenty-six years later she was at Greg’s and my wedding and shortly afterwards she became very sick. She had never been in a hospital, not even when she had a broken leg. She had the doctor set her leg in his office and then she went home. She also had her tonsils removed in a doctor’s office. She was born in 1891 and didn’t believe in hospitals.
She was sick for maybe eight weeks and then finally went into the hospital, much to her dismay. I went with my husband to visit her. She was so sick that at that point, she couldn’t talk. So, I kissed her and I said, “I love you” when we left for the evening. The next morning, we got the call, “Gram passed last night”
At this point in my life, I had no idea that you didn’t want someone to die alone. I may have been in denial about her impending death. My mother didn’t know how to help her pass or that she was even supposed to be there. Whatever the case might be, it had a huge impact on me to think that my grandmother had been all by herself in distress when she died. I was haunted by the vision of her dying alone. I loved her more than any words could describe.
Fast-forward many more years and eventually my Mom became sick. We moved her into our house knowing that she had cancer. She lived with me, my husband and my three boys for six months. My husband, Greg, was the one who said, “Your mom is going to come here.”
“Oh,” I said, “I can’t watch her suffer, I am not a nurse, I won’t know what to do, I have a really weak stomach.” But she came and she stayed with us. It was hard on our boys because they loved her dearly, as we all did. It was our first close experience with someone who was dying. I have a very dear friend who is a hospice nurse and she came for two or three weeks to help us.
We all slept downstairs with her and we set the alarm. We had to give her morphine every eight minutes. If you let it go any longer she would be in terrible distress. My boys were beside themselves as we gave her more and more morphine to keep her comfortable. They were concerned that we were killing her. Essentially, you are helping them to die.
When the time came, we were all there when she passed. I felt that it was the way it was supposed to be. We had a beautiful experience with my Mom. It was life changing to learn how to face death and embrace it with your loved ones. It was a whole different way of looking at and accepting death.
This experience helped us when last year Greg’s father, who lived to be one hundred, was dying and we were able to be with him. He was only in hospice for twenty-four hours. He couldn’t speak but I remember saying to him, (he was a devout Catholic,) “Papa, would you like to have a priest?” He winked at me. So, we brought in a priest and we were all there when he passed. It was beautiful and we had no regrets because we had helped someone cross over.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.