I write to you today with great amounts of sadness, grief and bewilderment filling my every finger stroke. I don’t know how to write about this, I don’t even know if I should write about this, but for me, writing has always been an outlet, and so today I let my fingers guide my emotions.
Yesterday evening my Grandma passed away. It came as a shock.
She was 83 years old and had been having a few issues the last year or so that were slowing her down. Still, it was a shock. She had called an ambulance at 3:30 in the morning Saturday; she couldn’t walk. Still, it was a shock. I visited her Saturday afternoon, I saw the frailness of her thin stature lying in the bed and heard her intermittent struggles for breath. But still, it was a shock.
She was talking, her mind completely intact, she had moments of smiles, especially when her eyes crossed over Little Ring and Big Big Brother, and man, she still had a fire in her, bossing the cardiologist around, griping about this person and that nurse, and chiding me for teasing my big brother, a known favourite of hers, with that “grandmotherly tone” I had come to know MANY times in my existence.
I didn’t know how sick she was. I didn’t know how pained she was. I didn’t know the daily torture of living was far worse than dying.
Grandma had COPD. She chose to die.
For 48 years she was a smoker. For 24 years, she has been a non-smoker. (She quit the year her first great grandchild was born.) It didn’t matter. Her lungs were shot.
Grandma used to be an active woman. She regularly worked out at the local recreational facility; volunteered for the hospital auxiliary, which was conveniently located next to a chocolate factory she did so love; she taught herself how to drive in her 40’s on an old beetle stick shift; worked at Vancouver’s long gone Eaton’s department store; was always in and out of her two-storey house, with the steepest down slope driveway I’ve ever encountered, well into her 70s. A few years ago when she moved into a penthouse suite, not even 10 minutes down the road from me, she kept moving – regularly walking up and down the Quay, visiting the fishies, of which she knew exactly which type they were, climbing the overpass multiple times a day with her Ginger dog in tow.
Then, she stopped.
At first, she started going around the overpass to areas with slightly less incline, but that too stopped. I started seeing my uncle more and more with the dog on the overpass instead of Grandma. And spotting her while mid-run on the Quay, which used to be a regular occurrence, grew to never.
It was too hard. She couldn’t breathe.
I knew that my grandma’s lungs had been affected by the smoking, but I didn’t know she had COPD.
Today, I’ve been doing a lot of research on what it’s like to live with COPD: constantly being hungry for breath, feeling as though you’re swallowing shards of glass with every molecule of oxygen filling the trachea, your body, your heart so weakened from the exertion of mere breathing, knowing no matter how bad this episode, the next will inevitably be worse and worse and worse.
When I got the call at 6:55 p.m. last night that she had died, I didn’t understand. Even with the earlier call telling me that as of 3 p.m., she was refusing treatment, including oxygen, the urgency of it, the seriousness still didn’t register.
My Grandma was a strong woman. Mentally and physically strong. She was intelligent, independent, maybe to a fault, she had a will about her, a stubborness, and a way that you didn’t dare cross. I am not going to lie, we butted heads more than a few times over the years.
She was not the type of person to die.
I understand not wanting to live that way. I understand the strength in her choice. But I don’t understand the pain I am feeling today.