Thursday, February 01, 2007

She's Done All She Can

My gramma* is dying. I know that I'm lucky to still have a grandparent alive at this point in my life. But that knowledge doesn't make the thought of losing her any easier to bear right now. So I'd thought I would write a bit here about my amazing gramma.

My gramma is 93 years old. Her husband died in 1969, before I was born. She had a master's degree and taught high school french (and coached the women's golf team) even though she never needed the money because she and grandpa made a good amount of money off of the sale of a family business many years ago. After she retired from the school system when she started having health problems, she became an active member of the board of her local Meals on Wheels (now she is a recipient as well as a volunteer; all of the Meals on Wheels volunteers who bring her meals now know and respect her).

Gramma had heart attacks in 1979-80, which resulted in the installation of a pacemaker. She pretty much stopped traveling at that point because she didn't like being away from her doctors. About fifteen years ago she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Since then she has done course after course of radiation, chemotherapy and any other sort of treatment that might have some ability to slow down the progress of the disease. She's talked her doctors into letting her take part in experimental treatments even though she was out of the age range for the studies. She is very persuasive.

Time and time again she has come back from bad prognoses. Meanwhile she's lost all of her remaining siblings (she grew up on a farm in a family of 9 children), along with most of her friends who she socialized with during her retirement.

Now the cancer seems to have finally caught up with her. She is too weak for any more cancer treatments and we have to watch it "take its course". It is hard to see someone who is so strong and courageous taken down this way, but there don't seem to be any alternatives.

This week I went to Indiana to see gramma one more time. We've been saying each visit may be the last for 5 or 6 years at least, but unfortunately this time I think it really was.

Gramma was hospitalized late last week so that they could drain the fluid that built up in her lungs. She had been resisting hospitalization for several months, even though the fluid made it very hard for her to function, because she's been living at home and she's really adamant about not being hospitalized or put into a nursing home, even though it is harder and harder for her to take care of herself. Once she was admitted, the prognosis was not good. Her doctor thinks we are talking about weeks or months at the most.

Because of gramma's toughness and determination, my mom and uncle set about finding any way that gramma could live out her remaining time at home. It helps that my uncle lives a couple of blocks away, but he is already stretched to the limit with his daily visits to her and he can't take on primary caregiver and the round-the-clock sorts of obligations that are necessary at this point. Luckily Bloomington has what seems to be a great home hospice system and somehow my mom and uncle managed to get gramma's doctor on board with a combination of home hospice and hired caregiver treatment. After a long couple of days of working towards her release from the hospital, getting her house set up for this new system and hiring an overnight caregiver, gramma went home on Wednesday. We spent a lot of time talking to the hospice folks and I'm hopeful that this might work. The most important thing at this point is letting gramma live out her final days with as much dignity and comfort as possible.

I'm really going to miss her. But I'm thankful for all the bonus time we've had with her. She is such a fighter. But she should probably let it go now. As painful as it will be for those of us who love her.

*Not grandma, not grandmother, etc. She's always been gramma. And that name suits her perfectly. Tough as nails with everyone except for her three grand-daughters. She's always fawned over us.


Bold n Brazen said...

Just... I'm sorry. I kind of know how you feel, and i know it feels kind of awful.


Lisa said...

I'm so sorry, Leila. I went through this a few years ago, and I know how tough it is. My thoughts are with you and your family.