Saturday, January 31, 2015

gladiolas

If you were there, thank you.
If you couldn't be - we still felt the love.

The day was harder than I expected, but until now, there has been no time to cry. We will try to post eulogies soon, in case some of you would like to read them.

I don't know what happens from here, I just know that she would want it to be good - and that there were gladiolas.


 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

two more days

If there were such a thing as the bridezilla of funerals, I am sure it would be my grandma.

Forget the fact that she didn't even WANT a funeral, and only conceded when I told her what asshats we would look like if we didn't have one for her. She finally decided it would be ok.

But I can hear her all the way from there:

"Talk - but not too long."

"Say something beautiful - but not too sappy."

"I don't want flowers - but there should be some."

"Don't serve food - but don't let people go hungry."

"Don't make jokes - dear Lord don't let people go around moping."

However,  I do feel like the 38 years I've spent with her gives me some sort of handle on what all of that really means.

When she grabbed my hand in the hospital and said, "Do what you want," what I hope she really meant was: "I trust your judgement."

Because what I want is a taco bar catered from Chipotle, a gravestone that isn't located in a ghost town, and a valium.

We will settle for something slightly different.  If you'd like to join us for her final farewell, we'll see you Saturday at 1:00.  And if you see her before I do - please tell her it was all cool.

Monday, January 26, 2015

sometimes

Ug.

Sometimes this part is almost as agonizing.

But at least I got to ask her what her favorite flowers were.

When the pastor told me that my dad liked lilies, I was furious at myself for not knowing.

I'm sure it seemed like a stupid question as she lay there unable to swallow, but at least I know.

It's gladiolas.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

gramma's obituary

 

Leora Johanna Rawn (Jensen) was born on July 29, 1916, in Flaxton, North Dakota, and spent her final days at the Prescott Nursing and Rehabilitation Center surrounded by the people she loved. She was 98 and a half years old.


The second of Nels and Gertrude Jensen's six daughters, Leora was quick to cultivate a strong work ethic, a sharp wit, and the ability to sniff out malarky upwind a North Dakota mile. She used those skills to graduate early from Northgate High School in 1934.  Nearly a decade later, she married Henry Rawn. On their Flaxton farm, they raised wheat, chickens, cows and two kids, Gary and Patricia, before opening the Northgate Cafe' on the U.S. Canadian Border. The cafe’ was famous for Leora’s pies, cookies, and her penchant for looking the other way while the grandkids and cousins raided the candy shelves.


In 1977, after the death of Gary's wife, Hank and Leora relocated to Bakersfield, CA, to help their son raise their two young grandchildren.


Hank died in 1978, and soon after, the family found themselves settled in Prescott, Wisconsin, where Leora kept even busier than her grandkids. She attended school functions, participated in activities at Joy Lutheran Church, hosted slumber parties and bingo nights for her grandkids, wrote columns for The Prescott Journal, played cards, visited, spent time with her family and friends, and could often be found in the kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee, a willing ear and an open heart.


Although she always said she didn't want a "big fuss" made over her passing, she also left her grandkids in charge, saying, "do what you want."  Since we think she is completely deserving of a big (yet dignified) fuss, we invite you to join us as we celebrate almost a century of Gramma Leora's wisdom, wit and love on Saturday, January, 31, 1:00 pm, at Joy Lutheran Church in Prescott, WI.


Please don't wear black, she'll be furious.


She was preceded in death by what she liked to call, "almost everyone else" -  in particular,  her parents, her husband Henry, her son Gary, four sisters, several friends and family members.


Her daughter Trish; grandkids Jana, Devin, Jamie and Jim; sister Vera; nine great grandchildren and several nieces and nephews (including her favorite), will pass down her legacy of love, quick wit, card sharking skills and the secret recipe for toasted cheese sandwiches.


In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you spend an hour listening to the stories of someone older and wiser than yourself, rally your friends for a spirited game of cards, and take time to visit with the people you love.

Donations may be made to the Prescott Care Center Auxiliary.

what to say

Nobody knows what to say when somebody dies.

Nobody.

People that don't know her say, "Oh, wow, she was 98, she lived a good life."

People who do know her, can't believe something so small took something so wonderful.

People who were there this week, breathe a sigh of relief and say, "finally."

But there is no right or wrong thing to say.

Even the hospice nurse who confirmed what I already knew - even she said, "I'm sorry, she's passed."

And I am betting that she wasn't expecting what I said either. She probably did not expect me to climb over the back of my chair, perch at the head of Gramma's bed and say, "You did it Gramma!!! You finally did it! I'm so happy for you! So proud of you!" And then I stopped looking at her face, her beautiful but tortured face, and instead I looked up - the only place I could imagine her being, whispered. "You can be happy now. I love you."

But even I do not know if that was the right thing to say, because chances are, now that she can finally see again, she really wanted me to say, "Don't worry, I was just gonna clean all of this mess up."




Friday, January 23, 2015

goodbye


It's over.

About 8:30 this morning, Gramma finally found her way home.

I cried when they confirmed it. I don't know what the tears were for - sadness, relief, anger that she had to suffer, happiness that she wasn't anymore. I don't know.

I don't really know anything at all, except that the world is emptier now.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

respite


Today I snuck home for a bit to teach my dance classes.

I think there is only one word to explain how it felt:

Alive.

Loud music. Jumping. Laughing. Kids. Moving.

Today I remembered why being alive feels so good.

We also got to work on a piece we are dedicating to Gram. It pretty much sums up, who she was to everyone she knew:

"If no one will listen, if you decide to speak,
If no one is left standing after the bombs explode.
If no one wants to look at you for what you really are,
I will be here still."

We had friends and family here with her during the day. I returned to a quieter, but still beautiful woman. The words are gone, but she breathes next to me, just like she did when she used to let me snuggle in her bed with the electric blanket. 

I am on auto-pilot now. I have to be. I could not survive eight days of continuous racking sobs, and heartbreaking memories. But in many ways, it is still not real. No matter what I know to be rational and true, having her breathing next to me still feels like possibility, like hope. Like maybe not tonight, but sometimes we will watch reruns of the Golden Girls and talk about the time my Christmas Cat escaped.

I tell her goodnight, and I am never sure when it will be the last time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

here's to good health


She is the healthiest person in the building.
Except for the dying part.
Her blood pressure is 132 over 80.
Her oxygen is at 99%.
Her temp is 98.6.

I am not this healthy. 
The people taking care of her are not this healthy.

The nurses come back from two days off and stare dumbstruck at her bed. I don't even answer her room phone anymore, because whatever I say would end up sounding like, "not yet," and I don't want her to hear that.

One of her friends says, "she can't leave because there is too much love in the room." I don't know about too much, there can never be too much love.

But you know what there can be too much of?
Food.
This is half of the food in this room:


Since only one of us is consuming anything but narcotics, small wonder who will end up with diabetes and a root canal. Thank God for the baked spaghetti, artichoke dip and combos. Double thanks for PT being right across the hall and leaving me free acess to their theta bands and yoga balls.

There is just one glimmer of joy in this ordeal. It's knowing that if Gram were to wake up out of this tomorrow, she and I would laugh at the absurdity of it all. I can see her face now, "Lord love a duck, who in God's name thought you could eat 8 apple turnovers, 5 cupcakes, and 6 donuts a day?"

what?



"You are a great . . ."

Just one of the dozen sentences she has left unfinished the past two days.

I'm taking it.

Though it's quite possible the rest was something like, "big pain in the ass."

Memory


One of our friends who is a hospice nurse told us that when her patients have had a very rich or complex life it often takes them much longer to die. I don't recall all of the details, but something about the hypothalamus flipping through the pages of their memory, trying to set things in order.

I don't know if that's true or not. I don't know anything anymore.

But, I want to help her in anyway I can, so we spent the morning reading her journals. I sat next to her, not knowing if she was even able to hear me anymore, but since I've also heard that hearing is the sense that remains the longest, I soldiered on.

We read about when she was little, chores, playing with her sisters, going to dances. There were no smiles today, no lifting her head, but she did say, quite clearly, "D.Rs. Fence" And "for fun, we used to play." So I'm pretty sure she was listening.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ug



I can handle a lot of things Gramma, but we've got bitchy nurse Alice again tonight. She actually attempted to stare me down when I went to the desk, so let's see if we can keep it down to a dull roar tonight.

last kiss





Easter 2014. 

Gram only likes the jelly beans. Neeks only likes the chocolate. They make a good pair.

I took the four year old for a little tour of Gram's house a few days ago. We visited the vegetable garden where they picked carrots and peppers; the toy room where they would play catch; the aviary where they would give all the birds different, silly names; the bench where they hunted for Eater eggs and then re-hid the eggs five times so they could just keep the fun going.

I want her to know, so I tell her as clearly as I can, "You know honey, Gram is going to die soon."

She looks up at me and nods.

I keep going, because I want to make sure she gets it, "Just like Pa. So when we go back to her room, when you say goodbye, we won't ever get to see gram again."

She looks up at me, confused. "That's not true," she says.

"Sorry honey, but it is true."

"Actually no. We just won't see her again until we die."

"Well, yes, until we die."

"Yes, but then when we die, the fun just keeps going and going and going - we just have to be sort of patient and wait."

She walks with me back to the room. She knows that she has to talk loudly for her gramma to hear her. She says, "I love you Gram! Bye bye!" She smiles and blows a big kiss high into the air, I jump into the air and catch it. "Give it to Gram," she says.

So, I hold the kiss, and slip my hand into Gram's. One last kiss from her Dani.

Monday, January 19, 2015

blank space


There is no rhyme or reason to this.

It is beyond human.

She's gone three weeks without food - five days without any real water.

How can this be happening? 

Why is this happening?

Today she looked at me, sat up and tried to get out of bed. After 24 hours of shallow breathing, and no talking, she looked right at me and with much effort said, "I want to know how to get out." I knew what she meant, but did not have a good answer. 

A visitor in her room said, "but it's so cold outside."

Gramma turned her head and very clearly said, "I don't want to go outside."

After a few minutes, I curled up next to her and said, "I don't know how to get out. That isn't my department, I'm just sitting here waiting for the train with you. I do know that if you want to get out, you have to walk away from my voice. When you see Dad, when you see something beautiful, when you hear wonderful music, you walk away from me and go towards it - that's how you get out."

Is that even right? How the hell would I know? It's like she's stuck in a giant fun house mirror room looking for the exit.

I keep telling her that I am listening my very best, much better than when I was 13. I tell her that I am trying to do what she wants, and apologize for messing up. She flat out refuses medication for five hours.

A few other crystal clear sentences she's shared with me tonight:

"Somebody help me!"

"I am stuck here. Why am I stuck here?"

"There will never be another . . ."

"I want to know . . ."

"I want you to not . . . "

"Listen to me, if you see Devin . . ."

I will spend the rest of my life filling in the blanks.


good timing



Sometimes the right people come at just the right time. 

Today it was my cousin Brent. 

We spent a couple of hours talking about relatives, working at the Journal, summers in North Dakota - and then something beautiful happened. 

Gram started smiling. 

I really thought this thing had stolen even the last of her smiles, but there they were. She nodded when we talked about the cafe' and all of the candy she used to let us poach from behind the counter, gave us huge smiles when we talked about playing in the barn at Aunt Ilene's farm, possibly even a laugh at the fact we damn near killed ourselves jumping through the hayloft.

Gram smiles, a visit from one of my favorite cousins, plus the b!+c#¥ nurse who got in my face yesterday was reprimanded. It's been a relatively good day.




why


This is why I can't stand to see it.
If she had ever said, "man I just want to milk every second out if life" that would be different. If she had ever said, "do whatever you can to help me live." That would be different. But no, this is how it always went:

I was eight years old. She looked at me and said, "Listen, if I ever get to be seventy, just take me out in the backyard and shoot me." The look of horror on my face, must have prompted her follow through comment, "no, I'm serious, when people get to be 70, there is just no use for them."

Sometime around her 68th birthday, she said to me, "Ok, I mean it this time, if I live to 80' just take me out to the backyard and shoot me. I'm serious, 80 is ridiculous." I gave her the same look.

On the day of her 80th birthday surprise party, she joked that, "now we could do it, because she'd had the best day of her life, adding, "but at 90 you just have to put me out of my misery."

The years went on, she held 8 of her 9 great grandkids, 7 on the day they were born. She celebrated Yoda's first birthday with a double party for the two of them. There were Easter Egg Hunts, vegetable gardens to plant, weddings to go to, to BE in. She lived alone until she was 96. 

She wanted to keep her dignity.
This is why it's so hard to watch.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

what you deserve


The gross and horrible injustice of this is too much to bear.

Technically she is healthier than I am. Her blood pressure is that of a 30 year old. Her oxygen level is 98%. Her pulse is strong.

The truth here is that my gramma, my world, is dying of thirst, dying of starvation, and there is nothing in the world I can do to save her, or to help her move forward. I have done everything I know, everything the nurses know, everything the world knows.

This woman, bright, loving, funny, proud, beautiful woman deserves peace. She does not deserve this. If this is what the good guys get, I can't imagine the alternative.


How much more



I keep track of every word, because I think it may be her last.

I combed her hair, and gave her a little sponge of water.

I was sure she had no more words, but still there was a "thank you."

I kiss her face and say, "Don't mention it."

The injustice of this is unbearable.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

messenger


"I think I'll be fading off soon," she says.

"Yes," I tell her, "I think so too. But when you get there just go."

She nods.

Her hand becomes heavier in mine, her breathing more shallow.

"When you see it Gramma, it will be so beautiful. Everyone you love is there. Almost everyone I love is there: Grandpa Hank, Boyd, who I never knew, but you loved, Dad, my mom. When you see them please give them a big hug for me,"

"Ok, I will."

"When you see them , when you see all of your sisters, and Granma and a Grandpa Jensen, Grandma June, Grandad Ben, Mom, Dad, Grandpa, even Lillian, June, Claudine, Milly, you go to them. Don't stay here with me, you just let go of my hand and run to them, you go tell them how wonderful everything turned out to be."

"Ok, I will. . . . . . are you staying?"

"I am staying until you leave."

"Oh. Yes. I will tell them."

super


Wow, you know you're gramma is some kind of supernatural soul, when the parents of the nurses and aides are driving in from out of town to sit with her. 

Never ceases to amaze me.

#supergram


love

How is even possible that she is still giving out so much love?

Is that why she hasn't gone? Is there just too much love inside of her and she has to spend it all?

She tells the boyfriend of the girl who works here, "Please take care of her, have a wonderful family together." She tells the nurses, the aides how much she loves them and remembers all the details about their lives - their kids, their husbands, she doesn't miss a trick.

She talks with my aunt on the phone, and I'm not totally certain, but I think we finally confirmed who her favorite is - even if we didn't, I'm claiming it. Aunt T's southern drawl and quick laughter bring a smile to Gram's face even now.

She asks for a strawberry shake and then admits that it didn't taste nearly as good as she'd hoped.

But she says she still loves that we tried.

I know she has to go, but watching this, watching how many people she is reaching out to how many people she loves, makes me understand why it's taking so long.



i know nothing


Proving once again that I know absolutely nothing. . .

There were more words. Two and half hours worth. Smiles, laughs, stories and "I love you's". From 3:30 am until now, Gramma was in rare form, and I was here with her. What a gift.

"I thought I was finished," she said. "But I guess I wasn't."

"Do you feel finished now?"

"Yes."

Soon.


Friday, January 16, 2015

peace

I look at her sweet face, finally getting some sleep. I am finally beginning to realize that all of this panic I feel, all of this heartbreak is for nothing. I was so worried, so desperate that I would not find the right words, could not tell her enough how much she matters.

But for a moment, she was peaceful and I felt it too. 

There are no more words for us.

She does not need to hear about the love. We lived it. 

She knows. Maybe that is all we need, is to know we know.

who'd have thought


Who'd have guessed that it would be possible for this to get worse?

Just so we're on the same page, I didn't realize yesterday that "hospice" care here, means somebody comes in every two hours to adjust the bedding, administer morphine and check blood pressure. I thought there would be someone here, someone helping, someone caring for her. 

There is, it's just me.

My brother got here today. We laid on each side of her, snuggling as she said, "just let me go, let me go home." We told her she could, but she is still hanging in there. The morphine comes once an hour and double the dosage now. 

I take back what I said yesterday, listening to the woman who raised you, who taught you grace and dignity and sarcasm and everything good about life - listening to her begging to die, is the crappiest I have ever felt.

This has always been one of my favorite pictures of Gramma, but it means so much more now. I hope that very soon, she has my dad at her side again, and is throwing her head back laughing in the wind.

(My aunt can stay here though if it's all the same.)


How much this sucks


How cruel is the world that the one thing she keeps asking me for is what I can't give her. 
Water.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

last hurrahs




I thought I knew how crappy it was possible to feel. 
I wasn't even close.
Holding hands with someone who is dying has very little to do with holding hands. It is being keeper of the gate when a hundred other people want to hold her hand. It is running, and cleaning and wringing out towels, and answering phone calls. It's praying and not even being sure what you're praying for just knowing that someone who lived life with such dignity, should be allowed to keep it no matter what the cost. It's loving somebody so much that there is no right way for this to turn out.

My Grandma, the woman who raised me is so loved. There have been an easy two dozen people parading through her room tonight. None of them can believe this is happening - especially me. But there are no pretenses, no masquerading. Nobody is telling her they'll beat her at pinochle next week. They are just telling her how important she has been to them, how much she has given to this world, how empty it will feel without her.


Yoda got Gram's last great moment. The two of them visited last night in the hospital. Yoda was dressed to the nines. Gram opened her arms wide so they could snuggle in bed. "You have a beautiful dress on," Gram said.

"Thank you."

"You look like a princess." (Another big smile from the four year old.) "But you are, aren't you? You really are my princess."

Yoda proceeded to stand up on the edge of the bed, so gram could get a better look, and ooooh and ahhh at her one last time. The very last moment that Dani will ever remember having a grandmother. By the time she returned with a picture she'd drawn, Gram was fast asleep, and there were no more smiles. No more sentences.

But today Punk and Kooka said their goodbyes in private. I am not sure what she said to Punk, but I do know that when Kooka sat down to hold her hand, Gram said, "Sing me that song."

Kooka looked to me.

"Which one?" I asked, "the one she sang for Pa?" Gram nodded. I tried to count her in while suppressing my sobs, and as I walked out of the room, I could hear her sweet little voice pushing through the tears, singing the same song she serenaded her grandpa with at his funeral just a year and a half ago:

"I got my ticket for the long way 'round, 
two bottle of wishin' for the way,
And I sure would like some sweet company,
So l'm leaving tomorrow whatdya say?
When I'm gone, when I'm gone
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone."

I don't know where that little girl gets her strength -
oh,
wait,
yes,
I know exactly where she gets it.

I love you Gramma.


Monday, January 5, 2015

bye bye bye

Bye bye Facebook.

I gave it up for the first few weeks of the New Year.  I thought it would be difficult - especially since I'm still forced to check it every other day for our work page.  But it's not difficult at all - it is HEAVENLY.

I didn't realize how much it stresses me out until now. It's true. If another studio is offering a belly dancing class, I feel compelled to bring in Princess Jasmine herself to teach at our place.  If somebody's kid gets an acceptance letter to Purdue, I freak out that my kid didn't get a letter from Purdue, never mind that she's 12.  If somebody runs a seven-minute mile, I wonder why it takes me the exact same amount of time to take the trash out to the curb.

Insanity.

Instead of revealing in the good vibes people are spreading, I just freak out about my own inadequacies - parental, spousal, personal, professional. Basically, Facebook makes me think I suck at life, because I don't Pintrest Yoda's hairstyle every day (or any day actually).

I'm sure I will be back at some point, but right now, the peace feels good.