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My grandmother, Grandma Helen, had a massive stroke on February 27th while having breakfast with her daughter. Miraculously, she survived the stroke, but several tests showed that eight years of Alzheimer's had significantly shrunk her brain and the stroke had compromised what was left and any physical capabilities she once had. If she ever woke up, she would never be the grandmother that I knew and loved all my life. It is never easy to decide to let a loved one die, but my aunts, uncle and father (and the durable power of attorney document she prepared in advance) knew that grandma would never want to live in such a state. As per her wishes, she was taken off life support the next day.
After we had all said our goodbyes, it was time to wait. Her doctor said her heart was quite strong, but anticipated she would not last more than a few hours off life support at the most. But grandma was a feisty woman, and, against all odds, made it through the night. Then, further shattering everyone's expectations, she made it another day, then another, and another. At this point, we were all convinced she was super woman.
Now here came the uncomfortable part, we started getting impatient. We were as ready as we could be and knew she was ready, but who wants to expedite someone's death? Who even thinks that? Of course, we all said the standard line, "we know it's her time, and we don't want her to suffer", but it still seemed that we were somehow willing her to just...ummm...ya know...cross over already, go into the light .....anytime now Grandma.
But, it seems that she wasn't quite ready to leave us. So there she was, comatose and in hospice care hanging on well after she should have. The question was, why?
I am not an especially spiritual or superstitious person. I like facts and science (even though I got a C in my high school Chemistry class), so the idea that my 87-year-old grandmother was somehow still alive and kicking (although unconscious and brain dead) after withstanding a massive stroke and five days off life support did not compute. Something else had to be up, and to spite myself, I thought, she's waiting for something.
Now to provide context to this story, here's brief family history lesson: My grandmother and grandfather spent their "honeymoon" building a log cabin on the pristine shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. Grandma and Grandpa loved that place, and eventually retired there. About 24 years ago, Grandpa was diagnosed with lung cancer. The doctors immediately saw that he was beyond hope and sent him home. Six weeks later, he died looking out on Lake Michigan with his wife by his side in the cabin they built together. It is still standing today and I spent every summer of my childhood there with my brothers and cousins.
Lights up on a hospice bed in Cleveland, Ohio in 2010 where Grandma Helen has managed to stay alive on nothing but a morphine drip and 10 percent of her brain function for going on six days. It was at this point my uncle suggested the unthinkable to his three siblings. The conversation, as I understand it, went something like this:
Crazy Uncle: I think Mom wants to go home.
My Dad: What do you mean?
Crazy Uncle: I think we should take her back to Door County.
Dad, Sane Aunt, Sane Aunt: <horrified glare>
Crazy Uncle: No seriously, you guys, she's waiting for something, and I think she wants to go home.
I'll spare you the rest, but Grandma's kids decided that, yes, maybe she's just waiting to go home. After much paperwork, prepration and legal hurdles, my family loaded grandma into an SUV and drove her back to Wisconsin.
After the road trip to end all road trips, Grandma made it home, was put into the same bed where her husband died 24 years earlier and, almost immediately, died.
Like I said, I'm not superstitious, but I do totally believe that grandma was waiting to get home and once she did, her journey was complete and she could truly rest in peace.
Published On: March 24, 2010