The following is long and mostly for me. Skip if you don't care to read about other people's family experiences. :
I received a call on Thursday evening that my father's mom had taken a turn for the worse and wasn't expected to live through the night. She had had a massive stroke a few weeks ago and has generally been in declining health. She was staying in a nursing home about an hour and a half east of me, and my parents wanted to know if I wanted to go with them to say goodbye. I agreed, and they picked me up along with my aunt.
We arrived at around midnight, and my grandmother was still hanging in there. She looked very different than when I saw her last at the family new year's eve party... the stroke had left the right side of her body completely paralyzed, and really she only had voluntary control of her left arm and head. It was hard to tell how aware she was of her surroundings at first, but eventually she seemed to wake up. My dad and three of his brothers and sisters were there. We didn't know how long she had to go, so we all said our own goodbyes to her. She was trying to talk to us, but the stroke had left her unable to speak. We could only guess at what she was trying to say, and she would either nod yes or shake her head no... on top of that, apparently she's been reading lips for past few years, as she had lost most of her hearing. So it's difficult to say how much we were really effectively communicating with her.
Throughout the night I took walks to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. There was a young cat on the porch of the nursing home that came to like me. My mom came out to the porch with me and we had a discussion about the house that my grandmother used to live in. I was recalling the house itself alright, but I couldn't bring up many specific memories. My memories usually involve what places were like but not what actually happened, which has always frustrated me. The only thing I could remember was my grandmother fixing me ramen noodles... I think it was the first time I had them. I don't know.
My mom and I started talking about my dad and all his siblings. There were 3 girls and 3 boys in their family, including my dad. I noted that the youngest, Ron, was very quiet and reserved and didn't act like the traditional "youngest child" and that it was the same case with me. My friend Neal just the other day had remarked that he could usually tell if someone is an only child, and eldest child, or the youngest child, but that it wasn't the case with me, I didn't fit the youngest child profile. My mom replied that she always thought I had an "old soul." Growing up, I was always very mature and responsible. She would leave the exact same directions for me as she would my 7-years-senior brother. I don't know what that means, but it makes a certain kind of sense to me.
Apparently one of the things my grandmother wanted was for some of the recently born grandchildren to be baptized into the cathol ic church. The Kydes have always been of pretty catholic stock, though the youngest daughter had apparently changed religions, and my grandmother was afraid that the daughter's children wouldn't be baptized. This daughter is of the "Holy-Roller" variety, as my dad put it, and spent most of her final conversations with my grandmother talking about Jesus and reading from the bible and repeating "I love you." In moderation this is fine, but it got to the point of being monotonous throughout the night. I'm not much of a catholic anymore, but my dad pretty much agreed with me that it was getting very tiring to hear her go on about her mom going to be with Jesus all night.
I was up all night with her, on and off. I was getting really tired, and at about one on Friday I went out to the van to get some sleep. I had been up for 25 hours at that point. We had promised my aunt Joani that we would stay with her through the night, so she wouldn't be alone, and she would come by to relieve us on Friday. My dad woke me up at 2:00 on Friday and said that we were going to go home; we had done all we could, and other relatives were going to stay with her while we went home and got some sleep. So we went home, and I went to sleep in my old room. I woke up a bit after midnight to the voice of my dad on the phone in his room.
My grandmother had been hanging on for something. What it was, we weren't sure, and I don't think we'll ever be sure. We thought maybe she was hanging on to see her only surviving sister, who came to see her Friday morning. Then we thought she might be hanging on for her daughter who didn't get to the nursing home until Friday night. I believe she was holding on to make sure that it was ok for her to go; she wanted to know that her kids would be ok without her. She was a very selfless woman. Or maybe she was holding on for her birthday, which would have been today. In any case, those who were left with her saw her start to go at around 11 last night. They sang her "Happy Birthday," because they didn't think she would make it to midnight. She passed away at 11:15 PM. She would have been 87.
This is the first death I've ever gone through. I've had great aunts die and pets die, but never a close relative or friend. My reaction to it all seems very cold to me, but I was half expecting myself to be this way. I'm not broken up about it; I felt bad when I first saw the condition she was in, but it was her time to go. I loved her, however, and it was from her that most of my artistic ability came from. I'm still trying to figure everything out.