My experience saying goodbye through MAID – Part 2
Personal Stories | March 31, 2023 | Christie Page
Read Part 1 of Christie’s story here
On the Monday that Gran chose to die, my brother and my two cousins had breakfast with her. My brother did not want to attend her passing. At our house, my eldest daughter went to school. She had a plan worked out with her counselor that at 12:30 when Gran got the IVs put in, she and her best friend would go to the art room where her favorite teacher said they could hang out in the supply closet as long as they needed. My daughter asked us to let her know when Gran had passed.
My husband came home from work; he did not plan on attending Gran’s passing but was only going to be there as support for my youngest if at any point she did not want to stay. He had planned to stay in the car but with it being such a cold day we now decided he could just wait and hang out in that second room.
I asked him to take my youngest out to get a few bunches of nice-smelling flowers. The social worker had told me that serving the five senses was really important. Grandad had bought flowers for Gran regularly and she appreciated a bouquet of flowers more than anyone.
I did my hair because Gran annoyingly always liked to remind me how pretty I look with it down. I also got some photos together that she had asked me to. Somewhat silly I thought for someone who is visually impaired, but it was something she asked me to do. One was her wedding photo, the second was a photo I took of her and Grandad kissing just before he started to fail and the third was the most recent photo of our family: two daughters, four grandchildren, spouses, and four great-granddaughters. Only the two freshest great-grandsons were missing but my aunt was going to make sure their pictures were there too.
The facility she had chosen was a senior’s home down by the South Calgary Hospital. We parked and entered the building going past the current COVID outbreak signage on the door. I was glad that Gran’s vision was poor so our masks would not be a distraction. She describes her vision with macular degeneration as seeing people with nylons over their faces like a bank robber might wear. We walked past a beautiful fish tank and at the front desk were instructed to go up to the 5th floor. We got off the elevator and met the social worker who had been so accessible and accommodating this past week. He pointed to some glass doors and told us everyone was in there.
I started to ask for accommodation for my husband who had not planned on seeing Gran again, but he held my hand and said, “I will come in and say hi.” So, we entered the room. Inside was a living room with a kitchenette at one end and a fireplace at the other. There was a couch and chairs and there was Gran all done up looking fantastic! She was wearing a red sweater and skirt. Her hair was done nicely; I ran up to her, hugged her, and told her how great she looked. She had always taken great pride in her appearance as so many beautiful women do and that day, she looked stunning. The only thing off was that she was not wearing any jewelry.
Also in the room were my two cousins, my aunt, her best friend, and two of Gran’s remaining friends that she had known forever; they were at least 20 years younger than her. One friend brought a few dishes of baked treats for the unmasked to nibble on. Gran was eating toast. Her tummy often bothered her now and that would be her last meal. Everyone was sharing stories and memories with Gran. Like that of my cousin’s 21st birthday at the Dueling Pianos where all his friends wanted to do shots with Gran. 74 at the time, she stated, “If we are going to do shots, we are going to do real shots none of these sugary drinks.” Or the time a few years after Grandad had passed, she and one of her friends had gone to Cuba, the waiter who they had been nice to call up to their room afterward asking if they wanted him to “tuck them in.” They thought that was a strange thing for him to do till they realized what he had meant. The room was full of laughter and happy tears.
Somewhere in there, John the Minister and his co-Minister arrived. Also, my mom, unable to fly home due to medical reasons, joined us via Facetime on the social worker’s phone. As the doctor’s arrival drew closer, John invited us to take turns putting our hands first on Gran’s head and stating why we were thankful for her head. I said, “Because she could discuss ideas with me and push me to expand my thoughts.” Next was her heart where I said, “Because it taught me early on to take care of those around you, those that are hurting and those with less.” Then came her hands where I said, “Because they held me, made me great food, and were always so beautiful to look at, decorated with fancy nails and diamond rings.” Lastly were her feet, where I thanked her for being an explorer and going out into the world and encouraging me to follow her path and then lead my own as I explored the globe. This exercise was a great opportunity to give everyone in the room a place to talk and say what they needed to and while not a religious person, I very much saw the importance of having our Minister there at that time.
As we finished up, the social worker took Gran and my aunt to go sign some paperwork to make sure she still wanted to go ahead with the process. They were then going to insert the IVs. The rest of us stayed in the living room and the doctor came to speak with us and let us know what to expect. She took special care to check in with my 10-year-old daughter and make sure she was comfortable with everything and answered any questions she might have.
We took some bathroom breaks before being invited down the hall to a second room. I had thought my younger cousin and husband would choose to stay behind in the living room as they had not wanted to attend the final event, both of them were feeling comfortable with everything thus far and chose to continue down the hall.
The second room was more like a hospital room, much smaller. Gran was in the bed and there were chairs all around her in a horseshoe layout. She still looked like a million dollars dressed up but now had a blanket over her legs. My aunt was on Gran’s right with her children and best friend next to her. My daughter jumped up on the bed on Gran’s left and I took the seat right next to her head. Her friends and the ministers were on my side of the bed. At Gran’s feet was one of those hospital tables that allows you to eat breakfast in bed. On it were the bouquets of flowers and the framed photos she had wanted there. Over it was my husband holding my mom on Facetime in one hand and texting my eldest daughter in the other.
One last time we went around the room to say our goodbyes. After everyone spoke, Gran replied with her own personalized goodbye back. Sometimes her replies were funny like offering to spend the first bit of her afterlife trying to figure out how to get cupid to work his magic and sometimes they were tear-inducing like sharing how proud she was. She told my daughter if she feels like her clothes are moving weirdly but there does not appear to be any wind blowing, it’s probably just Gran checking in on her. My daughter hugged her tighter. Everyone in the room was touching her body now.
Once we were done the doctor asked if she could start and Gran said, “Yes please get on with it as it is getting hot in here”; a window was opened a crack. The first meds were administered and Gran started to ask the doctor to hurry up; she was hungry and she understood there might be a feast waiting for her. As she didn’t have faith in heaven per se, I can only assume that she was making a joke. She started to say something else, but she was falling asleep and we told her to close her eyes. Seconds later, her jaw slipped into that awkward position of the dead, and her eyes were glazed over. The Minister said, “She is free.” The doctor closed Gran’s eyes and listened for a heartbeat. There was none. She had passed.
With one arm on Gran, I pulled my daughter off her with the other and onto my lap. People started to pull away from what was now just a body. My husband texted my eldest daughter to let her know Gran had passed. There was a loud unexpected beep from one of the unused medical machines in the room and my youngest cousin said, “Gran made it.” Everyone laughed. People were hugging but I couldn’t let go of Gran. The Ministers, the friends, and those who were still breastfeeding babies started to leave the room. My daughter and husband told me they would wait for me in the car. My aunt and cousin asked if I wanted to be alone. I didn’t. We talked for a bit, then I gave Gran’s body one last squeeze and said goodbye. I went downstairs to the car to go pick up my eldest from school and get my youngest ready for her extra-curricular activities that night.
In the conversations that followed, every person who was there in the room with Gran told me how peaceful they thought the death was. So many people have said how lucky they felt to have the opportunity to say goodbye and know they were heard. Waiting to have a funeral or a celebration of life isn’t always viewed as a good choice but with the closure, a MAID death allows for, I think we all now feel like it is okay to wait for the thaw to celebrate Gran and know we can reunite her with Grandad at the same time, even if it’s a few months out. Until then, I am enjoying having her in my kitchen to chat with when I can no longer pick up the phone.