My experience saying goodbye through MAID
Personal Stories | March 24, 2023 | Christie Page
My very first memory is sitting in my highchair; it’s a brown wood colour. In my hand is a tiny little black delivery van. The back doors can open and close. I am filling it with my Rice Krispies and then dumping them all back out again. They are not all falling back out. Some are caught on the two plastic front seats. As I look in further to investigate the situation, I get distracted with the windshield made of yellow plastic. If I hold the back of the van up to my eye and look through the open doors and through the windshield, I can see the whole kitchen in a new hue of yellow. Even without this new tint the kitchen is sunny and bright and filled with light. Gran is at the sink happy and joyful, and her energy fills the room and her enthusiasm for life is washing over me.
I guess it makes sense that for the next few months as we wait for winter to pass and thaw to begin, that she or at least her urn should be on my kitchen counter watching my kids get off to school and reflecting the morning sun. I could have kept her on the mantle instead of next to the blender and behind my vitamins, but figured she always loved being in the middle of the action. Plus, she is only here till April when we will hold a celebration of life at a church outside of the city that my aunt used to belong to, where Granddad’s ashes are in the memory garden. There will also be a plaque and a page in the church’s memory book for each of them.
Grandad died about a decade ago. He died the normal way, slowly of old age. Persistent ongoing TIA’s over time debilitated him. It took years from giving up cards with his friends to not even being able to figure out the computer’s solitaire game. Hospital visits after a fall here and there to just not coming home again. Then it was months in the hospital with Gran by his side day after day week after week. At the end he stopped eating and couldn’t really drink so we would use a sponge to place water in his mouth. His tongue was so dry the individual taste buds seemed to be pulling apart from each other. Still his last words to me were, “Take care of your Gran.” Hours later he died with my mom by his side dried out like a raisin, finally out of pain.
Gran died on a Monday. Three weeks before, she and I had a fight. She had asked me to look into a stronger magnifying glass and I had responded with, “I thought you already had the strongest they could make.” She got so angry at me and accused me of not wanting to help her and thinking she was stupid for not knowing what she needed. I responded with, “Gran your words are cruel and mean and this is why people don’t want to always be around you.” She hung up on me.
I had called her every weekday since the pandemic began. Before then, I had called her regularly and before my kids started school full time, we had visited her at least once a week. This didn’t happen out of duty. My Gran was one of my best friends. She was a good listener, and an expert conversationalist. She was interesting and illuminating. Even in the end while nine out of 10 phone calls ended with her crying and hanging up, I kept calling in hope that the Gran that was able to lift me up and expand my viewpoint would answer. Others, needing to protect themselves from her anger, put more space between interactions.
A few hours later she called back and apologized. I told her that I thought the world of her. That my comment was not a reflection on her. I admire her for the times she is able to be kind when I know her body is in so much pain and that her days are long and boring without sight and how lonely it must be that so many of the people she has loved in this world have passed before her. I am sure I would use mean and cruel words too in her situation and it’s okay because I love her and if she needs to lash out, I can take it. I also offered to look into the better magnifier, but she said no, she knew there wasn’t one.
The next two weeks were hard as she had forgotten that we made up and had built the argument into something bigger in her head. Sometimes I could talk her down, sometimes I couldn’t. It made me sad to see her so upset but this was not new. It just happened to be about me this time instead of someone else in the family.
The Monday before she died when I called, she told me that after some thought she had decided that she didn’t want to continue when she knew she was using mean and cruel words towards the people she loved most. She thanked me for making it so clear. This was not said in a hurtful way, she was genuinely appreciative of my part in helping her make the decision to go ahead with MAID. She told me she had talked to the MAID coordination services and had set her passing for the following Monday.
This news weighed heavily on me. I was relieved, confused, and in disbelief. We had talked about MAID many times. In the spring, she had asked my mom to get her the number to be in touch with the service. She asked my aunt to take her to see doctors; they agreed that at 97 years old, with her medical conditions, she wasn’t going to get better. After she was approved, she made no suggestion of wanting to act on it. She would discuss thoughts of wanting to end the pain and isolation and anger. I would always say if you really want to, then go via MAID – on purpose with those who love you nearby.
I knew that after being approved by multiple doctors you had to give the MAID coordination services two weeks’ notice before you could die. I was hurt that for the first week after her decision she had kept this huge thing from me. I also wondered if she really wanted to go ahead with this action or if it was just a call for help, not that I knew what else the family could do for her. Many times, I had asked her to move in with us. I know my oldest cousin and aunt had also asked. Each time she said no.
On the Tuesday before she died, I spent four hours with her. She was her normal self, not full of tears and pain but contemplative of the plan she had set in motion. We went through her apartment, and she asked me to take things that were important to her. Some of it was junk but, in the time and place, it was important; she saw it was not going to be left behind. There will be a bit of cleanup around here when she is with Grandad in the garden and not in my kitchen, judging me, not that that was in her nature.
We also sat on her couch, and I held her as we discussed what would be. It had hit me hard the night before that she was going to be leaving me. Neither one of us has a big belief in an afterlife. But I do know there is a lullaby in my family that has been passed down through the generations and, like that lullaby, so much of what Gran is will live on in me and in my children.
Scrolling through my social media feed that morning I had come across a little bit about a baby in utero contemplating “the after delivery” and if ‘Mother’ really exists and what existence without an umbilical cord and amniotic fluid could even be. I read it to Gran, and she thought it was a neat thought.
Wednesday, I had arranged for our local United Church minister, who Gran has always really liked, to go out and visit with her. Thankfully, he also agreed to be there the following Monday for her passing.
Wednesday after dinner we told our daughters, 13 and 10, about Gran’s decision to die. It was not a foreign concept to them. Our household is a place where we discuss the goings on in the world and new ideas are never scary. Both girls cried. Immediately my youngest stated she wanted to be with GG when she passed. We talked over what would happen the following Monday, that Gran would be at a senior’s home, and that there would be two rooms, one with a bed where she would die and another for respite to go to if we needed. I explained that at 12:30 Gran would get an IV, and at 1:00 p.m. the doctor would come in and make sure she truly wanted to go ahead. The first medicine would make her comfy like being on a hot beach. The second would put her into a deep, deep coma, and the third medication would stop her heart.
My eldest was now pretty sure she did not want to witness that. My youngest was still adamant she was going to be there.
You don’t think of great-grandchildren having great attachments to their great-grandparents, but Gran was special. Gran had been the most amazing Gran to me. I had been a little surprised when neither my parents nor in-laws set up a nursery in their homes, nor did they offer a standing invitation to have my kids over weekly. Luckily, Gran had been there for my children. While she never had a crib at her apartment, she had been there to babysit when they were little any time I had asked. She was always asking to have them for sleepovers, and she was a big part of my kids’ upbringing for the first 6-9 years. The last four years, as Gran’s sight had deteriorated and her body was giving out on her, had led to such sadness that it had eroded some of this bond, but not totally.
I also reached out to my daughters’ Catholic schools to let them know what my kids were going to be dealing with over the next little bit. The junior high school responded back with love and kindness and support for my 13-year-old. The elementary school didn’t even acknowledge the email or the follow-up. To be fair, this was the second great-grandmother my girls would be losing in as many months so maybe the elementary just didn’t have more to offer. I don’t know.
Thursday after school we went to visit Gran. She was tired when we arrived due to all the family and friends that were now reaching out to her to pay their respects. Friends I grew up with wrote to me to make sure I told Gran how much they thought of her. My husband and I stepped out to go run a few errands allowing the kids and Gran to talk in a way that may not have happened had we been there. At the end of the evening, my eldest and my husband said their final goodbyes to Gran knowing they would not see her again.
Friday, when I called Gran she asked how the girls were doing, I assured her they were going to be fine. I shared that my little one was a bit worried that after they gave Gran the medicine, she might change her mind. I also reminded her of my wedding day when my MAID of Honour had started walking down the aisle and it was just my dad and I left. He had turned to me and said, “I love that man waiting for you down there and am excited for him to join our family, and we have all our friends expecting a big party, but if there’s any piece of you that wants to change your mind we will just go get in the car and drive the other way.” I told Gran if she changes her mind at any time, she and I will just drive away. She assured me she was happy with her decision but appreciated the offer.
Gran spent the weekend before she passed at my aunt’s house. My two cousins and their families were also there. Gran loved a crowd, and was very happy to be surrounded by so much love.
Read Part 2 of Christie’s story here.