Friday, November 09, 2018

Telling the children

When Reid told me that Karen had fallen in the wee hours of the morning on November 1st, I had a distinct impression in my mind: "This is how we lose her."

That thought caught in my heart and I worried and worried until finally Karen emerged from her bedroom, calling out to Zoë and Alexander to come see her, just has she had done every morning for the past year.

"Where's my baby? Alexander!" she'll call and he'll take off like a rocket from wherever he is, trying to get to her as fast as he can. Zoë is no different and as soon as she hears Grandma calling will quickly drop whatever she's doing to greet her.

"Oh!" I said in surprise when I saw her face. "That's actually not quite as bad as I was expecting, though I'm sure the bruises will darken over time."

Inside I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

What had those words meant? That one day we'd lose Grandma after a fall.

But not this day. This day she was fine. She was up and at 'em. She was cuddling her grandbabies.

Her pain, however, intensified throughout the day and she finally decided she had better get checked out. I offered to drive her to the InstaCare, but she said she'd have Reid take her and it's a good thing, too, because they were sent from the InstaCare to the ER, which is where they found the pneumonia.

A small case of pneumonia. Nothing to worry about...until she couldn't wake up and this whole nightmare started.

Those words have been running through my mind all week.

This is how we lose her. This is how we lose her. This is how we lose her.

I denied those words; how silly they seemed. I think I even used a Christmas word on them and accused them of being stupid. She fell. I get it. But she's not going to die. Don't be ridiculous!

I bargained with those words. Fine, she would die of sepsis at some point but not this time because this time she was going to be alright. This time she was going to come back to us. Later on, years down the road, a similar event would happen and then she would go. Just not today. Please not now. Don't take her away yet.

But as the hours and days dragged on, I accepted those words. Oh. I see.

This. Is. How. We. Lose. Her.


She's still with us but we've begun the awful transition to the past tense, doing all the dreary chores necessary to change her from Karen Is to Karen Was:

  • We've cleared out her office to make room for hospice equipment
  • We helped Reid explore Karen's financial system
  • We've talked about funeral plans and so forth
There's still a lot to do, but the worst chore of all was telling the children that Grandma was, for all intents and purposes, gone. I was so nervous about doing this that I could hardly sleep last night (meaning Tuesday night because I started writing this on Wednesday, which seems eons ago by now). We sent the kids to school without telling them, to give them one more day of carefree hope. 

After they walked out the door, I stood in the entryway at the bottom of the stairs, where Karen would often stand to call up to us in the mornings, "Zoë! Alexander!" and I sighed. 

"What are we going to do without Grandma?" I asked before I could stop myself. 

Little pitchers, as Ma on The Little House on the Prairie would said, have big ears.

"Where is Grandma?" Zoë asked.

"She's at the hospital, remember?"

"Oh. She will get better," Zoë reassured me.

"What if...she doesn't?" I asked, testing the waters.

"Then she will die," Zoë shrugged, unbothered. "And she will go to heaven to see her mom and her dad and Jesus and Heavenly Father. They're waiting for her there."

"And what about us?" I asked.

"We will miss her for a while," she said. "But then we'll go to heaven, too. Let's get some breakfast!"


She has had this same conversation with her grandma so many times. Looking back, I wonder if it wasn't in preparation for us all. Zoë was obsessed with the idea that Grandma had a mom and a dad in heaven. She would ask Grandma, almost daily, where her mom and dad were and she and Grandma would have a comforting conversation just like the one I had with Zoë this morning.

Telling Zoë was the easy part.

Telling the big kids was a little tougher and I fretted about it all day.

Our children have lived in the same house as their grandparents for a long time—exactly 100% of Alexander's life and roughly 50% of Zoë's life, 16% of Benjamin's life, 40% of Miriam's life, and 30% of Rachel's life. (I have lived with Karen for 10% of my life! Andrew has lived with his mom for about 65% of his life). This was going to be no small thing.

Wednesday afternoon, shortly before dinner, we gathered the children to tell them the news. Andrew snuggled with Zoë and Benjamin on one couch. I held Alexander in my lap and was flanked by Rachel and Miriam on the other couch.

"We just wanted to let you know," Andrew said, "That Grandma is dying."

He broke before he could even finish speaking, which was fine because the children had no further questions at that point. We all just clung to each other and sobbed for a while until Miriam took a gasping, hiccuping, very ugly-sounding gulp of air.

"Okay," Benjamin said, peeling his body off of Andrew's and wiping his eyes. "Now those are definitely crocodile tears!"

"They're not," I assured him. "Miriam is genuinely sad, just like the rest of us."

We cried some more and then Miriam peeled herself away from me and asked, "Does this mean we can get a trampoline now?"

And we all laughed a little because Grandma (having had two children break their arms on trampolines (Andrew and Katharine)) has always been very vocal about her dislike of trampolines and how she's never having one at her house ever again.

But then, because we'd laughed, the children wanted to know if it was okay to laugh.

I assured them that it was just fine to laugh, that grieving is a messy process that uses all kinds of emotions and that we'd just have to treat each other very gently in the coming weeks and months. But they were free to laugh or cry, they were free to feel at peace or to feel angry, they were free to share special memories and, yes, they were even allowed to joke about it. We'd just work through it all and support each other through it and come out, as my friend Tamsin said, "kinder and gentler people."

When we'd all had a good cry we headed downstairs for dinner (I don't even remember what we had (leftovers, I think, still consisting of meals that we'd shared with Grandma)) and then sent the girls off to Activity Days.

We had to tell them before Activity Days because we'd already posted the news to the ward Facebook group, which meant that pretty much everyone in the ward was aware that Karen was dying and our kids were the only people blissfully unaware (well, not blissfully, I suppose, since they were dreadfully worried about how sick she was—but they were hopeful that she was in the hospital to get better, not to die). We couldn't very well send them to the church and then have everyone feeling sorry for them without them knowing why.

All in all, telling the children their grandma was dying wasn't as difficult as we'd imagined it would be. We just said the words and then mourned together and then took the next step for whatever needed to happen next.

I emailed their teachers to let them know what we were going through, to let them know that this went beyond typical sadness of a grandparent passing because a daily part of their lives was being ripped away from them, and their teachers were very understanding.

Miriam and Benjamin went to school on Thursday but Rachel was too sick to go (we're all still battling this awful cold; she was the last one to get it (or the first if this is a new cold—I can't even tell at this point)). It was just an ordinary day, except with the added cloud of doom and gloom hanging over our heads.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the most precious posts I've ever read. I'm so glad you shared it here; what a sad, but touching memory. And the trampoline part is funny. <3

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