Saturday, November 10, 2018

Thursday night and Grandma's passing

When Reid and Emily arrived home from the hospital last night they were somewhat somber.

Shortly before they were about to leave the nurse informed them that Karen's potassium levels were causing her heart to beat arrhythmically again (they had managed to get her potassium levels under control when she was first admitted), which was a sign that she was preparing to pass on. Reid asked if he should stay, but the nurse told him to go home to get some rest. She would call if things seemed to be getting close to the end.

Josie asked my mom if they could stop by to see her before going home and before we knew it, Miriam (who at 9:30 was just coming downstairs to brush her teeth, the little bedtime evader), Josie, my mom and I were heading to the hospital.

When the nurse came to see what business we had at the ICU so late at night, I explained that Reid had sent us to say goodbye to Karen. "Oh, by all means," she said and then bent down to reassure Miriam, who was staring with panic at the sign that said 'no visitors under the age of 12.' "We make exceptions for children under these circumstances."

These circumstances.

I hadn't seen Karen since Saturday night when she was awake and talking (somewhat) and still looked like herself more or less. When I saw her last night the change was jarring. She didn't look like herself at all, but we bravely filed into the room anyway to say goodbye.

"Hi Karen," I...blurted.

I don't know that blurted is the right word. It was a blurt and a choke and a sob all rolled into one.

She briefly opened up her eyes, but that was the only acknowledgement she gave us while we were there.

"We've brought Miriam to say goodbye," I said and went on to offer a few words about how much we loved her and were going to miss her. And, guys, I don't know! It's so hard to have a one-way conversation.

My mom thanked her for being such a wonderful grandma counterpart and for being such a good friend for me. She at one point said something about how her best buddy was going to miss her so much even though he was only a year old (referring to Alexander).

"It's hard to lose your best friend when you're one," Mom said to us and then added, "Or three. Or six. Or nine. Or eleven..."

"Or thirty-three!" I bawled.

"You were a good team," my mom said, and I couldn't help but agree.

Miriam eventually got brave enough to hold Grandma's hand and tell her that she loved her and would miss her.

And then I had the horribly wonderful idea to sing to her. I remember my mom making me sing to my grandpa before he died and how much I didn't want to but then did and was glad that I did. Miriam didn't want to so I told her that we'd all sing with her. We sang I Stand All Amazed, which was Grandma's favourite hymn, and we did a terrible job. It was the ugliest rendition of the song ever sung (to the accompaniment of sniffles and voice cracking instead of Grandma's beautiful piano playing) but it brought some peace into the room (hopefully (if it was really awful Karen can just tell us about it in heaven some day and we can all just laugh about it together because although Thursday was one hot mess of a day the singing may have taken the cake in the hot mess department)).

Karen was stable when we left, but obviously coming close to the end, so when Andrew finally got home from teaching in Salt Lake, I told him what Reid had told me: that he would wake us up to head to the hospital should he get the call.

"But if you want to make sure that you get the chance to say goodbye to your mom, I think we should go now," I told him.

So we "woke" Reid up (he wasn't really sleeping) to ask if he would keep an ear out for Alexander (or any other child, I guess, but mostly Alexander) while we ran down to the hospital. Reid said he'd be happy to snooze on the couch while we did that and to call him if we feel like he should be there and he'd get all the kids up and out the door (with Emily's assistance) to meet us there.

We also decided we should drag poor, sick Rachel out of bed for one last visit.

When Andrew, Rachel and I arrived, the nurse on duty explained that she was just debating whether or not to call Reid in. Karen's breathing had just switched over into some more "agonal-type breathing," which just means that her breathing was getting very laboured (because agonal breathing refers to the last few breaths before death, not usually the hours before death, but I'm sure the nurse was just simplifying for us). So while the nurse was describing all the monitors and how the patterns would change as Karen declined, Andrew started texting his dad the updates (which his dad thought was funny because he'd specifically said to call because he can hear the ringing better than the text alerts). Andrew called his dad (or his dad called him) soon after to exchange information and Reid decided to get all the kids up and head to the hospital.

He had to call us about three times to locate our car keys, which Benjamin eventually found for him.

Andrew and I spoke more about Karen than to Karen while we waited for everyone to arrive and when they did, boy, were they ever a sight to behold!

Zoë and Alexander looked shell-shocked, in Emily and Grandpa's arms, respectively. They both had on footie pyjamas. Benjamin had decided to get dressed (I think because he had worn summer weather pyjamas instead of warm winter pyjamas) and was wearing his church pants and a brand new t-shirt with the stickers still on the front and a sales tag sticking out the back (it wasn't brand new, he pointed out; it was from back-to-school shopping (he'd simply not gotten around to wearing it yet)). Miriam had forgotten to put on shoes at all. And Emily!

"Emily, I think your shirt is on inside out!" I whispered (it was).

They were quite the motley crew, but it was so sweet that in their haste to get to Grandma's side they didn't care what they looked like (though I can just imagine her laughing had she been able to see them all rush through the door like that).

We had the most wonderful time. We all squeaked out our goodbyes (all except for Zoë, who said, "That's not Grandma!" and refused to get close to her and Alexander, who also wanted to be as far away as possible (which is so sad because those two were her little shadows at home (but she really didn't look well/the same at all)) and then Grandpa and Daddy gave Grandma a blessing of release.

Then Grandpa took the reins. He pulled Rachel close to him and started telling the story of how he and Grandma had met. About how she'd invited his roommate over for dinner and said, "And you can bring your roommate, too, I guess." About how he and she had really hit it off over dinner and how he volunteered to wash the dishes. About how they stood together, washing dishes side-by-side, talking, and he thought, "I think I like her!" About how he didn't want to like her because he didn't want to date or have a girlfriend or get married—he wanted straight A's! About how he told her that he went to the temple every Tuesday and would she care to join him? About how he wished she'd say no but instead she said yes. About how he wondered if he should honk when he picked her up or if he should walk to the door (he walked to the door). About how he got the feeling that he was going to marry her so he looked over at her in the middle of the endowment session only to find her looking across the room at him because she'd gotten the same feeling. About how it was super awkward because he wasn't even sure what her name was—and how can you marry someone when you don't even know what their name is?! About how they went out a few more times. About how Grandma brazenly asked him, "How does it feel to know you're going to marry me?" About how they'd only known each other two weeks before getting engaged. About how he asked her the day after Memorial Day, "What are you doing for the rest of eternity?" and how she said, "Nothing much," and how he said, "Wanna do nothing much together?"

"That story is so unromantic," Emily said teasingly, rolling her eyes a bit.

"Oh, it's plenty romantic," I said.

Because I know where Andrew got his romance genes.

He talked about becoming parents and then eventually becoming grandparents.

About how I was pregnant ("Every time we turned around your mom was pregnant!" Grandpa teased) and how I'd promised not to have the baby while they were in Grover. About how as soon as they got service on their phones they had a message from Daddy saying, "Rachel is here!" About how they thought Daddy was just joking. About how they came to the hospital to hold Rachel and Grandma beamed at him, "I'm a Grandma! She made me a Grandma!"

Then he had Miriam come sit with him while he told about her birth. About how Grandma had flown all the way to Cairo to be with us. About how much he missed her while she was gone. About how much fun she had exploring Egypt with us. About how when it was time for her to leave she cried and Rachel said, "Don't worry! I will tum to Amerita very soon!" And about how she couldn't wait for her little granddaughters to come to "Amerita" to be with her again. About how much she loved having Miriam and Rachel toddle around her house again.

I'm sure if Benjamin had seemed willing, Grandpa would have pulled him close to him to talk about Benjamin's birth. About how we'd texted Grandma in the middle of the night to tell her we were leaving to have the baby. About how scared we all were. About seeing is tiny, frail body for the first time. About praying for him. About bringing that sweet little thing home. About driving across the country to help us move to North Carolina and getting settled in our new house.

But Benjamin was hiding behind my legs or was snuggled against Auntie Emily or Daddy and didn't want to get very close.

I'm sure if Zoë had been willing, Grandpa would have told her about how much Grandma loved her. About how she'd flown out to take care of us while Daddy went to New York shortly after she was born. About how she'd gotten a kidney stone and Mommy had to drive her to the hospital in the pouring rain in the dark and how scary that was. About how much she yearned to visit us while we were in North Carolina. About how excited she was for us to come live with her again.

And he would have told Alexander many beautiful things about his birth as well (because he and Grandma loved each other very intensely).

But instead we left to go home after he talked with Rachel and Miriam because Zoë was crying about wanting to go back to bed and it was getting awfully late. So we left Grandpa and Emily at the hospital and took the kids home and put them back to bed (after making hot chocolate for Zoë, who was so distraught about being torn out of her bed in the middle of the night).

Andrew didn't want to go back to the hospital. He said watching someone die was like cutting the cord when a baby was born—it's something he's never wanted to do and has avoided doing with all five kids. But I convinced him that even if he didn't want to be there that he should be there with his mom and his dad and with Emily (who had by this time turned her shirt the right way out) and Jacob (who had gotten off his swing-shift job and headed to the hospital) and Katharine (who had flown out of bed and driven all the way down from Eagle Mountain). He should be together with them one last time. And so he went, leaving me in an empty house (well, it was full of sleeping children so I suppose it wasn't very empty but it was certainly lonely).

So while Andrew was speeding off to the hospital and his siblings were watching their mother die, I started making up beds for Jacob and Katharine. Just to keep busy. But also because Andrew said they'd be spending the night rather than driving back to their own houses.

I was so busy finding bedding and setting up air mattresses that I missed the text about her death.

2:04 AM.

Andrew had arrived just in time to see her last heart beat blip off the monitor while the nurses listened closely with a stethoscope to make sure her heart had truly stopped (he would have been there sooner but the ICU door was locked and all the nurses were in Karen's room which meant no one was at the desk to let him in so he had to pound on the door until they came for him).

So they were there, all together, one last time, for just a second (a sweet moment made a little bitter since Sarah was unable to be with them).

It was a peaceful passing.

Karen has always talked about her DNR orders. She was adamant that when it was her time to go she just wanted to go. But that's really easier said than done when everyone is so hopeful about keeping you a little longer! One of the last things she said to Reid was, "I want to go home."

At first he thought she meant our home. But as he thought about that statement (and the dialysis and the IVs and the feeding tube and...) he realized that she meant home. Home to heaven, home.

So after Katharine arrived, he asked the nurse why Karen was still on oxygen.

"To help her breathe easier," the nurse said.

"What would happen if we took it away?" Reid asked.

"She would die sooner," the nurse said.

"Will it cause her pain?"

"No," the nurse said.

"Then take it away," Reid said, and about fifteen minutes later, Karen began the real agonal breaths signifying the end of life, but also the end of dying and the beginning of something new and beautiful.

We are heartbroken that Karen didn't (or couldn't) choose to stay with us but are so happy she is no longer suffering.

When I pulled out my phone to see whether or not Andrew had made it to the hospital I found a series of text messages from him.

2:05 Just got here. Heart just stopped.
2:13 We're coming home now (2:04 is official time).

And before I knew it they were walking through the door.

Overall, my perception is that everyone is feeling more at peace knowing that Karen is at peace. It's still awful and hard and seems incredibly unfair but the uncertainty is gone and we're starting to piece together what the future looks like with Karen watching out over us instead of being by our side.

She loved us all so fiercely that I'm sure her love will linger long enough to carry us through until we see her again.

Here's a picture Andrew snuck of us all gathered around Karen's bed:

And here's how we prefer to remember her—as a happy, loving, enthusiastic, fun-loving, faithful, handy, brave, sweet, talented lady (in this case she's welcoming Rachel to the world):

(I think I will always remember her dying on Thursday the 8th even though it was technically the wee hours of Friday the 9th because we didn't go to bed between Thursday and her death (just like I will always remember Friday the 13th as Alexander's birth story since it began on the 13th and stretched into the wee hours of Saturday the 14th (he was born at 2:08 am))).


  1. Suddenly Andrew makes so much more sense. What a terrible time full of so much love. I'm so glad you sang to her. When you mentioned you thought she could still hear I thought, "I hope they sing to her." Karen really was such a sweetheart. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  2. I had the one way conversation with my grandmother before she died, so I totally understand how difficult that is! I am so glad I had it though. And glad that you and your family all had the chance to spend time with Karen and say good-bye. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  3. We are heartbroken that Karen didn't (or couldn't) choose to stay with us but are so happy she is no longer suffering.

    Still the statement that has me pondering

    It still feels unreal