I like this family picture. This is my niece Camilla’s wedding 3 summers ago. The picture was taken by a 12-year old boy I handed my camera to and it turned out being one of the best family photos we got that day, never mind that some of us don’t have feet. This was the summer after my brother Mark died, Camilla is his oldest daughter, and his death was just weeks after my mom had had an emergency surgery that left her managing a stoma, thereafter.
But at the time of this photo, my mom and dad had been able to drive from Montana to Colorado pulling their beloved travel trailer. They had managed to keep up with the pre-wedding activities and even though my mom had to sit down for the picture, they were part of everything and helped create this memorable time.
But that was before she started having heart pains, and dizzy spells, and episodes where she couldn’t get her breath. These precipitated more than one ambulance ride and several diagnostic hospital stays. One doctor told her she had an inoperable heart valve malfunction. Another, a few months later, told her her heart was just fine and she needed medication to control her anxiety. I’m not sure it matters which one was right; it was probably both. But that was before she started using a constant oxygen supply and before she became so immobile that she gained weight and her body swelled from uncirculating fluids. And it was during this time that my dad didn’t want to leave her, at all. He made sure that everything was comfortable for her, that she had food she could chew and a garden to watch grow from her street-facing picture window. He helped her with her medical care, with any of her care. Their life became very much the two of them, again. They didn’t go out together anymore. He would go do some work, but when he came back, they would eat a little something, and watch the news, and discuss things. They would remember their stories and he would call her “his sweetie”. They also talked about how death might be, how they hoped it would be.
That was before last night, when after one of their quiet evenings, she wasn’t feeling so well and went to her bed. Dad went to the kitchen to make her a little something to eat and when he came back, she was gone.
Now this is the time before all of it really sinks in. My adrenaline is racing and I’m able to make substitute plans and book airline tickets, but it’s still before morning on the West Coast. I will let my dad have a little time to himself, first, before I call him and we talk about what happened and what is next. Then I will call my sons and tell them that their grandmother died last night.