When I was growing up, I spent most of my days with my grandmother and great-grandmother. After all, when your mother abandons you at your grandma’s doorstep and never comes back, they do become your parents. My great-grandmother was my world—I thought she hung the moon. There was not one single person who was stronger than her. Nothing could ever bring her down. She was invincible. She was immortal. I held her up on this pedestal that no one else could dream of touching.
As the years went by, she slowed down a little, but she still pushed on doing things she loved to do. She loved gardening, had flowers and trees and plants planted everywhere in her yard. God help the person who accidentally stepped on a freshly planted seed or accidentally mowed over one of her flowers. She would tear you a new one if she found out it was you. She would also chase you with a broom or her belt or a peach-tree limb with tiny peaches on it if she caught you in her trees. She was full of life. She went dancing most nights of the week, she loved to two-step and waltz to old country music. She loved Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and so many other old singers. She taught me everything I know about dancing, which might not be much compared to her, but it is still all thanks to her. On days when she didn’t go dancing, she could be found over at her friend Jim’s…well, she told everyone he was her boyfriend. He didn’t always treat her right, but when he did they were perfect around each other.
My great-grandmother (I guess I should tell you guys her name, it was Lillie Corine Helms—god help the one who called her Lillie) loved to cook too. I always knew when I came home from school that if supper wasn’t cooked, something was majorly wrong with her. She was either sick or not at home. It was comforting having that routine. I loved it, but I mostly just loved her. She had her own recipes for chili, Cajun cabbage, a variety of rice casseroles, and so many other things. She also loved making tea and her famous cinnamon rolls, but those were few and far between.
As I started middle school, things took a turn for the worse though. She got really down, started falling a lot , was out of breath more often than not, and she slept a lot more. When we went out to eat, which we did a lot, she got tired more. Sometimes she wouldn’t make it to the bathroom. She stopped driving herself places. Finally, we had to take her to the doctor one day because she was short of breath, had a high fever, and wasn’t making much sense.. Her doctors told us that she had staph, that she had super low blood sugar, and that her heart valves were not good. Actually, he told us that if she didn’t have heart surgery to replace those valves, she would not live.
Fast forward a few months down the line when she did have the surgery. Everything changed. She had never been a super nice person but after her surgery, she was either not nice at all, or she was overly friendly to everyone. She didn’t recover the way she should have though, because her daughter and I did everything for her. We never gave her the chance to learn to do things for herself again. She lost all of her strength and she lost her willpower to do for herself.
When one of her daughters passed away of lung cancer, things went from manageable to worst case scenario fast. She gave up doing anything at all at home. She agreed to go into the hospital because she could not breathe, and she never came back home except a few days to visit. She went from the hospital into a nursing home and rehab facility, at first just for the rehab part, but then into the nursing home because she was not recovering. She gave up. She lost the strength to stand on her own and walk, then to move her legs when we helped her to the bathroom, then eventually to even feed herself. She had a stroke while she was in the nursing home, and she even lost all the strength in her arms. At that point, it was up to us to feed her constantly because she could not do it herself.
She did eventually gain some of the strength back in her arms. She was able to hug us and feed herself occasionally. She was definitely able to slap and kick and hit when she wanted to. But she never walked again. She never danced again. She always told us she wanted to though. Always.
The last two or three years of her life, the two or three years she lived after her daughter passed away… She went downhill so fast. She was in and out of a program called senior care, which was for senior adults with behavioral issues. She never had those issues though, the nursing home was just too lazy to test her for a UTI, which she got quite often those last few years. She went into the hospital the night before thanksgiving in 2016. Her doctor told us that she had an EXTREMELY bad UTI, which they did not even have to do a culture for. They could tell the second they took a urine sample from her. Her nursing home had let this infection fester for so long that she had sepsis. Blood poisoning.
She was in the hospital for a day or two, then sent back to the nursing home to finish recovery. Two weeks later, her blood pressure dropped to nearly deathly. Her nursing home called us, and sent her to the ER. ER took her in, and sent her to ICU. There, her blood pressure never fully leveled out, her heart went wonky, her pacemaker stopped working, she had a case of pneumonia, she had a heart attack, and we found out that she still had sepsis. The medicine that she had been prescribed over thanksgiving had not done its job. This was December 7, 2016. For two days, she was kept there under close observation. She got a little stronger. Her UTI and heart were gotten under control. Doctors even said her sepsis was getting better. BUT! There’s always a but. Her pneumonia, minor case as it was, was preventing her from breathing right, so she was constantly kept on oxygen. A 100% oxygen mask. Despite everything beginning to get better, her breathing wasn’t. And her kidneys were failing.
Doctors told us that her medicines that she had been on for so long were to blame for the kidneys, though the frequent UTIs, especially the last one which was due to total NEGLIGENCE on behalf of the nursing home, had also contributed. Her sepsis was no longer getting better either. We thought for sure that we would have to make the decision to take her off the small amount of life support she was on. That was a decision that we did not know if we were capable of making.
Just before five o’clock on the morning of December 9, 2016, we were told that she was not going to get better. They did not have her on any medications that would prevent her from waking up or speaking, yet she had not woken up or spoke in more than 24 hours. We had talked to her and told her we loved her, and begged her to just wake up and come back until we were blue in the face. All we wanted was to take her home. She was a mother to me…I wanted her back. But the doctors told us she wasn’t coming back.
Her daughter, my grandmother, went into the hall to call everyone and tell them to come to the hospital because she wasn’t going to make it. Doctors had told us she might last a couple more hours, and that if they wanted to say goodbye they needed to come. But her blood pressure started to drop, and her oxygen level went crazy. Super high, super low, and then blank. This went on for so long. The doctor called my grandma back in.
She rubbed her head and kissed it constantly. I held her hand, the way I had my entire life, and just repeated over and over again how much I love her. I still tell her how much I love her. In the end it wasn’t the blood pressure that took her. She just….stopped breathing. We never left her side. We never stopped letting her know how much she meant to us. We never stopped telling her it was okay. We never faltered or let her know how much it hurt that she wasn’t going to be with us anymore.
Just after five that morning, we lost the most amazing woman that I have ever known to have existed. She might have been moody. She might have been needy. She might have been pure hell to live with. But she was my second mother. She was my strength, my rock, my heart, my soul, my parent, my friend, my confidant, my dance-partner, my teacher, my pick-me-up-when-fall, my ears, my voice, my person, my life, my death, my brick, my world. This woman was my everything.
It has been four months since I saw her face. It has been four months since I have heard her voice say “I love you”, although she always said “a bushel and a peck and fifteen hugs around the neck.” She “Goddamned” and “son-of-a-bitched” everyone and everything. It has been four months since I have brushed her hair behind her ear, ran my fingers through it and told her it needed to be trimmed. It has been four months since I have held her hand and felt her squeeze it back, tighter than should have been possible for a hand so weak. It has been four months since I heard her complain about the awful colors her CNA used to paint her fingernails. It has been four months since I saw that smirking grin that she was known for.
People keep telling me that she is in a better place. They say that time will heal the wound, that eventually it won’t hurt anymore, or at least it will hurt less. I don’t want it to, though, because I don’t want her to be gone. I want to trade places with her. I want her here. I need her here. She didn’t want to die. She wanted to be here. She didn’t want to be in the nursing home, she wanted to come home. She begged us over and over again to just bring her home with us, just to spend the night. We never did. We thought it would be an inconvenience, that it might be too hard to get her in and out of a car, or what if she needed to go the bathroom and we couldn’t take her??? I have never hated myself more for anything than I do for all the years I took her for granted. She was SUPPOSED to be here. I love her, so much. I miss her even more. BUT—–If one more person tells me she is with “god” now, or that “god” must have had plans for her, I think I will send them straight to the big unknown to join them. If god existed, then he wouldn’t take all the good people from this world. I don’t believe in fairy tales. God can go straight back to whatever hell he spawned from.