My grandmother passed away on November 17, 2007 at 9:03 AM. I still managed to see her on the night before her death. I'm thankful to the ICU admin staff who let me in despite the fact that I arrived hours after the visiting schedule. My brother was not so lucky. He came straight from field work at dawn but by then the staff had changed and the new nurses wouldn't let him enter despite his repeated pleading. He said that he was afraid he would never see our grandmother alive again, and he was right.
As for me -- Lola was awake when I saw her last. She stared at me throughout my visit, her gaze surprisingly clear-eyed and direct. I didn't want to read into this more than I should, I didn't know if she recognized me during those final hours -- I was only grateful that all traces of pain had left her eyes and that she was still somehow aware of my presence. I read that one's sense of hearing is the last to go, so even though she might not have been able to understand my words anymore, I told her that I loved her more than anything. And I finally said goodbye.
I'd spoken to my aunt before I went up to the ICU and she told me that she and my father had already signed a waiver to the effect that should my grandmother's vital signs start to fail, the doctors would not attempt to revive her through 'intrusive' means. Her head physician had suggested it. She was no longer responding to medication, her arms and legs were painfully swollen because her internal organs could not process anything, and she was unconscious most of the time.
When my grandfather died, we were all afraid that my grandmother would sink into depression and fall ill. It's the stuff of melodramas, but seeing how close they were, and how much they depended on each other, we felt that our fears weren't exaggerated. Plus we'd heard enough stories about couples who'd been together a long time dying one after the other because they couldn't survive separately. I didn't see any way to raise the issue diplomatically so rather than wait for my grandmother to exhibit the fateful symptoms of lovelorn melancholia, I decided to talk to her straight out.
"Lola," I said. "I know that you really loved Lolo, but I hope that you're not entertaining any dramatic ideas about following him to the grave or something like that so soon. It's kind of... You might as well shoot me in the head first if you do plan to pine away so I won't have to see it."
My grandmother gave me a disbelieving look. "You can shoot yourself if you want. I'm not pining. I'm not dying. I plan to live."
And that was that.
What remained unspoken was that the reason why she wanted to live on was because of her grandchildren. Our parents knew it, all our relatives knew it, we knew it. She loved us that much. There were only six of us, and we were all she ever talked about. She was very lonely after Lolo died and we were all embarking on careers, separate lives, so she did not see us as much she would have liked. She had a lot of people around her--nieces and nephews who cared for her and visited her in her house--but in the end we were the only ones whose faces she wanted to see, the only ones whom she wanted to talk to. Whenever I would come home, I would almost always see her standing by the gate, watching the passing tricycles and jeepneys, waiting. As soon as she saw me getting down from the tricycle her face would light up, and by the time I approached her, she would be on the verge of tears. "Ay, ineng," she would say, reaching out to embrace me. "I have been praying that I would see you. I am so thankful that you are here."
To the very last she remembered us. When in pain she would call our names. She would jolt awake from a drug-induced haze to clasp our hands and pull us towards her.
I know that my grandmother wanted to live. I know she tried so hard, not for herself, but because she did not want to be parted from us. "Ayaw niyang mawalay sa inyo," our relatives murmured last night as they recounted yet again how she lived after Lolo died--how she would visit their houses during small family occasions and then request for food to bring home so she could share it with us lest we arrive (accidentally, by a miracle of God), how she never stopped talking about us--everything from our grandest gestures to our smallest accomplishments.
We were not spoiled, but we were profoundly loved, that sort of special, unconditional love that seemed to exist only between grandparents and grandchildren, and my attachment to my grandmother and hers to me was particularly deep. I was the first grandchild, and from the minute I was born, as she liked to say, she had taken me into her heart. That's where I've been living ever since, in a way. And now that she's gone, I feel homeless.
Our parents are now completely orphaned but we, her grandchildren, have been set adrift. There are so many things about her that we would miss. We didn't want to be parted from her any more than she wanted to be without us. That's why she hung on for as long as she did, that's why when my aunt told me about their decision, my first instinct was to hunt the doctor down and tear that waiver into pieces.
"We've all tried our best," my aunt said simply. "Your grandmother is so tired, but you know she isn't one to let go of you first. I'll leave it to you to talk to your cousins."
So I called my cousins and they told me what they wanted to say to her, in case they could not say it themselves on time.
To be honest, I don't know if she heard us. I don't know if she was waiting for us to to actually do it. This might be poetic conceit speaking, more melodrama. But I think I managed to say what we felt we had to say, trusting in that connection between us before she herself cut it loose.
It was a peaceful death. There were no seizures, no cardiac arrests, no nightmarish struggles for breath. According to the ICU staff, her pulse slowed gradually, her blood pressure dropped--like a flower falling to earth, as one rather carried away nurse put it. It didn't fluctuate hysterically as it did for the past few weeks. A calm and graceful decline--the sort of trajectory my terminally fastidious and poised grandmother would have charted--until finally it was over.
My aunt never made it. The doctors met her on her way to the ICU and broke the news. She spent thirty minutes at her mother's bedside before she told us, one by one. I managed to see my grandmother's body before they took her away. It was hard, looking upon her face, but in the end, there was really nothing left to say. All you could do was look, and remember.
Thank you to everyone who expressed their condolences and support. Thank you for taking the time to read my entries. Thank you.