Mortality lingers.

The talented blogger known as “Jewish Young Professional” (not a dating site) recently wrote about a turning point in her life when her grandfather passed away. It caught my attention and I was moved by it because the death of a grandparent was such a turning point for me as well. So I thought, why not chime in as well?

My grandmother, who passed away eleven years ago, lived around the block from us, in an apartment building for elderly people (not assisted living). We talked almost every day, and I would deliver bread and olive loaf, vine tomatoes and cigarettes.

I first encountered the possibility of her mortality when I was a sophomore in high school. My grandmother had developed some sort of eye disease–I cannot recall or locate the name, but her eye looked displaced somehow. She went through all kinds of scary tests I had never heard of, and for the first time I realized she could die. She would still be with us for another eight years, and although she was cured of that disease, I entered a permanent state of anxiety about her.

My mother and I did not talk about it until after she passed, but every morning when my mother would go to make her first call, she’d wait until I went in the shower; meanwhile, I was waiting with the door cracked, listening to make sure I’d hear her conversing in a normal voice. She wanted to wait until I was out of the way in case something was wrong; I, on the other hand, didn’t want to be blindsided.

My grandmother was adamant about not going into a nursing home, which is why we took such lengths to keep her in her own apartment, beyond the point at which she was really capable of living on her own.

It’s hard to share many specific details, but long story short, when I was a junior in college, somehow she started a small fire in her apartment. I was at school when it happened and the fire marshal had been there. It had been a humiliating and dangerous incident, and the building authorities were furious at us. I went over there after class; I cannot remember what ensued exactly, but the stress it put on me was incredible

That night, my boyfriend and I were going to some sort of international relations trivia competition for which, by the by, the group of us from my college were beyond woefully prepared. The stress from earlier in the day triggered one of the worst temporal lobe seizures of my life in the middle of the event.

It was difficult to come to terms with her symptoms of COPD, heart failure, mild dementia, and hearing loss. I couldn’t breathe in the morning until I knew she was alive. Towards the end, when she was very deaf, she wouldn’t always hear the phone and you’d call, and call, and call… My mother and I would drive over, small-talking around what was making both our hearts pound. And she’d be sitting there at her kitchen table, smoking or drinking coffee, and we’d get angry at her because we were so relieved.

Finally in around 2011 her COPD became very bad. She had been hospitalized once before, but I hadn’t seen her actually be transported there; I only saw her once she was in. What happens with COPD is that your body’s process of exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen doesn’t work anymore and your bloodstream fills up with the CO2. She would fall asleep right at the table, and one day we couldn’t rouse her. My mother picked up the phone to call for an ambulance, and I remember so vividly that at that moment, it was as though I had entered an alternate universe, where things don’t have to turn out okay.

I’m still in it.

My grandmother was not in the hospital as long as one might expect for someone in her condition. After about a week, she was transferred to a nursing home. The look on her face when she was wheeled into her room that Friday night said everything that she couldn’t.

My boyfriend and I were to attend a wedding in the neighboring state the next day. My mother told me things were under control and that I should go. Late the same night, we (my boyfriend and I) were making one final shopping trip because I needed to buy stockings. But on the way to the store, I broke down crying and said I couldn’t go. I told him to go, because it was his family, but I just couldn’t go.

That Saturday was a beautiful day in early June, what they mean by “picture perfect.” My mother and I visited my grandmother in the morning, but she wasn’t able to speak very much. We said goodbye and that we’d see her later in the afternoon after my mother picked my father up from work. But while my mother was out, the nursing home called and said my grandmother wasn’t responsive. I did not comprehend the full meaning of that, although I knew it was bad. We didn’t have cell phones at that time, so I had to wait for my parents to come home before we could rush over.

I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say, witnessing attempts at reviving someone with CPR (the DNR order went out the window when we got there) and the AED machine are not things you forget easily the first time you’ve ever seen anything like that. For days I could not get that robotic voice out of my head.

They wheeled her away to a waiting ambulance, but when an ambulance does not depart immediately… Well, it’s not a good sign.

If I said I had no regrets, I’d be a liar, but if I said I had many regrets, I’d be lying then, too. After that first experience in high school, I was very conscious that time is limited and anything can happen.

My advice to you, if you don’t already know, and many (sadly) don’t, is to recognize time is short and act in such a way that you won’t have regrets should it all end next week or tomorrow.

Sometimes when she called and I picked up, she’d sing a few lines of the old Stevie Wonder song, “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” If it comes on, I still have to change the radio station.



Shameless self-promotion: I wrote this story a while ago. It is fictional but deals in part with her death.

To Grandmother’s House We Go


54 thoughts on “Mortality lingers.

  1. This touched me so! My grandmother passed away almost 17 years ago and she was the first close relative who left us. I was 33 when she died and it tore me up. When I look back I’m amazed at what I’d taken for granted when I was young. Time passes by faster than we think and it’s scary. It’s why we should always enjoy our loved ones and spend as much time with them why they’re here because we never know when it will be the last time we ever see them. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Cherie. What a blessing you had so much time with her. I too have taken much for granted in general, and I could be a better person all the way around, but these things serve to remind us that anything can happen any time. When we wake up, we have no idea if we’ll end the day safe in our beds. And if we do make it to bed, don’t go to sleep angry. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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    1. I was in grad school actually when she passed. Oh boy grad school was a tragedy unto itself. But you know what, she was 94, and when someone has lived the full span of life, it’s somewhat easier to find a way to grieve in a straight line. The worst is an untimely death.

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  2. My Nan passed 10 years ago and I still miss her. I think what I found the hardest was the fact that other people’s memories of her don’t align with mine. I recall her singing to Tom Jones with a wicked smile on her face. No one else seems to even realise that she thought he was hot.

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    1. I think that’s pretty cool, though, Deb. You know something others don’t. It’s like a special secret between you and your Nan. I know what you mean about it being hard when it seems like other people don’t understand the full dimensions of those we love.

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  3. Good riff. Great character bits. Cigarettes and olive loaf. Bam. I can see her deaf as a post sitting in her long gramma pjs and robe, a cup of coffee, cigarette in hand, staring into space. God knows I love a cliche and that’s what shows this post’s age. “Long story short” never is, huh?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I prefer my attachment “disorder”, or my acceptance that the Universe is Absurd and nothing matters, most of all death. My parents are still alive, I keep waiting for those phone calls. No, that’s wrong. Not waiting. I guess I don’t really wait for anything except for my heart to finally stop. “‘Bout damn time.”
    Silly Tragic Humans. What about psychedelics? I can’t help but think that you live in a permanent state of (self-induced?) PTSD.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does seem like I live in permanent PTSD, doesn’t it? I think existence itself gives me PTSD, although I think we’re both being (mostly) tongue-in-cheek. I can’t help feeling like life is a grand drama and I want to be on the front lines of it. Like the line in the song “Wish You Were Here,” by Pink Floyd: “Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage?” I do find it funny because people suggest psychedelic drugs as though that will mellow me out when my brain has always been psychedelic. Did you know deja vu is a type of seizure? Not a mild feeling like, oh this feels familiar, but a KABOOM holy crap I’m in my own feature film right now! And I know the whole script! And I’m the star! I learned that one of the traits of people with temporal lobe epilepsy is feeling like everything has a deep significance and you are privy to the secrets of the universe. I’m honest enough to admit that this trait probably contributes to my degree of religiosity. I’m not capable of being detached, I want to squeeze out every last drop of existential angst.

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  5. So beautifully written and expressed. You captured the details – the way you and your mom tip-toed around each other, the way that you went from worry to relief to anger when driving over after your grandmother didn’t hear the phone – so vividly and perfectly. And that alternate universe feeling – heart-breaking and beautifully expressed. And the part about the wedding being the same day…oof.

    Anyway, I identify with so much of what you wrote here. I wish I had something comforting I could say about coping with that anxiety that anything could happen at any moment, but I’m not sure I do. It’s hard to enjoy the present when you have that in the back of your mind.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks JYP, means a lot coming from you. I’m glad I was able to express the emotions adequately. I’m so glad my inner voice told me not to go to the wedding or I’d have regretted it for life! (It wasn’t a wedding that I was personally invested in, it was my fiance’s cousin). I used to feel unable to enjoy the present because of all the inevitable horrible things that are coming down the pike, but I’ve learned through experience that poisoning the present moment doesn’t make it easier later on. All we are guaranteed is what we have in this very second, so I accept the gift, and remember it later on when I need it. That’s not to say I’m not a catastrophic thinker who tries to brace herself for some future disaster, but I’ve gotten better at taking a mental break from the insanity and breathing a little bit. I don’t want to let happy things go to waste the way I used to. I’ve let so much pass me by and I don’t want to let my anxieties ruin even more for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It helps to have a Don’t Give A Fuck attitude. I’ve lived a long time and it seems awfully slow to me because I DGF. Even though I’m struggling through a major challenge right now, I DGF so it seems like a manageable task to me. If you have someone you care about, you need to reserve a portion of DGF-ness about them. I know it seems cruel, but you’re able to appreciate them more fully if there’s part of them you don’t like. Contradictory, I know, but there you have it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s no doubt it’s important to not give fucks in many situations. One of the best things my shit job has taught me is not caring and letting certain things roll off my back. I used to get bent out of shape and hysterical about EVERYTHING. That’s not to say I don’t care about things and don’t work hard, but certain things I’ve learned to let go of and not let them stress me out till I get sick. I’ve been so selfish in my life, a “Karen” to the nth degree, but I realized I need to let my ego take the back seat and try to think of others first.

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    2. I should also add, I interpret not giving an f about someone as letting the negative characteristics slide. Which is something I was terrible at, always holding people to account for the tiniest mistakes, until one day I looked in the personality mirror. But in terms of someone’s well-being, I cannot help caring.

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  7. Beautiful.

    I didn’t know either of my grandparents on both sides. My dad’s parent died when he was small. My mum father when mum was like 20. My mum’s mum died when I was young but we lived in another country. So I don’t know what it is like to have grandparents.

    Touching ..
    You are so right to say..”..My advice to you, if you don’t already know, and many (sadly) don’t, is to recognize time is short and act in such a way that you won’t have regrets should it all end next week or tomorrow…”.

    I love stevie…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bella. I didn’t know any other grandparent besides her, the other three had passed away by the time I was born. I’m lucky for the time I had and that she was so close to us.

      I’m glad you enjoy the song.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing. I was very close to my grandmother. Sadly I never saw her go – she passed away in India when I was far in America – took me quite some years to not imagine she is still there when I visit back home.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love how WordPress is a community, because I enjoy JYP’s work too! There are a bunch of names that are pretty common on here who are known as quality bloggers, and for me, yours is included as well.

    I think about mortality all the time, but weirdly enough, I always take the day for granted. I need to rethink this.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post as usual, Hetty!

    Liked by 1 person

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