Two days ago, I got the call that I’d been dreading for the last three years.
I returned late Friday night from a successful two-day shoot in Philadelphia. I was exhausted, but looking forward to being home to enjoy my weekend, ride a horse, and celebrate my ten-year thyroid-versary on Saturday.
Sadly, life had other plans. On Saturday morning at 4 am, I suddenly heard my phone. I was sound asleep, and my first thought was that it was my alarm alerting me that it was time to take my thyroid medication. But as my phone continued trying to rouse me from my slumber and I slowly became more alert, I realized that my phone was ringing. I grabbed it but couldn’t make out the name that appeared on my caller ID. Then I saw that it read Healthcare, and only one thing came to mind: my grandmother.
As a caregiver to someone in a long-term care facility, being awoken in the middle of the night is something I’d grown accustomed to. Usually, it was a nurse calling me at midnight or later to tell me that my grandmother tried to get out of bed on her own and had a fall, followed by the news that she may have a broken hip.
But this time, I somehow knew the news would be different. Subconsciously something told me that I needed to return home to New York by Friday night, and by 4 am, I learned why.
It took all of four minutes for my life to change. My grandmother had passed away.
I wasn’t quite sure what one should do after receiving that kind of news. It was too early to start calling people, but going back to sleep seemed heartless. Left with no other options, I stayed in bed and stared at the ceiling, accompanied only by my racing mind and the talkative birds perched somewhere in the vicinity of my window. I wondered for a moment if they were discussing a loss of their own or if they were merely deciding what destinations might be on their agenda for the day. Either way, they were loud enough to drown out the thoughts that were in my own head.
A few hours passed before I felt it was a civilized enough time to begin alerting people to the news that I silently sat with until then. One by one, I called family and texted friends. Then the condolences started coming in.
When I got the call that morning, I asked if I could say one final goodbye to my grandmother. I made my last drive over to her long-term care facility around 8 am, many hours before my usual visits would ensue. The place that had grown so familiar to me over the last 700+ days looked foreign at that time in the morning—the empty parking lot, the unfamiliar staff, and the hallway still full of residents finishing their breakfast. As I walked down the hallway and rounded the bend to my grandmother’s room, a route I had taken so many times before, I forgot the reason for my visit. I entered her room as I always did, with the expectation that I would ask her how she was and hear her voice. It wasn’t until I saw her in bed that reality sunk in.
I spent the final moments I would ever have with my grandmother playing her favorite songs by Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra. I remembered each part in the songs where she would suddenly become animated by the lyrics when we would sing together during my nightly visits, and soon the tears started flowing. I held her hand as I told her how much she meant to me and that I loved her.
For most of my adult life, I’ve been a caregiver. My grandmother wasn’t just a part of my family, she was my everything. Walking out of her room that morning marked the closing of our time on Earth together, but the special relationship we shared will live on in my heart and mind forever.
While the last couple of years have been a challenging journey for both of us, we did it together, and that in and of itself was a beautiful thing. We both found ways to endure the hardships and keep our special bond intact. I will forever be grateful to have been a caregiver to my grandmother and to be with her until the end as she transitioned to a better place.
To everyone who has kept us in their thoughts, reached out to me, asked about my grandmother, and supported us in many other ways, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You gave me strength and were as much a part of her journey as I was.