I can’t really say my grandma and I were close, because we were more than close. I owe her the first two years of my existence (along with my deceased uncle) when my parents sent me to live with them for fear of me catching this disease where my parents used to live; and even though ours was a cat-dog relationship, I loved her very much.
It was back in February when she was admitted yet again in the hospital. It was normal for her to get Pneumonia time and time again that we all already know the drill on what to do, what to bring and how to stay calm and take care of her.
It was very timely that I just resigned from my previous job at the time so together with my whole family, I helped fully take care of her through and through.
It was weird, for almost half to 3/4 of her whole admission, she seemed totally okay. She was always complaining of the bland and cold hospital food. She was always very chatty too. In fact, on her first night, I was her only companion and we talked all night.
I remember bringing one of my film cameras that night and doing some selfies with her (that I still need to get processed in the lab). We talked about stuff she never told me before like how she took many jobs in order to help with the finances for her 8 children then. I let my guard down that night and listened to all her stories, both funny and sad alike. I usually hate talking mushy with my family, but that moment was an exception.
Though it wasn’t always like that.
As expected, the longer she stayed in the hospital, the crankier she got. She kept on asking us to take her home. One time, she got so impatient, she literally asked us to just give her the money for her commute home. Often times, we would just make fun of her like we always do, just to lighten her mood and to divert her attention, but there’d always be hard times as well.
When I graduated in 2011, she was diagnosed with ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease). She had to undergo surgery twice: first was for her IJ catheter insertion, which was a temporary dialysis access inserted through the side of her neck that was used until her Fistula (another surgery) on her left arm was ready for her lifetime twice or thrice a week Hemodialysis treatments. That was the start of her more challenging and even more unforgettable journey.
There’d be times that we’d go visit her in the hospital before I go back to work (also in the hospital) or when I’d spend my rest days with her in the Dialysis center. I can tell that my whole family was devastated during the first few years, seeing her go through so much pain in her late 70s.
But just like any other trial that came our way, we got by through prayers, helping each other out and by putting on brave faces for her.
In a year, she would normally be admitted in the hospital twice or thrice at the most. There’d be false alarms when we thought she would already be taken away from us, but luckily, she always survived. My uncle and my mother’s youngest sibling would always kid around and say “Nakaligtas ka na naman!(You survived yet again!)” or “Sumunod ka na kasi sa ilaw (Won’t you please go into the light already?)” then a burst of laughter in the whole room would arise. There were even a few times that the patients admitted in the rooms next to hers would code or would go into cardiac arrest. I think that happened a couple of times, so we would poke fun at her being cursed (or at least the patients next to her). You may think that those jokes were so rude, but they always cracked everyone up.
My family has the weirdest sense of humor, but it worked so well. We’d all always be huddled in my grandma’s small private room after work or on weekends, either teary-eyed or out of breath because of so much laughter when my uncle starts throwing the punches. I guess it helped not only my grandmother, but the rest of us too because it took our minds off the fact that we are in deep trouble. Who wants to take problems so seriously anyway? Plus, we all loved seeing our grandmother laugh so hard with no care in the world. She’d even answer him back and seeing them throw the funniest lines at each other was like watching a live comedic show.
During the last few days of her admission early this year, she started deteriorating, but despite that and the bathroom restrictions, she just couldn’t let herself grow weaker. There was a time I was so mad at her for wanting to go to the bathroom to take a dump. She was very uncomfortable in doing it on a bedpan or diaper (because who wouldn’t be?) so she insisted even though it took us a while before we got to the bathroom. Did I say she had bathroom restrictions?
There’d also be sad times when she would ask me what’s wrong with her, but I could only make up a reason because even her doctors took a while before figuring it out. There was one particular night when she couldn’t sleep comfortably and woke up every 2 hours. At 3am, she woke me up again and I saw that she was in distress and and couldn’t breathe. Before calling the nurse again, I elevated her head of bed and assisted her in sitting up straight. She dangled her legs on the side of the bed and asked me to sit beside her. Having almost no sleep at all, I was a bit irritable and refused to do so. So I was just there in front of her standing up. Her dentures were taken off so she spoke as if like a little kid and answered me when I asked her why she wanted to dangle her legs despite the doctors’ orders not to. She told me “Kasi gusto ko lang lumakas (I just want to get my strength back)”.
That scene kept repeating in my head over and over and even when I think about it now, I still can’t help but cry. She just wanted to be okay again and I couldn’t even set aside the fact that I’m tired and sleepless. She’s been through worse, but I had to be a complete ass to her.
When I realized how much of a douche I was, I wanted to make it up to her before it was too late, and boy, I’m glad I did.
Soon after, they finally figured out what’s wrong with her and disclosed it to us. Apart from Pneumonia, she was also diagnosed with Aortic Stenosis and so she was referred by her main AP (a Nephrologist) to a Cardiologist. The aorta is the major artery of the heart that pumps blood from the heart to the rest of the body. It has a valve that in this condition, narrows, thus restricts blood flow to the body causing breathlessness, weakness and sometimes even fainting. To add to that, she also started having absence seizures during her dialysis treatments that she eventually had to be referred to a Neurologist.
On the latter part of her admission, she started refusing her food and was advised to have an NGT (Naso-Gastric Tube) Insertion. My mother who is always overcome with her emotions, refused the procedure. We had to argue among ourselves with me wanting to get the procedure done. Still, my mother won. She talked my grandma into eating again to avoid having to put her through another ordeal and even though it was harder, we had to carefully assist her in eating. We exhausted all the techniques we could think of to encourage her to eat more including those that you’d normally use with kids and they worked. The NGT insertion was deferred a couple of times and eventually canceled.
Just when we thought that the hardest part was over, she started having episodes of disorientation, which was most probably caused by her prolonged seizures. The longest episode was the first time she had a seizure during her dialysis treatment. She couldn’t recognize any of us, or she just pretended not to because she was sulking. She was conscious, but she just stared at all of us with a weird look in her eyes as if seeing us for the first time. I even broke down in front of my relatives because I was reading about the worst case scenarios of her current condition which led to my aunt’s crying as well. The disorientation went on for the whole night and when my parents came to visit after work, she started uttering “‘Nay, ‘nay, kunin mo na ako (Mom, mom, please come and get me)” as if calling to her own mother. She said this in a childlike manner too. Our eyes swollen, I, surprisingly slept that night. The morning after, I was happy to see that itwas over and my grandmother was back to her old, chatty self again. You could hear the excitement in my aunt’s voice asking her whatever sinful food she wanted to eat so she could buy it.
After starting some treatments, she started feeling better. She couldn’t really stand on her own anymore, but she was strong enough to ask her doctors to let her go home. Soon, she was permitted to go home and continue her dialysis treatments outside the hospital.
I stayed with them for a few more weeks, going home only when I had no more clothes to wear. All of us still took turns in taking care of her. We bought more Oxygen tanks for her because she could consume about 1-2 big ones in a day. We also had to buy her own hospital bed, egg crate mattress, glucose monitor, new BP monitor and I insisted on getting her own portable pulse oximeter as well. Then, I taught everyone how to use the said monitors so they could observe her appropriately when I’m not around. I was very happy at how everyone, including my younger cousins were ready to learn and eager to help out even with diaper changes and bed bath. There was a time when I asked all my teenage girl cousins to help me in giving her a bath and changing her sheets. They all learned the proper techniques in turning and lifting our grandma and all I could think of was boy, all those night shifts taking care of bedridden patients in the hospital surely paid off.
We were able to take her back to the dialysis center for treatment, and force her the second time, but she was on close monitoring and hooked to an oxygen tank. Dialysis settings had to be adjusted as well so her heart can keep up, but still, she had episodes of absence seizures. She grew weaker and wouldn’t go back for a third treatment the same week, so we had to give up her slot, not knowing that it would be her last.
She didn’t want to continue her dialysis treatments. In fact, she didn’t want to go back for the third time so bad that week that even though she started sleeping for longer periods of time, she woke up just that one time we asked her if she still wanted to go and uttered a big “no”.
She then started having visual hallucinations as well, if you can call them that because there may be in fact, real souls of random people in her room, but only she could see them. There was a time when I just got back from our house to rest for a day. My uncle had to get the oxygen tanks refilled, so there were only the two of us in the house at the time. I had to do a bed bath for her and right before we finished, she uttered irritably, “Ang dami namang bata dito! (There are so many kids in here!)”. I know that she wasn’t disoriented at the time because we were talking and she even kept on asking me to make the bath quick because she can’t breathe well. I felt all the hair in my body stood and almost ran out of the house and left her alone in there. I turned the TV volume up before sending my mother a text message, telling her what happened, then shortly after, my uncle who went to get the oxygen called me. He was laughing and told me, my grandma has been seeing things for a while. True enough, she has been seeing a lady carrying a child, a boy that even sat beside her in the car one time and some other souls that give me the creeps.
Filipinos believe so much in the supernatural especially those involved in death and dying. Some of these I’ve heard from my senior nurses, like when a person’s death is at hand, you can observe them trying to remove their clothes. There’s also this belief that when you stare into their eyes, they stare back not at you, but at someone from behind you, as if their gaze goes directly through you. There’s the “Sundo“, which I know everyone knows is the entity that awaits the souls of those that are dying. There’s also this weird belief that those that are dying attract ants and you often see tons of ants underneath their sheets or body before they die. I’ve never heard that last one before, by the way, but I saw it happen to my grandma. It was so bizarre because we always kept her clean and comfortable so we couldn’t find anything that could have drawn the ants to her.
Right before she eternally closed her eyes and eventually became unconscious, I had a small talk with her. We just finished praying the Rosary together after she saw so many “people” gathered in her room, even though there were only 3 of us in there. I asked her if she knows we love her. She answered weakly, but in the sweetest tone I’ve heard and told me that she indeed knows. I told her we all love her the same and I felt that she was happy when she heard that. That was the last time I was able to talk to her.
During the next few days, she barely opened her eyes. She would nod occasionally when asked, but that was it. She couldn’t speak much. She couldn’t even eat anymore so we tried feeding her a supplementary milk, but could only consume 2 tablespoons.
The last weekend she was with us, visitors, close friends, relatives, family, co-Mother Butlers in Church and a Priest flocked to her. Even our household help, who was a close friend of hers, together with her sisters visited lola. I had to get out of the room when she cried, because I knew my eyes were going to fill up with tears again.
A final mass was held for her and was also anointed by their parish priest.
My brother couldn’t come home in time, so he had to talk to her one last time through a video call, which was the same for my grandma’s sister in Canada and our other cousins in Cebu and Ormoc. Their remaining brother was too weak to go on a long trip all the way from La Union so he never saw her too.
I had to come home after that and go back one last time. When I got back to her house, I greeted her in the most enthusiastic and scandalous way I could. I knew she wouldn’t respond anymore, but I also knew that hearing was the last sense to go in a person who’s dying so I made sure I was heard. This was the time my uncle (mother’s youngest sibling) and his wife went to get my grandma’s brother from La Union but had to go back because their children told us he couldn’t travel that far anymore. My aunt and I gave grandma one last bed bath and when my uncle and his wife arrived, my aunt and I went to get some groceries, and stuff for oral care and bed bath.
When we came back, we cleaned grandma’s mouth and left her in a high back rest position. We all stayed together in her room and watched a late afternoon show. She was very calm until shortly after, my uncle saw that she was drooling. She then started coughing hard and drooling even more, before finally passing away.
Two of my cousins came home from school just minutes after her passing. My aunt was already crying so hard while talking to her one last time, telling her that she’s now an orphan. My uncle (same one who always teased her and took care of her since forever) tried carefully jolting her a couple of times even though he knew that she was gone. I placed her pulse oximeter on her finger one last time and waited for the ECG reading to go on a flat line as I hold her still warm feet.
I’ve never seen anyone die in my life before, not even while working in a hospital. I wasn’t in shock, but I didn’t shed one tear either. I couldn’t understand what I felt then and I still couldn’t explain it now. I just knew that she was gone and it happened unexpectedly.
We didn’t try to revive her nor rush her to the hospital anymore because we knew that all she wanted was to rest and be free from all the pain. Had she been revived, she would just be hooked to a ventilator and no one in my family can ever stand seeing her intubated, especially my mother. She and all of her siblings agreed that the moment lola was brought home from the hospital, all we needed to do was to make her feel comfortable and wait for her final breath at home like she personally requested and that’s what we did.
My parents had to attend to my brother in Cebu at the time of her death. Before they left, my mother asked my grandma to wait for her to come back. She must have had a hunch that something might happen. I couldn’t tell my mother the news so I had to tell my father instead. I know how hard it was going to be for her and I know it still hurts up to this day.
My grandmother died peacefully on March 15, 2016. She was one of the most annoying, most makulit, most mataray, most maloko, most beautiful, most fashionable, most God-fearing, strongest and bravest persons I knew.
And I loved her so much.
I love you so much. Thank you Lola!