Breathing Aloud

Linda Stansberry
Nov 5, 2014 · 4 min read

My grandmother died on the evening of June 13, 2014. It was Friday the 13th and a full moon, an occurrence that won’t repeat for another 35 years.

It was also the day I found my first grey hair.

My grandmother was a heavy smoker. She spent the last twenty years of her life virtually housebound, sitting in her favorite chair, smoking and watching television. She loved COPS and Judge Judy.

Occasionally she would move to the table across the room and play solitaire or eat a small, carefully prepared meal. Like many of her generation, she was obsessed with weight gain. She always had something to say about my figure (sloppy) or my hair (messy).

This is where we put her hospital bed when she went into hospice care. I helped her back and forth to the bathroom for the last few months of her life. The COPD meant that she had to be constantly hooked up to oxygen, and we worried about her tripping over the tubes.

This is the path she wore into the floor beside the table where she ate her meals.

This is the wall above her desk. She loved pictures of the seashore.

This is the corner of the living room where she once kept a big cabinet with her recipe books, her record player and her vinyl. She became too tired to cook her big Italian meals for us almost ten years ago. I never heard her play any of her music.

For a while it looked like she was going to live for a long, long time on hospice. She was always stubborn. She didn’t want to be in the back bedroom in her hospital bed while we talked about her, so she hauled herself back out to the living room, back to her favorite chair. Then she started sleeping in it. I would wake up in the middle of the night to the slither of her oxygen tubes against the carpet and the thump of her walker as she made her way across the house to the bathroom.

I know it’s sick, but there were times during the whole experience that I really, really wanted to start smoking again.

It’s not uncommon for caregivers to want their loved ones to die, finally. It’s hard to watch them suffer. It’s hard to care for them. I was annoyed with her in the last hours we spent together. I was stressed out, getting sick, on my last nerve. I don’t remember if I told her I loved her before I left her with my mom, although I’m pretty sure I did. She had her hearing aids out and was nodding on the pain medication, so if she didn’t hear me, I hope she knows. I wanted her to die, but once she’d gone all I could think is how I wanted to hear her voice one last time.

She was critical of a lot of my life decisions, but she always knew I was going to succeed as a writer. I gave it a shot because of her. She kept a paper bag full of my articles in her closet.

….I still wish I could have lost enough weight to make her really proud of me, though.