The 405 was filled with cars on a Wednesday at around 5 p.m. I had just asked my boss if I could leave work an hour early to see my grandpa in the hospital. My boss gave me a hard time about leaving early despite being overstaffed. I remember feeling frustrated with her for her lack of understanding. But I couldn’t let my frustration get in my way, although she had always given me a hard time for the simplest tasks and favors.
My grandpa was in stage 4 of stomach cancer and laying in a hospital room somewhere in Long Beach. I had to leave as soon as possible to go see him before he was released to hospice. The drive was terrible and draining, but I wouldn’t have guessed that a small visit would end the way it did.
As I arrived at Memorial Hospital off the 405 on exit Cherry, the freeway and exit ingrained in my mind until this day. I called my mother to ask where the entrance was as I pulled into the closest Starbucks drive thru. I ordered drinks for all of my family members I knew were waiting at the hospital. As I pulled forward in a rush, the barista proceeded to tell me that someone had paid for my order in front of me. I could not believe how rushed, and in a bad mood I was in, and someone did such a small but great task for me. I felt a sense of relief and made my way to the hospital.
When I got to the hospital, I saw my family waiting in the hallway. They had all looked entirely drained from the face and emotionally disconnected from the busy workers walking up and down the hallways. As I put the tray down on the desk next to my grandpa’s bed, I looked over at him. He appeared to be lifeless and at peace all at the same time. I came to find out that the nurse was in the process of having my family sign over hospice paperwork. He drastically got worse over the half a year period of him being diagnosed. The only option left was taking him home because no amount of chemotherapy could save him.
My family was silent, and seemed to be okay with the decision. They didn’t have a choice and they needed to put on a brave face for my grandma. As I walked out of the hospital, I realized the drinks I got for everyone remained untouched. It was a dumb thought in a moment like that, but that resonated with me for some reason.
On my 15-minute drive back to my grandma and grandpa’s house, I got a call from my aunt that a nurse would be meeting me at the house to show me how to work the hospice equipment. I felt absolutely unprepared and anxious to obtain all of the information he would give me. I have a bad short memory, and felt that I couldn’t be the only one to be present because I would forget it all and jeopardize my grandpa. I couldn’t live with the guilt.
I called my cousin and she came over with me. She asked the nurse if we could possibly record him because she also feared one misstep would cause an issue. He told us we could not record him, but if we had questions, we could call the hospital at any time. I felt stressed as he brought in more and more borrowed equipment from the hospital. He brought in a wheel-chair, oxygen tanks, and other devices I can’t even try to remember. What I do remember clearly is the nurse telling us that the oxygen is the absolute last resort. He said if we chose to use that machine, that my grandpa needed to be on his last breaths because he could not live without the machine. I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be needed to even use that machine because nothing would happen to my grandpa to deem it necessary. My cousin seemed to agree with me that the machine would go untouched. All the equipment would eventually go untouched.
A few hours had gone by and I had remained still on my grandma’s quilt burgundy recliner chair. I turned my phone off and I was anticipating the arrival of my grandpa and wanted to give him my full attention. As the ambulance arrived with my grandpa, the only way he could arrive on a hospital bed, he was rolled in. The wood creaked loudly as the rubber wheels hit the ground and the technicians safely transferred him from the gurney to his bed. The sun was setting now as my grandpa peacefully slept in his room only a few feet from me. My back was facing the wall where he slept so I couldn’t peer into the room and see his defeated face full of sadness.
I woke up at around 3 a.m. by the sound of a voice in distress. It was my grandpa who had been silent for days up until this point. I was sitting up on the burgundy couch, my bed for the night, and could hear him calling out. My grandpa was calling out for his mother in his sleep. I could hear him clearly and loudly asking for his mother who had already passed and begging her to come get him. My heart was racing more than it had ever before. I began to have an anxiety attack. I started to count clocks on the walls, several Virgin Marys my grandma had, counting anything to distract me. I had previous knowledge from a therapist to count objects to distract my anxiety and panic attacks. I just had a gut feeling he was going to pass at any moment. He was allowing his mother to come get him, in his own words.
The next day, at 10 a.m., my grandpa passed away. I have never felt trauma such as that day, and being in the room with him as it happened. I still think about this moment every day when I see his cowboy hat adorned on my bedroom wall. Even two years later the pain still hits the same.