How to Live and Die

Lesson's from my Grandma's Final Moments

The Phone Call

I hung up in a state of shock. My grandma just suffered a massive heart attack, and the doctor projected she only had hours to live. I needed to get on the next plane, leaving Orange County.

I haphazardly threw a black suit into my suitcase and set off to the airport without a ticket.

After teary-eyed pleading with the airport attendant, I found myself on a plane bound for the midwest only hours after receiving the phone call.

The Flight

As I waited at the gate, I made eye contact with a grey-haired woman who smiled at me. As an introvert who rarely strikes conversations with strangers, I looked to divert eye-contact immediately. But then, I thought of my grandma. She was the warmest, most loving, and kind person I’ve ever met. She couldn’t go for a minute in public without making a new friend. So, I smiled back at the woman and asked her how she was doing. I learned that she just lost her mother and was going back to the midwest for the funeral. I told her about my grandma, and she offered me warm words of comfort.

Once on the plane, I wanted the flight both to be over immediately and to last forever. Every minute longer in the air was another minute I could go on believing my Grandma was still alive. Landing meant I would know for sure.

The Hospital

I entered her hospital room to find her surrounded by my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. She was in bed with her eyes closed. “She’s been in a lot of pain,” I heard someone say.

We all stood around her, appreciating these final moments. She was the matriarch of this family. She was our role model. She was an unwavering source of unconditional love. Without exchanging words, we all grappled with the realization that she may soon be gone.

It was now late in the evening, so we decided to say goodnight to her. We gently tapped her on the shoulder and woke her up. I feared seeing her in pain. Yet, she showed no pain. Instead, she looked at us all and smiled.  She said, “I’m so lucky to be part of such a loving family. I feel so loved.”

With that, each of us took turns giving her a hug and wishing her goodnight. 

She didn't wake up the following morning.

The days since

How could she be gone? How could anyone fill the void she left behind? I asked myself these questions over and over again as I tried to process the loss.

I found it hard to focus on things I usually loved, like reading books. My Grandma was a teacher, a children’s bookstore owner, and a storyteller. She instilled in me a respect for books and a love for reading. To me, she was Grandma Marlys, but to the other kids, she was “The Story Lady.” Perhaps nothing made her smile more than when she could captivate a group of children with a story. I found myself thinking back on every moment I ever shared with my Grandma, trying to relive those old memories. While these were fond memories, I found reminiscing made me feel sad. I wouldn’t be making any new memories with my Grandma.

Grandma Marlys telling stories to my elementary school class

Yet, as I thought back about her final moments, I remembered the last thing she said, “I feel so loved.” I couldn't help but smile.

She was in extreme pain in the final moments of her life. Yet she didn’t complain. She instead gave me the greatest gift I could ask for - the example that death is not something to fear. That I should focus on the things I’m grateful for, rather than the things I’m afraid of.

Chills still run through my entire body any time I think of these last words she said. She’s re-framed what I now view as success. Wealth, fame, and material success are not worthwhile goals. Instead, my only hope is to spend my final moments of life with an overwhelming feeling of love, surrounded by people I care about.

She died in the same way she lived, full of gratitude and filled with love and compassion. She left us a stunning example that I can only hope to live up to.

I’m lucky to have had such a wonderful Grandma, who made me feel so loved.

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