Her death started in the week beforehand when she was taken to the ER in the middle of the night for congestive heart failure (CHF). The type 2 diabetes she had for the 10+ years before her death is an established risk factor for CHF. She was given six months to live at that point. My mother (and possibly her siblings) decided with the doctors that the best thing for my grandmother to do was to have heart surgery. However, surgery on patients with diabetes has higher risks than on the general population. My paternal aunt, who was an RN/BSN, warned me that doing the surgery was the wrong decision because the risk of stroke was so high. She told me that if we were lucky, my grandmother would die from the stroke during surgery. If we were unlucky, she’d live in a vegetative state for many years with her newly repaired heart. I repeated this information to my mother who discounted and ignored what I said because she was certain her decision to do the surgery was the right one. Her words were along the lines of, "No. This surgery is the only chance your grandmother has."
The night before the surgery, almost all the adults in the family (including me at age 17) gathered in my grandmother's hospital room. She had given birth to six children, five of whom were there along with several spouses and two other grandchildren. The room was quite crowded, but it was filled with laughter. It struck me as such an odd gathering since the family never really got together except for weddings, funerals or major holidays. I left earlier than most of the crowd because I had to be at work at 5 or 6 the next morning. As I left, I had the distinct feeling that it was the last time I would ever see my grandmother alive.
My paternal aunt was correct in her assessment of the situation as my grandmother had a stroke during the surgery but survived. She was in a coma for several more days before she died. What I didn’t expect was that my premonition was correct, too. When I went to the hospital a day or two after the surgery with my boyfriend, my mother was the only one in the room. We were already estranged at that point, so it was an awkward situation. I went and stood by my grandmother’s body, but I could tell her spirit was already gone. As I left, my mother ever-so-helpfully told me, “You know this is likely the last time you’ll see your grandmother alive, don’t you?” My mother was always right (in her mind) as she has narcissistic personality disorder, so I had learned quickly as a child that there was no point in ever trying to tell her otherwise. I simply nodded my head while inside my brain I was screaming, “She’s already gone!”
I don’t know how one tells that the spirit is gone in a patient in a coma, but I do know that I was certain my grandmother’s spirit was not there. The friend whom I have asked to “pull the plug” on me if I were ever in a similar situation is friends with many who have metaphysical abilities who will easily be able to tell if my spirit has already left. Knowing me, I will probably already be trying to communicate from the other side to tell them how to handle things!
My grandmother's body passed away a few days later; mercifully the time her body spent in a coma after the stroke was short. However, to me, the decision to have surgery was the wrong one. I understand why my mother (who had power of attorney for my grandmother who was already showing early signs of dementia) made the decision. My mother felt doctors were gods, and if any of them offered to do something, she would have rapidly agreed even if it was a procedure with terrible odds. She, like most others, also wasn't prepared to lose her mother yet. Many of us make decisions to try and keep our loved ones here longer because of our emotional attachments. However, death is inevitable for all of us. Sometimes the better option is not to medically intervene. In this case, my grandmother’s chance at six months with her family was the better one than the surgery that was likely to cause a stroke due to her risk factors.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC