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  • Writer's pictureBy April Sage

End of Life Can Be a Gift

July is a month when I am always touched by life’s lessons. Nine years ago, I lost my Grandma Lisa. She’s one of several grandmas I was blessed to know. The week in July I lost her never seems to get easier. Every year I relive the three full minutes when my world stopped. It’s an emotional time when I reflect on those precious moments and appreciate the journey. I believe God positioned me in the right place at the right time. I’m grateful to have been her support and love through her last moments.

There was an incident where Grandma choked in the dining area of her memory care and was given the Heimlich. Afterward, she was never the same. The jarring experience seemed to take over her will and level of thriving. She just stopped. It took weeks for me to realize she was done. I selfishly continued to beg for ice chips and wet sponges, hoping to hold on, to hear her voice or hug her a bit longer. Once it was clear to me it was her time, I realized no amount of liquid or baby food was going to nourish her back to the vibrant woman we knew as Grandma Lisa. It became apparent it was her time.

As a family, we chose to sit with her in stages so that she was never alone. I always took the earliest shift. I love the quiet mornings when the sun comes up. The morning of July 2nd was a blessing. Grandma made it another day. Today I could hold her hand again. It was 4 a.m. and I had relieved my aunt so she could get some rest. I flipped through the channels and chose I Love Lucy, a fun show guaranteed to make us laugh, even during a time like this. I held her hand and laughed, giving her a quiet comedic play-by-play. It was just her and I as we neared 5 a.m. I could feel her breathing shift and drastically slow with deep pauses. Her body appeared to be more labored, and I began to panic slightly. I turned off Lucy and sifted through Google on my iPad to find the right prayer.

She was holding my hand as the pauses became deeper and long. I called my aunt and my mom. Hospice shared the process of death, and I thought this could go on for some time. However, this was not her wish. While holding her hand, repeating the prayers along with my personal messages of love and acceptance, she took her last breath. It was the most remarkable gift I could have received. I was there for her when she needed me most. I'll always be grateful to have shared this time. Peaceful. Full of wonder, transition, and God’s will as she said goodbye to all of us. Her gift of love helped me see what the end of life means and helped me understand that it truly is a gift. Although it hurt deeply to say goodbye, it was a blessing for her to go. She was not herself. She was no longer living a life she could enjoy. My need for her special, generous compliments and funny ways were now memories.

As a takeaway, I wish we documented her life better through recorded stories in her words. There are services to assist with this. I wish we had captured her unique story before, and with, dementia. It's not too late to do it! People with dementia often have clarity about the early days of their existence. Hire a videographer or buy a book to fill out with them. I wish so much I had one for each grandparent.

I am thankful I made the journey to Germany after she passed. Experiencing where she was born had been a dream of mine for a long time. Meeting her brother and extended family and seeing her world through their eyes was a gift. I highly recommend a trip to learn and remember their stories, and to commemorate their life.

July will always be a turning point for me. It was when I realized life is bigger and more meaningful than we normally allow ourselves to experience. I learned the end of life doesn't have to be horrible, tragic, and seen negatively. It can be a gift. It's the most touching experience I've had the honor of being chosen for. It truly changed my life, and it launched me into my passionate career.

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