“She Had A Towel Over Her Face”


In December of 2014, Jack walked into the kitchen and caught me while I was washing dishes. “I remember a few things about the day Grandma died.”

He was eight years old when his grandmother got ill and let go of life. His comment came out of nowhere, because my mother-in-law died a year and a half before. But he was pretty upset the day after, so it may have been natural progression for him to finally communicate what he recalled from that day.

“I remember you were talking to someone on the phone and crying.”

“I was talking to my parents,” I told him. Jan had terminal cancer, and in May of 2013 had been given three months to live. Time was up on August 19th when she began slipping past anything I could help her with. The entire day had been filled with tears, as I tried – and failed – to get her comfortable. By the afternoon she was fidgety and vague. Eventually she told me that I couldn’t give her what she needed anymore.

“Grandma herself told me that I couldn’t take care of her any longer. So I was on the phone trying to make arrangements to get her help.

“And when you were on the phone, BAM Thump Thump Thump Thump. She was gone.”

Grandma had passed away with Sherry and her father in the room, as Sherry comforted and Jack talked with her about the good times during their marriage. When Jan passed, Sherry ran downstairs to tell me. We cried together. More phone calls were made in grief and relief, as we contacted the funeral home and the hospice organization. The oxygen machine that had been running all Summer was shut off.

“And I remember,” he continued, “all the machines in her room.” Grandma had an oxygen tube running up the stairs to her room from the machine in the living room, plus a humidifier she used to take some of her inhalant medicine. There was also the CPAP machine, two TVs, a DVD/VCR, cordless headsets, and a truckload of remotes. The room got very warm with all the gear going at once.

“It’s true,” I told Jack, “and she needed all of that to stay comfortable.”

“I remember that she didn’t blink. and that sat there and she didn’t say much.”

“She was tired, Mister,” I said. On her last day she couldn’t walk, and refused her medicine. Jack had walked in late in the afternoon, about an hour before she passed. Jan was doing exactly what he described.

“Grandpa Jack was there too.”

Jack was right. Sherry’s Dad had come over to help me build a hospital bed – one of the care plans we had come up with as Jan had gotten weaker. By divine coincidence, Jan began to relax and let go when her ex-husband arrived. Grandpa Jack lives in Tennessee, so the fact that he was even in town when this happened was amazing and welcome. Jan passed in our home, while Sherry and Jack comforted her. The timing of everything was perfect.

“I asked Mom,” Jack said, “why she had a towel over her face. And Mom told me it was out of respect.”

I reminded Jack, after seeing Grandma lying on the bed in silence, that he immediately said a prayer for her. It was the sweetest moment.

“We had steak over at our friends house after that,” he said. “Then I saw the aid car show up later.”

Our neighbors took in David and Jack after Jan passed, so Sherry and I could make some of the necessary arrangements. “It wasn’t quite an aid car, Mister,” I replied. “It was the funeral home who came over to take care of Grandma for us.” The car was a minivan and very discreet.

“And I remember all the people who came to her funeral service, and that you said about ten words in your speech before you started crying.”

He was talking about the speech during the service. I was unable to keep it together while describing what I knew about a woman who had lived under the same roof for nearly 22 years. “Yep,” I said. “We were all having a tough time, and I knew it was going to be hard talking about her at the service.”

“I remember when she died,” Jack said, “and that she protected me.” Because of Jack’s disability, Jan was always very protective and kind to Jack. Sadly she didn’t act the same towards David, which is a source of strain for him – and a reason why Jack’s older brother prefers not to talk about Grandma at all. If anything, she was an anomaly. I was happy that Jack shared what he remembered about Jan’s last day in August 2013. But one thing had me wondering. “What made you think of this now, Jack?”

“Because I miss her.”


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