On dying


My grandma passed away in April of last year.  The first question many people ask is, “Was it unexpected?” In fact, it wasn’t.  It was inevitable, she had spent the last year dying.  Shortly falling a hospital admission for suspected TIA, she then suffered a hip fracture.  Even though the hip fracture was repaired immediately, she never recovered.

In medical school, we were  taught that there was a 50% one-year mortality rate following a hip fracture.

She was the one, in one in two.  She was bed-bound, then developed pressure ulcers, and somewhere in between she stopped eating.  On most of our visits over the last year, she rarely acknowledged us.  Only nodded, said our names, and then drifted back into her sleep.  It was inevitable, but the permanence of death is always shocking.

My last memory of her was four days prior to her death.  My mom had just come back from her one month trip.  When we got there, the nurse was trying desperately to clean my grandma but no amount of artificial air freshener, or the biting cold wind that blew in from the wide open window, could mask the stench of diarrhea and decaying flesh.  That day, we stood silently by her bed, willing her to acknowledge us with a word, but she was too weak.  In our overly bright voices we exclaimed, “Grandma, we’re here to visit you, we’re here! we’re here!” She opened her eyes, nodded, and closed it again.

My grandma, speechless and immobile, weighing forty-five pounds.

My grandma, who loved to eat.  Who would always order way too much at dim sum.  My grandma, who had random zingers, like the time when my uncle had injured his leg playing hockey and she said, “don’t you think you’re too old to play with those who are half your age?” My grandma, who despite having very poor vision would take the ttc on a weekly basis from Finch/401 to chinatown.  My grandma, who once got lost, and speaking no English at all, found herself at a police station in whitby and produced her church bulletin so that the police officer could call her pastor and arrange for someone to pick her up.  My grandma, who didn’t seem to remember much except all ten grandchildrens’ and four great-grandchildren’s birthdays every year.  My grandma, who baby-sat my cousins and I when we were babies.  My grandma, who had no money, but would fight to pay for the meal and be ready with a generous red pocket for every birthday.

My grandma always said, I’m ready to go anytime, but I hope I could die in my sleep. 

It speaks to what a rich life she had lived and how she had no regrets.  And this is how I will remember her.


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