I flew to my birthplace of York, Pa. at the beginning of May to say my goodbyes to my paternal grandmother, who passed on April 11, 2017, and to support my family. I stood in the mausoleum where my grandmother was laid to rest and read her name plate in disbelief – “Emily E. Cover 1923-2017.” It was hard to fathom that my grandmother was in a casket behind that nameplate. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Why are you in there, Grandma?”
My grandma lived to be 93 years old. No matter the age, death is difficult for those left behind. Currently living with PKD, however, and having lost family members at an early age, I know that my grandma’s life should be celebrated. She lived a healthy, full and happy life and was loved very much. If living with health issues since the age of five has taught me anything, it’s that one could not ask for much more than a long and healthy life.
After Dad, Mom and I visited Grandma at the mausoleum, we went to her home, which she had lived in since 1956. When we walked in the door, it still smelled like her house and I couldn’t help but say “Hello” in a loud voice like I used to do because her hearing deteriorated with age. It was bittersweet to walk around her house. I tried to soak everything in since I knew it would be the last time I would see it. We looked through old photo albums and I found great comfort in seeing her in her 20s with a big smile on her face, enjoying life with my grandfather, who passed many years ago.
Her passing was a classic story of the elderly. She fell, fractured her hip, had surgery, went into a rehab home and died several weeks after her fall. It was all so sudden.
A poignant moment that occurred the weekend before her passing was when my father visited Grandma in the rehabilitation home. It was the last time my father saw his mom. They shared a very emotional conversation about life, loss and how they felt about one another. They expressed sentiments that I’m positive both were so thankful that they did. Grandma kept saying how tired she was and how hard this was for her. Dad was holding her hand and squeezed it and she didn’t squeeze back. The fact that she was too tired to squeeze my father’s hand in response was really tough on my dad. I can’t help but think that this conversation was what my grandma needed to feel fulfilled and know that it was her time to go. She passed away in her sleep shortly after their talk. We don’t know exactly why, but I wonder if she was just ready to let go, if she was too tired to keep fighting, if her hope faded, if she lost the will to survive, if she was content with her life and if she was at peace with dying. I miss her greatly, but we could all wish for the life and death that she had.
Loss and death is a part of all of our lives. With PKD being a “family disease,” we experience this often and sometimes at a young age. It seems quite unfair. I never met my maternal grandmother because of PKD. My aunt chose not to go on dialysis or have a transplant and let herself die. I wish I knew why she didn’t have the will to survive. However, we must all respect each other’s choices. I can see how one can become tired and overwhelmed by our journey and how physically, mentally and emotionally challenging it can be. It takes a strong will to survive to walk in our shoes, but I believe life is worth it and I hope I will continue to have a fighting spirit for the rest of my days.
Two days after saying my goodbyes to my grandma, I became very ill and was rushed to the emergency room at York Hospital in York, Pa. Stay tuned for my next blog to learn how I fought through my recent health hiccup and my will to survive.
How has loss impacted your PKD journey? Have you lost someone special because of PKD? I invite you to honor them today by sharing a little bit about them and what you have learned from their life.