I was supposed to be in Columbus for Blog Paws this last weekend- two short evenings away, then I would return home to San Diego to resume my regularly scheduled activities. That is what I packed for.
Instead, as I touched down in Chicago for my layover on the way to the conference, my phone started ringing. “Gram isn’t doing so well,” my sister said as I sat on the tarmac. “They don’t think she is going to survive the weekend.”
As we taxied to the gate, the entire plane got to overhear me frantically whispering to her- “Should I come? Should I change my flight? I don’t know what to do!”
My sister put my mother on the phone. “If you come out here right now-” pause- “I’ll kill you. You need to go to your conference.”
So I did, and as you can probably imagine it was actually a really good time. Obviously my concern cast a bit of a pall over the event, and although I’m sure plenty of people assumed my red rimmed eyes were attributable to a little too much pawtinis in the bar it was actually just a combination of sleep deprivation and worry.
By Sunday, I had decided to go to Boston. My grandmother was still with us, though the hospice nurse said things were really winding down. I rushed to her bedside, where she lectured me with a stern “NO CRYING!” and I turned her onto The Deadliest Catch.
My grandmother is an 85 pound steel rod. She’s on enough drugs to tranquilize an elephant, yet she fights the drug induced haze off enough to lecture us on the way we placed the chairs in the room, the angle of the picture on the wall, and her dislike of the little old lady who lives underneath her and bangs her cane on the ceiling every time her great grandkid comes over and makes too much noise.
She sent my mother off to deliver notes to various seniors in the housing complex. Once she heard I was coming, she offered my expertise to a variety of cat owners in the building, so every few hours our peace was punctuated by the squeak, squeak of a walker and a shrill voice saying, “here’s some soup, and oh by the way my Rex is hiding under the bed and won’t come out, do you think you can come take a look?”
The office manager has a beautiful Golden Retriever, Greta, who is a trained service dog. Greta comes to the senior housing complex every day and roams the halls, offering comfort and licks to those who might need it. By Tuesday, I was looking for Greta for a dog fix. I found her in the hall greeting my black sheep uncle who had just surfaced long enough to say goodbye and ask about his inheritance.
“Oh, I need some dog therapy,” I said, and reached for Greta.
She ignored me.
“I could really use a hug,” I said.
She continued to nudge my uncle.
I rubbed her in that one spot that makes all dogs melt into a puddle.
She licked my uncle on the hand and sat on his foot.
Heartbroken, I wandered back into my grandmother’s room and sat by her side. “Greta’s outside,” I said to her resting figure. “Would you like me to bring her in for a visit?”
She moaned a little and grabbed my hand, hard.
“OK,” I said, “I’ll go get her.”
Her eyes snapped open. Her mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear what she said. I leaned my head closer to her.
“no….” she said weakly, then louder, “NO. I hate that stupid dog.”
And that is how I learned that my grandmother is a cat person.
She’s turned into a bit of a legend, my grandmother. Each day the hospice nurse calls and is amazed that she is still alive. Everyone, from her doctors to her nurses to her family to herself, had prepared themselves a whole week ago for her imminent passing.
She’s a tough lady. If anyone can hold themselves to this mortal plane by sheer force of will, it’s her. Her moments of lucidity are getting fewer and further between, and she’s spending several hours a day speaking to someone. We don’t know who. When she smiles and pats the air, we assume it’s great-aunt Sue. When her finger wags and she gets that stern look, it’s probably my grandfather.
I’ve always said that if there are no dogs in heaven, I don’t want to go. I’m not sure what made her decide to hold on here, but I suspect one of her visitors warned her about the dogs and she’s making her husband clear them out before she’ll consider making her entrance.
I have to go home now, to my family who needs me, to my pets who I need. As I headed off to the airport, I sat with her one last time, her body tiny and almost imperceptible under the blankets. I kissed her on the head and said, “I love you.”
She smiled in her sleep, her hand hovering over mine, gently patting it. I think they finally located the cat section.