The front door creaks open as Aunt Bethany welcomes Jessica and Gerald home to Grandma’s house. The living room is abuzz with nieces and nephews running to greet them at the front door. The anticipation has been building all day for their arrival, and everyone is joyous as they come through the small foyer of Grandma’s house. They can barely enter with so many nieces and nephews lined up for hugs.
The 20 hours of driving has left them both yearning for the comfort of a soft, warm bed, but they are here for a purpose. As they round the corner of the sofa, there she is: Grandma! The scene is far from their visit just a few months back. Grandma’s body is frail and the signs of Stage 5 Parkinson’s along with arthritis are more evident than ever.
Grandma’s weak body lies as comfortably as possible on one branch of the L-shaped sofa that has cushions replaced with aerated memory foam support pillows and throw pillows replaced with support foam. Her oxygen tank is in easy reach next to a table that holds her oximeter, blood pressure monitor, water cup, treatment log book, and (most importantly) fresh flowers from her daughter’s best friend’s award winning flower garden.
“Jessica and Gerald are here, ma” Bethany says to Grandma.
Grandma tilts her head as far as she is able to her right, which is barely more than a couple of degrees. A big smile arises on Grandma’s face as Jessica kneels down next to her Grandma and holds her right hand. Grandma lifts her left arm over to Jessica and places her clutched hand with shaking thumb and index finger against Jessica’s cheek. Jessica’s eyes begin to well up with tears of love for her grandma as she holds her grandma’s hand against her cheek.
“I love you so much, Grandma.”
“Same here,” Grandma whispers.
“She’s pretty hard to understand with losing her voice a couple of weeks ago.” Bethany catches Jessica and Gerald up on grandma’s condition, which has continued to deteriorate rapidly from day-to-day over the last couple days that they have been on the road. Uncle Gene enters the room and asks Bethany to discuss a few things in the other room.
Jessica continues holding Grandma’s right hand as she lifts her left hand and struggles to point forward. “Blue light.” Grandma utters. Everyone looks around for a blue light in the room, but there is no light. Just the television, which is showing the Chicago Cubs game.
Nurse Madison arrives for the routine check on Grandma. She performs the regular vital checks. Grandma’s blood pressure is on the low side, but she’s doing well for Stage 5 Parkinson’s disease. Madison reminds Bethany, Jessica, and Gerald about what to expect for this late stage of Parkinson’s.
“Grandma’s body will continue to fail. The oxygen will help her body, and remember to make sure she is also drinking plenty of water. Just remember that she will have increased difficulty with swallowing as her Parkinson’s progresses further. It will help to sit her as upright as possible while she’s drinking as well as for at least a minute after. Let gravity help.” Madison gives them some additional tips on what will make Grandma as comfortable as possible and then goes on her way.
Gerald walks over to Grandma and sits down at her feet. “You want a foot massage, Grandma?” Grandma nods.
As Gerald begins to massage Grandma’s feet, she utters, “Blue light”. Gerald looks around the room for a blue light or even something with the color blue. The front window curtains are open, and the sky is bright blue. Perhaps that’s the blue light that she’s talking about.
Jessica comes back into the room and sees Gerald massaging Grandma’s feet. Tears well up in her eyes. Over the last couple of days that they’ve been at Grandma’s, Gerald has become Grandma’s favorite caretaker when it comes to moving her. Gerald’s physical strength and love of Grandma makes him the ideal candidate to pick her up and move her when Grandma’s getting sore.
Gerald stands up beside the sofa. “Okay, Grandma. Which direction do you want to go?”
Grandma moves her left hand in the direction of the sofa. Gerald reaches behind Grandma’s back and under her legs and gently scoops her up. He slowly places her back down.
Grandma shakes her head, and Gerald gently scopes her up and asks Jessica to help adjust the pillow under Grandma’s tailbone. He slowly puts Grandma back down on the sofa.
Grandma doesn’t say anything, but Gerald can tell by the look on her face that she’s still not comfortable.
“Grandma, are you lying to me?”
Grandma nods, and Gerald gently scoops her up and tells her, “I’m gonna do this until you’re comfortable, and I don’t want you to lie to me either.”
Jessica adjusts the pillow again, and Gerald places Grandma down in just the right spot. “Now, I’m going to slowly pull my hands away from underneath you. If anything changes and you feel like you’re not in the right position, just let me know. I’ll do this all day if I have to.”
As Gerald starts to stand back up, Grandma reaches for his hand. Gerald pauses and kneels next to Grandma as Aunt Bethany enters the room and starts talking to Jessica. Grandma lifts Gerald’s hand to her mouth with her cold hand and kisses his hand over and over. Gerald’s eyes begin to tear.
He leans over and kisses Grandma on her head. “I love you Grandma.” She slowly lowers her hand holding Gerald’s hand, and he reaches over with his other hand to wrap it around Grandma’s cold hand. “Your hands are very cold, Grandma.”
He sits with Grandma, holding her hand, thinking of all the fun times they’ve had since he met Jessica. Grandma’s body softens as she starts to relax, and Gerald smiles at her. She lets out a deep breath, and her entire body sinks as it relaxes completely. Gerald feels her hand loosen its grip. He looks at Grandma’s face, and something seems different. Her face is completely relaxed; complete peace.
Gerald is eagerly awaiting Grandma’s next breath. He’s carefully watching her torso, waiting for her chest to rise. He leans closer to Grandma’s face, trying to hear her breathing. There’s a quiet noise from Grandma’s torso, and Gerald feels her hips sink slightly underneath his hands that are resting on her lap.
He looks back at Aunt Bethany and Jessica having their conversation and then back to Grandma. Still no movement by Grandma. “Did Grandma just evacuate her bowels? Isn’t that what happens when someone dies?” Gerald thinks to himself as his mind begins to panic.
He rubs Grandma’s hand as a tear falls down his cheek. “It’s okay, Grandma.”
Grandma’s mouth starts moving, but she’s not making any noise. Gerald is elated! “Would you like some water, Grandma?”
Grandma shakes her head while she continues to mouth something without making any noise.
Jessica comes over and Aunt Bethany leaves the room. “Can you spell it, Grandma?”
Gerald is so elated that Grandma isn’t dead! He’s focused on every breath coming out of Grandma’s mouth at the moment.
Jessica is a bit bewildered by Gerald’s excitement in Grandma spelling something, and she smiles at him, thinking he looks like a kid in a candy store.
“R” Grandma pauses for a couple of breaths.
Jessica leans in towards Grandma. “Are we too far away from you, Grandma?”
Grandma shakes her head. “T!” she says with excitement!
Gerald and Jessica look at each other with a question mark and then back at Grandma. “Do you need to fart, Grandma?”
“I just did.”
Gerald and Jessica’s nostrils start to flare as the both quickly stand up. Gerald starts laughing and tells Jessica the story about watching Grandma’s body relax and stop breathing.
“I really thought she had died in my arms.”
Jessica laughs, “She probably stopped breathing because she knew how bad it smelled!”
Grandma starts to laugh, and the two of them look at Grandma with love in their eyes and smile. She’s still a practical joker!
“Blue light!” Grandma points to her feet.
Jessica tells them that she thinks Grandma is seeing Grandpa as a blue light. Gerald has his own theories about the blue light.
“Blue light!” Grandma points to her feet, and everyone can tell she’s getting a bit frustrated.
Aunt Diana comes around the corner and starts giving her two cents on the blue light, and the three of them are walking around the room looking for anything that has the color blue. One by one, each item is rejected by Grandma.
Aunt Bethany walks into the room and asks what the commotion is all about. Everyone shared their theories about the blue light: it’s grandpa, it’s the sky reflecting on the mirror, it’s the angel of death welcoming her.
Aunt Bethany solves the puzzle, “The humidifier has a light on it, and Grandma likes the blue light the best.” She reaches down by the end table at the side of the sofa where Grandma’s feet are closest and turns on the humidifier. Everyone starts laughing.
“So much significance about the blue light that we all made up, and it’s just a humidifier?” Gerald can barely get the words out as he’s laughing.
Everyone looks over at Grandma who is smiling. “Blue light.”