I had so many plans for Fabgrandma for 2020. I was excited for the new year to get here, so that I could put those plans into action. The plan was to talk about a different cuisine each month for a year. I received a Greek cookbook last year, and a Tex-Mex cookbook. I wanted to try some Austrian dishes because part of my heritage is Austrian. However, almost before the year began, those plans went down the drain.
On January 1, I was getting ready to cook our traditional black eyed peas, collards, and cornbread to celebrate the new year. As I walked into the kitchen, my phone rang. It was my sister, calling to tell me that my mother, who was in hospice care, was not responding to her caretakers. She had been told to call in the family. I, of course, dropped everything, packed a few things in a bag, and left. Fabgrandpa didn’t go because he didn’t feel well.
It is only a 45 miles drive from my house to the assisted living home, but I did not want to drive all the way home and then back the next day for who knew how long. I made arrangements to stay at my sister’s house. All of my siblings, their children, and some of their children came. We took turns sitting by our mother’s side, talking to her, holding her hand, reminiscing about our times together. Death came for our Mama on January 2, about 11:45 or so. The official time of death, though, was when the hospice nurse arrived and pronounced her dead on January 3 in the wee hours of the morning. She was 92 years old, and had dementia.
We had her funeral on January 6. Afterwards, I went home to Fabgrandpa. We were sitting in the living room, talking about Mama’s funeral. Fabgrandpa looked at me and said “I am ready to go, too.” I thought I misunderstood what he said, and asked him to repeat it. He did, and I just laughed it off. I told him you are not that bad off, honey.
January rocked on. Fabgrandpa had an appointment with his cardiologist on January 9, but he said he didn’t feel like getting ready to go to it, so I cancelled it. He developed a cold, and it just got worse, so I took him to our primary care doctor. She said he had pneumonia, and gave him a shot of antibiotic, a shot of steroid, and a prescription for an antibiotic to take at home. She also said if he wasn’t feeling better in a week to come back.
Fabgrandpa was a smoker. Even though he had COPD, and now pneumonia, he still took himself out on the porch to smoke several times a day. He fell a couple of times during this time. His legs just gave out from under him and he wound up on the floor. I could not pick him up, so I had to call the fire department, who came out each time and helped him up. They offered to call in an ambulance with a paramedic to check him over, but he refused. He said he would be ok in a few minutes.
I took him back to the primary care doctor on January 20. She listened to his lungs and heart, and gave him another round of antibiotics. She said sometimes when you have COPD, it takes a second round of meds to knock out the pneumonia. We went home, he continued to take the meds, and smoke. During this time, he coughed what seemed like all day and all night. He fell more often, and I called the fire department each time. They were always so kind, so helpful, and always told me that is what they are there for when there isn’t a fire.
Instead of getting better, Fabgrandpa just seemed to continue to get worse. He took longer to walk out to the porch each day. I could hear him wheezing when he was in the bedroom and I was in the living room. I tried to get him to go to his lung doctor, but he wouldn’t go. On February 5, he asked me to take him back to the primary care doctor. He said he was ready to get oxygen for at home, and wanted to talk to her about that. When we got there and she examined him, she said “Mr. Jim, you need to be in the hospital.”
The hospital was not what he wanted, so he told her he wasn’t going, and asked her to just prescribe oxygen for him. The doctor and I talked him into going to the hospital, where he was admitted. I stayed until about 11:30 p.m. to see that he was settled in, then went home to sleep. The next morning I gathered up some things like his inhalers, a couple of magazines, and his slippers, and went back to the hospital. As soon as I walked in, he said, I’m glad you’re here, because I’m going home. We argued about that because the doctor didn’t discharge him. However, he had the right to check himself out against doctor’s advice. I had to take him home. The social worker at the hospital told him if he would stay three more hours, she could arrange to have oxygen delivered to our home. He refused to stay.
It was now Thursday, February 6. Fabgrandpa was still able to walk out to the porch to smoke, but he was falling down on the way back in. He fell three times from Thursday afternoon until Friday night, and couldn’t get up from a sitting position twice. I told him if he would use my walker it would help him, and he could sit on it if he needed to sit.
Somehow we made it until Monday morning, February 10. We went back to the primary care doctor, and asked for them to prescribe oxygen for him. The doctor examined him, and said, “ok, we can prescribe oxygen for him, but it will come with long term hospice care.” I said, OK, let’s do it. That afternoon, the hospital supply company delivered the oxygen. Fabgrandpa started using it immediately. For the next week, he wore the oxygen 24 hours a day, except for when he walked out on the porch to smoke. He did seem to be a little bit better, but he was still coughing, and still falling. I had to call the fire department almost every day the week of February 16.
On Saturday, February 22, we sat down in our recliners to watch TV at about 6:00. He went to sleep in his chair about 8:00. He never completely woke up. He did not ask me to make him anything to eat, he did not try to get up out of the chair. If I said his name loudly, he would open his eyes and look at me, and answer questions with one word responses. I did not understand that I could call the hospice company at any time of day or night. So, I waited until Monday and called them first thing in the morning.
When the RN from the hospice company examined Fabgrandpa on February 24, she told me he was in transition. She ordered a hospital bed, and prescribed several medications for me to give him to keep him comfortable. After she left, I called our children. The ones who live local to us got here quickly. Our daughter who lives in Colorado arrived the next day.
For the next seven days, we had company every day. Fabgrandpa’s niece and nephews, friends, his brothers, all of my family came to visit to say goodbye. As soon as everyone left for the day, the girls and I would pull our chairs up around Fabgrandpa’s bed. We talked about our memories with him, told him we loved him many, many times, kissed him and hugged as much as we could. I am forever in debt to my step-daughter, Becky, because she took over the job of nurse, giving her Daddy his meds, suctioning his throat, keeping him cool.
On Wednesday, my son asked me if Jim had any of his music on his computer. I told him I didn’t know but he could look. Seth found the bookmarked Frank Zappa videos, and started playing them. As soon as Fabgrandpa heard the music, he got a big grin on his face. He was conducting the orchestra with his right hand, and tapping his foot. It was such a wonderful gift! I am sure he enjoyed. We played music for him every day after that.
The girls and I loved Fabgrandpa to the start of his next journey on March 2, 2020, at 12:02 a.m. He died peacefully, surrounded by people who loved him. He was 70. When we got married, he promised me 25 years. I got 28. I only wish I could have had more.
James Martin Eidson
March 13, 1949-March 2, 2020