The Sound of Death

The whirr of the oxygen machine hits you when you enter her room. Its constant low-frequency percussion fills the silence of the room as if the sound of death was slowly creeping its way closer to The Grandmother. On Monday it wasn’t necessary. By Wednesday, it was needed. And here today on Friday, I am coming to terms that The Grandmother will be dead very soon.

My mom called me late last night in tears while she was visiting The Grandmother. She told me what I already knew and am struggling to deal with, that The Grandmother looks to be giving up. It’s a marked change from the normal conversations I have with my mom. Usually she talks about all the food she fed her — after all she has the mystifying talent of getting The Grandmother to eat. But last night she was in tears because she couldn’t get The Grandmother to eat one bite.

When I visited The Grandmother today, she barely acknowledged I was there. With the oxygen tube in her nose, she barely opened her eyes and weakly nodded her head. While I don’t have my mother’s skills in feeding her, I am usually able to get The Grandmother to eat. But she can’t swallow anything. Not the pureed food they serve her at the home. Not even water. Not her medication.

Even though I’m an atheist and my reading Korean sucks, there I was reading her the first chapter of First Corinthians in my broken white-boy accented Korean reading words I didn’t believe but which I hoped would sooth her soul.

Her hospice nurse came by just as I was ready to leave, and we discussed her deteriorating condition. She told me that they were going to change her status as “actively dying” and will now stop by to check up on her every morning. I nodded and agreed with this assessment. Then as I was walking the hall, I broke down sobbing. Then when I got inside my car it became weeping for a good minute. The emotions of it all just hit me.

Reading WebMD’s article on signs of impending death for the elderly, The Grandmother has all the signs:

  • Increased pain, which can be treated
  • Changes in blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heart rate
  • Continued loss of appetite and thirst and difficulty taking medications by mouth
  • Decline in bowel and bladder output
  • Changes in sleep-wake patterns
  • Temperature fluctuations that may leave the skin cool, warm, moist, or pale
  • Constant fatigue
  • Congested breathing from the build-up of secretions at the back of the throat, which can be very distressing for family members. but which isn’t painful and can be managed
  • Disorientation or seeing and talking to people who aren’t there

    So we’re down to a matter of days. I’m letting my cousins here in the area know to visit her while she’s still alive. I’ve also let my cousins who live outside of the area to be prepared to fly in pretty soon.

    Meanwhile for tonight I am drinking Bombay Sapphire and tonics and not giving a damn.