It´s Friday today. 3.of Oct. I clearly remember last Sunday. I woke up so happy. My husband and I had been to a silver wedding the night before. He is the conductor of a 17 (wo)man strong bigband, and they were invited as musicians and friends to the silverwedding of the trumpet player in the band. I have been on travels with the band and their partners. Florida 2008. Spain last easter. So it was such a joy to see them all again. We the band were placed on a long table of our own. We were the mischievous guests clinking the plates so the groom and wife had to kiss on a chair, followed by stamping our feet so they had to kiss underneath the table… soon the party was filled with laughter and cries of “CHEERS!” The groom held a most precious speech to his wife. And gave her a new stone for her gold ring, replacing the littler one he could afford as a UN soldier 25 years ago. Not a diamond but a “brilliant” (in Danish, it rhymes with diamant. I never even heard of a brilliant before. But I probably want one now!)
The wife had made a slideshow of stills from their life together. She´s American, her father had come all the way to be present. They have 4 kids, age 15,17,19 and 21. They have spent a handful years in the US. Their kids are very handsome, tall and healthy, three boys and a girl. Totally well behaved and successful in both sports, school and arts. The daughter sang a song beautifully, on the melody of Cohen´s Hallelujah, she had made her own lyrics, all about the love between her parents. Gobsmackingly beautiful performance. And the four kids stood up and held a speech together, in turn telling their mom and dad how they were grateul to them and so proud of their family.
It was a night filled with expressed love, so much of it, so openly flowing naturally around the big room with the many guests.
After food, we danced. Not Big Bot Band is a tremendous party band. My husbands is such an enthused conductor, I always fall madly in love with him when I see him work. My band-wife friends are so funny, I was laughing with them like I had not laughed in a long time.
We came home around 03, completely and utterly exhausted. In the happiest of ways. All shook up and blissed out.
Next morning was the first morning we woke up in an empty house. No kids woke us up, demanding hot cocoa on the sofa by the telly. Sweet luxury. All three of them were sleeping over at a friend-family of ours. First time our youngest one ever slept away from home without one of his parents. It was a great success. New times ahead.
We got up and had a slow brunch. Decided to go pick up the kids around 12, and stayed for lunch at our friends´ place before we biked back home. We looked forward to visiting grandma in hospital, where she had been admitted the day before because she was feeling nauseous. Since she had been operated for breast cancer five days previously, we thought it was best to get her checked out, and the hospital had agreed.
We bought the bananas she had asked us to bring, and brought some books. She´s an author, and loves to read.
Hospital days can be so long.
When we arrived to her room where we had seen her the day before, she wasn´t there. We found a nurse. Who told us she had been moved because she was feeling bad. After some waiting around, we came to her new room. She was in pain. But happy to see us, holding the children´s hands, smiling to them, saying their names. The doctor said they were going to change her treatment to an other type of antibiotics. And said there was no great danger for her.
The next morning, my husband went to see her on his way to work. She was asleep, he could not reach her. Some hours later his adult daughter went to visit grandma, and found out they had moved her to intensive care as she had suddenly became a lot worse. I found myself calling my husband´s workplace to make them find him and tell him to get to the hospital. Then followed hours of hooking up with family members, spreading information. All whilst trying to keep calm for my little children´s sake.
Late afternoon they scanned her, to see where the pockets of inflamation in her body were. They found that bacteria had destroyed such a big part of her flesh, that it could not be removed without killing her. They told my husband and daughter she could not be saved. I was home, alone with the kids, phone in hand. Shock.
Eleven at night I left them with a babysitter, and went to the intensive care unit. My husband and his two grown kids were there. And my motherinlaw. All those machines. Cables. Tube down her throat helping her breathe. My heart broke.
Five in the morning I sailed back home, and woke my kids one by one, telling them we were going to the hospital immidiately because grandma was very ill and was going to die.
We found clothes, had a cup of cocoa and went out into the dark morning to the ferry. Linus-Ferdinand in the trolly, Viola standing on the back of it and Lava age soon to be ten walking next to me.
We arrived about seven. The two small ones looked at grandma, and then started to play with some lego. There were two rooms, like a little sitting room attached to the bigger room where grandma was lying. An extra nurse took care of the children, finding toys, paper and crayons…
My husband, our three bigger kids and myself were so sad. She was so close to us. So special. Positive and supportive, with a very rare level of inner peace and love for children. We were very strongly connected.
Friday we had celebrated Maria´s birthday together, singing as usual, eating. Though grandma didn´t eat much as she was so nausous. We thought she might be coming down with flu. Next morning we called the hospital that operated on her. They told us not to worry, the symptoms had nothing to do with her operation. We still went to the local hospital, and they agreed to admit her, gave her liquids and penicilin.
Now it was Tuesday early morning. It was 3 days after the birthday dinner. It was our deeply beloved grandmother´s dying day.
She was kept alive by the machines, supporting her breathing and her blood pressure. The doctors told us that when we were ready they would switch off the machines and her body would die. Maybe quickly, or maybe hours. She would be given painkillers, so she would not struggle for breath. It would not be traumatic to be present. I decided to stay with the children all the way through.
We stood around her, the five of us, whilst the two littlest ones were playing happily in the background. Actually a sound of great comfort. They came by from time to time, looked at us crying, and at grandma, then went into play and laughter again. The five of us stood around her and talked to her all about how much we loved her. How sad we were to see her go like this. And that soon she would be reunited with granddad, and may her journey be jouful……… we sang some of the songs we always used to sing together with her.
We asked the nurse if she could find a guitar. No one had ever requested that before, when she called around the hospital, people asked “A guitar?! For the intensive careunit?!” We all thought it was rather funny. In the end they did find one in the kids´ department. It was brought to us, and we played some more songs.
A tear appeared in the corner of grandma Ellen´s eye. Her son immidiately saw it, and gently wiped it away comforting her. He was so extremely caring towards her. So soft and reassuring and comforting, between breaking down in tears. Those hours were so extremely intense. So sad. And so precious and beautiful.
Anyone who has been present on a deathbed must know what I mean by this.
Two more relatives joined us later in the morning. A young couple, her grandson and his wife. Their two little kids were not with them.
We were happy to see them, and delayed switching the machines off a little longer, so they could have time with her in peace.
Around ten we told the doctor we were ready to start the disconnecting. They switched off some buttons, and gave her an injection of painkillers. So there we were. Watching the screens. One with her breaths drawn, one by one, depth and length. Waves. And one with the red number showing her blood pressure. She just breathed and breathed and breathed. Whilst we were holding our breaths. Minutes passed, half hours. We went to and fro, realizing our stomachs were empty and our bladders full. Interacting with the children. I pushed my son in the pram back and forth in the long hospital corridor until he fell asleep for a much needed nap. It was like waiting for birth to happen. And in my view, death is exactly that. Another birth.
Once he was asleep I went back to her room and joined the circle. No news. Fifteen minutes later, everyone decided to go for a quick bite to eat in the cafe downstairs. I wanted to stay with grandma, but someone had to go with the kids, and my husband was going to stay. So.
We went downstairs and ate. Leaving Helge and Ellen to themselves.
He played guitar and sang to her. Just like he had done so very many times throughout their lifetime together.
When we returned fifteen minutes later, her bloodpressure had dropped from 171 to 60!!!
We sat down quickly, all taken aback. Her red number went down very fast. 35,34,33,32,30…
Instinctly I moved up close to her face and I saw her eyes make a spark! A jolt of joy jumped through my chest, and I said “There! You arrived! You´re there now…! That´s so great…”
I was very moved, but very happy.
Strange contrast to the many hours passed crying and sobbing.
Then after many seconds, she drew breath again. And after what seemed like ages, one more last time.
But I actually don´t believe she was still in her body. I don´t know if a heart and lungs can make an extra couple of beats after departure of the spirit/conscious soul. I don´t know.
But I feel pretty sure now that they can.
That spark and that jolt of joy. That was not of my creation.
So she left. Left us behind to grieve and sorely miss her love and graceful sharing. No more puzzles to be laid, books to be read, movies to be watched together with her and my children. No more glasses of wine, and late night talks with her and my Helge in our sofa. No more visiting her in her home in the woods.
It is Friday today. Third whole day without her. We are in limbo. Days and nights join in a circle of waking up, crying, writing, talking, making phonecalls, choosing coffin and urne, making a newspaper add, sorting through her purse looking for id cards, searching through her phone for numbers, sending information about her life to the priest, talking to the organist.
Her pillow and duvet have been moved from the guest room to the sofa, the kids and I seek comfort there… my daughter wears her scarf. I tried her coat on yesterday. It fits me almost, just a littlebit too big. I hope I can keep it. It´s the one she always wore, purple, her favourite colour. As is mine.
Tomorrow is her funeral. A lot of people are expected to turn up in the church. She was such an uplifting spirit, with many friends and relatives who used to go visit her and invite her over. A very social woman, loved parties, wrote hundreds of birthday songs for people, and at age 88 she looked 70, and was still driving her car to and fro her house in the woods where she lived all alone, enjoying her solitude. She enjoyed her own company. She published eleven books after she finished her working life. Mostly novels for youth, draped in local history. Some of them have been translated into German.
Tomorrow is her funeral. That just sounds crazy. She is my closest family member here in Denmark, apart from my husband and kids. She is the one who shares the joy of watching the little ones grow. She is our babysitter and our daytrip destination. She.
Tomorrow is her funeral. She has left us lists of wishes for her funeral. It says in her handwriting that “Helge will play something beautiful in the church”. She has chosen 4 psalms. She has decided the text for the tombstomne.
“I hjertet gemt aldrig glæmt”.
“In the heart kept never forgotten”.
She has written a list of who will have which pieces of her jewelry.
My name is there. In her handwriting.
A bracelet made of copper and amber.
And a necklace with the symbol of faith, hope and love.
I feel so honoured. So seen by her.
She has given me so much self confidence these seven years we got to share. We have shared so many special talks.
About the love of writing, especially.
One of the last things she said to me, last thursday when she had just started to feel nausous and we spent the day watching a film on the sofa with the kids… she said she heard I have started blogging. She really wanted to see it. I said yes ofcourse, great! I will show you as soon as you get better. And I need your help to read through a letter I will send to the local paper, help me check it for spelling mistakes, make it proper Danish, will you? Of course I will, be glad to, she said, smiling at me, that warm, all present smile of hers.
We had so much planned. Helge´s musical is being staged 30.of October, with a quoir of more than a hundred school children singing his songs. She was going to come with us and see it.