The next week was spent in visits to the hospital, in which I’d cry almost every single time, so I spent more time fetching coffee from the miles-away main building and hauling it through the long tunnel to the Grace Neil building than I did actually sitting with Oma. She’d had another stroke, and possibly a heart attack, and she’d fractured her ankle and had pneumonia as a result from falling out of bed and being there all night with the window open, so she was unable to talk. Sometimes when we showed up she’d try to sit up, and sometimes she could squeeze our hands, and often she’d give signs that she recognised us – she appeared to laugh when I commented on how soft her hands felt, but the doctors talked to Mum and Diz about palliative care options. Cousin Andrea flew down from Auckland for the day to see Oma, and Cousin Jacinta came over from Sydney. It was no longer a question of if Oma would die, but rather when. Having watched Granny make herself stay alive until her sons came back from overseas to see her last year, I wondered what Oma was staying alive for. Fiesty Dutch lady that she was, every time I thought about how frustrated she would have been at her lack of ability to communicate I had to go and hide in the bathroom. Anji was wonderful, touching me and shielding me and talking to Oma when I could think of little to say.
Meanwhile at work, we’d all shifted in to the offices in the other building, so people were doubling up on computers, or “working from home”. Because of the lack of computer access, I went to see Oma in the mornings and then go to work and cry. Lots of people were stressed out about various things, and it was so hot, and I was really upset about Oma, and at the same time I was paranoid about other things (*), and that made me feel like I did when Granny was dying and I was just worried about the flights I’d booked to Auckland to go and see *IV, and fuck, it just made me feel like such a stupid bitch. I felt useless because I’d cry on the phone to Mum and feel bad about it because she was under enough stress as it was. I felt useless because I couldn’t talk the brave talk like Anji, and I felt stupid for feeling stupid. Plus, with the heat and the increased stress, I stopped going to the gym, and was eating pretty badly too, and that took effect really fast on making my moods even worse.
On Thursday 22 December, we were told that if we’d finished all our work, and if we didn’t mind being on call the next day, we could leave at lunchtime. Me and some of my workmates went to the Brewery Bar for very mediocre food, pinot gris, lots of wind and hot hot sun, where despite the liberal application of olay complete, I got burnt. I hadn’t been to see Oma that morning because Anji was going to take me at in 6pm in after work. I didn’t want to go in by myself because I’m just so bad at hospitals and Oma’d become much more unresponsive. we had a couple of bottles of wine, and then Anita guiltripped Dave into give me a ride home. They stayed for a cup of tea, and Anita and I gossiped, and then they left. I cleaned the house, hung Xmas decorations and lights, and cursed fate for thwarting various stalkerness. All that kind of stupid every day blah blah blah stuff.
Jacinta, if you wanna skip this bit, please do so.
Mum had said she was going to be at the hospital until 6. Anji and I got there around 7pm. Oma looked much worse than she had the day before. Her skin was yellow-tinged, one eye was open, and so was her mouth. After saying hello to her, Anji sent me out of the room. I composed myself, and went back in. We couldn’t tell if she was breathing or not. It really didn’t seem like it. There’s a question I never want to have to wait ten minutes at the nurses’ station to ask again “Is my grandmother still alive?” Of course, I won’t ever have to. Then the nurse got called away while I was talking to her. Finally, another nurse came along, and she went in to check for us,while Anji and I waited in the hall. Oma had passed away. Passed away? She was dead. Ever the considerate hostess, she’d waited until she was alone. Anji called Mum. Helpfully, I’d left my phone at home. Then I cried even more because all I could think was how much it felt like the Buffy episode ‘The Body’, now to the angles that focus on the medical professional’s shoulders, and how I was just in a stupid singlet, and I was all sunburnt and la la la, that’s not what is dignified at times like that, so I put my shrug back on.
The nurses had moved Oma onto her back and closed her eyes, so Anji and I sat down in her room to wait for everyone else. To me, that was the important part, because I was still a little upset that Mum and my aunt had decided that Oma was a lapsed enough Catholic that she probably wouldn’t have wanted the last rites. I’m not a religious person at all, but I guess I lean towards religion around death – like how I loved the presbyterian service at Granny’s funeral, so I had wished that she’d had it, although of course, it wasn’t my choice. But we sat with the body, and while it wasn’t for three days, I think it was wake-enough. Another one of the nurses came in to hug us and apologise for how we’d had to find her like that, which I thought was incredibly sweet. I have so much respect and gratitude to the nursing staff – they all seemed like really great people.
My aunt Diz and uncle John arrived before Mum, and when Diz started crying it set Anji off. Diz was like “Jacinta said that by hook or by crook Oma would get us all together to see us at Xmas” and that seemed entirely appropriate. Mum and Neil showed up, and then Karen, and there was much switching of seats, and fussing around, and there was hugging and joking and laughing. Oma’s death wasn’t sudden, and while she died alone, she had seen and recognised her family around her in the days leading up to her death, and I know that she felt loved. I’m incredibly relieved that she never had to move out of her house into a home, because she didn’t want that, and I’m (selfishly?) relieved that it wasn’t a long drawn out process for her death. She was greatly loved, and she’ll be greatly missed. I feel really stupid (again) because I wish that I had the words to describe her, or to memorialise her. Mum asked one of us to speak at her funeral, so I did, just like I did at Opa’s, but just like at Opa’s, I didn’t write anything down so I can’t share it with you. Instead, to really remember Oma, I think you should just go and click this link, becuase I think this is how she’d like to be remembered – always the ultimate hostess.
Oma, May 20 1920 – December 22 2005.