Life is a series of moments. Some moments bring us utter joy, some make us feel hopeless, some are just meh, and some change us forever. 

Today I want to talk about the last one. I've been thinking about what makes us who we are. It's a combination of our genes, our environment, and the people who we surround ourselves with. But we're also shaped by experience. I believe everyone has at least a few memories that have been engraved in their mind indefinitely and these moments have truly changed their life. 

I'll never, ever forget the ~late~ night of August 31, 2013. 

The end of summer always pings me into a state of reflection and remembrance of Genevieve Kampert aka Grandma Kitty Kats. I've shared her quite a bit on here. You met her in this video. And you heard of her passing in this post. Today's post is a reflection on what I learned from that experience and how it has changed my life forever. 

This post was inspired by a song that gives me chills. It's called What Sarah Said by Death Cab For Cutie, written by Benjamin Gibbard and Nicholas Harmer. 

Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round
And everyone lifts their head
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said
That love is watching someone die

So who's gonna watch you die

I had never resonated so deeply with lyrics or a piece of writing before. This. This is exactly how the moment I'm sharing with you today felt. 

One of her many pretty teacups. 

Grandma Kitty Kats was/is my dad's mother. She had four kids. She was an artist, a writer, the best story-teller and had a green thumb. She loved history and told me so many stories about England and the castles. She definitely played a part in my adoration for all things British. 

Her many, many journals. She would document everything. Reminds me of someone... 

In July of 2013, at 73 years old, she suffered a series of heart attacks. It all happened so unexpectedly and sudden. I honestly, truly, thought she was going to be fine. At least that's what I kept telling myself. She spent a month and a half in the ICU at the Heart Institute. When we first visited her in hospital, she had already lost her voice due to a tracheotomy. She would try to mouth out words or write but her writing was chicken scratch. We would get good news, followed by bad, and eventually it was all bad. 
A few days before she passed we visited her in the morning and she could barely keep her eyes open. She managed to smile at me. I'll never forget that because it was the last time. All her life, she always smiled, no matter what. 
During this time, my phone was constantly on high volume. My family was always on edge, waiting for any news. That same day, my dad called me around 6:30 pm. He said the doctors called and that we had some options but we had to go in. My sister was working until midnight that night so just me and my dad went. Once we got there, they explained that her body was shutting down and she was facing some complications. We dizzily listened to the medical jargon as we sat in the waiting room, one that I had come to know so well in the previous weeks. 
That morning I saw her slowly shutting down. I knew she was leaving us but I wanted her so badly to stay that I convinced myself she'd make it no matter what. 
A bit of time passed as we called family members, consulting with everyone and weighing options. I remember sitting in a board room located in the ICU with my dad, my aunt, the surgeon, a nurse, and my other aunt and uncle were on the phone on speaker. After a bit of fighting, disagreements, and professional opinions, we made a decision. One of the options was to try an invasive surgery that was likely to end in a stressful death or if she survived, her quality of life would have been significantly reduced. At that point, her heart, lungs, and stomach were shutting down. We knew that she would've wanted to die in dignity. She also valued her independence very much and if she survived the surgery, would've lost it completely. 
The decision was to slowly take her off of life support and allow her to pass away peacefully, surrounded by family. I remember breaking down right there on the long, cold, board room table. This was it, we were losing her. 
I called my sister and told her the news. The nurse said we had time to go and get her from work. I remember my dad driving me to Lisa's work as tears uncontrollably poured down my face. I walked into her work and we hugged so tightly and both broke down even more. My dad drove us back to the hospital where my aunt was sitting with my grandma. My dad couldn't bear to watch and he went home. I originally didn't want to stay. Lisa did and so of course I had to stay with her, and my aunt. I had never lost anyone close to me before, let alone actually watched them die. The more I thought about it, there was no way I'd not be by her side until the end, no matter what that looked or felt like. 
So, we sat. I sat closest to her and Lisa was beside me. My aunt sat on the other side of the bed. The room was slightly dim and had a window that reminded us how the dark night matched how we felt inside. There was a radio playing light music. The staff were so kind and comforting. 
We cried, we told stories, we talked to her, we held her hand and hugged her, even though it felt as if she was already gone. Her eyes were closed and her body was beginning to feel cold. Moments would pass and the nurse would come in and begin turning off the machines, turning off her life, one button at a time. We didn't know how much time we had but each time she would press another button, we knew the time was near. 
What I realized in this moment changed me forever. All that matters is people. What truly matters is the people we touch throughout our lives. She was wearing a blue hospital gown, lying in a bed with white cotton sheets. When we die, we don't take our possessions with us, we don't take our careers, our houses, our money. What we leave behind lives in the people we love. My grandma didn't have much but she gave everything she had to her family, friends, and pets. And in her last moments, she was surrounded by the love she gave. 
It was nearing 1:30 am and the nurse informed us that it was now time to turn down the final machine. We had to say goodbye for real. We hugged her one last time. We held her hand one last time. We said our goodbyes and love yous. Then the nurse walked in and pressed it. She told us that it was only a matter of seconds now as her breathing slows. I remember watching her body without blinking. I remember watching her chest move so slowly up and down, waiting broken heartedly for the last time. Her chest slowly moved up, and then down. And it stayed down. The machine said "0". I don't know what it meant medically but I knew it was her last. I saw the life leave her body. She was gone. We broke down as the nurse came in to confirm. We then had to get up and leave her room for the last time. 
The ICU isn't somewhere anyone likes being in particular but that night I really didn't want to leave. It signalled the end of her life. It meant there was no more hope. It meant we had to say goodbye. Why are goodbyes so hard? 
What I learned that night comes back to the song I referred to above. Especially these lyrics: 
Who's gonna watch you die?
It sounds morbid and we don't get to decide how or when we will die but it's worth thinking about, perhaps in a less literal way. How will you impact this world? Who's lives will you touch? How much will you love? Who will you inspire? 

These are "talking flowers" from the last garden she planted. My last memory of visiting her was only months before she died. She was planting this garden. The flowers bloomed after she died and we visited her garden when we were cleaning out her apartment. 
These are big questions that require small, meaningful actions. What I loved most about my Grandma are the little things. Her smile. Her stories. How she always showed up. She always sent birthday cards, right on time. She gave everything she had for the people she loved. 
She was never afraid of death and she helped me become less afraid of death, of impermanence. It's the cycle of life and it's unavoidable. For weeks after her death, every time I would close my eyes, I was haunted by the image of her taking her last breath and her cold body. It's taken me four years to get to this place where I can reflect on my experience in a constructive way. 
I realize that people have different experiences than my own. And that people who work in emergency services see this everyday. And that many people wish they could've been there to watch their loved ones pass or wish they hadn't. I'm thankful for my own experience. If you've made it this far, thank you for reading. I am grateful to have this space to share my experiences with you in an honest way. 
Grandma Kitty Kats, I feel your presence everyday. I see you in the flowers, the animals and the clouds. Thank you for touching my life in such a profound way. I love you.

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