Right now my grandmother is breathing what may be her last few breaths as she lay in the MICU at the hospital.  Without going into detail I can say she is not conscious, and is not likely to awaken before she passes.  I have been off from work since her arrival in the ER, and I have been in and out just to be by her side.  I really don’t want her to be alone, even if she is unaware.  However, I have found it very difficult to be with her, and it’s not even so much seeing her in the state with which her condition leaves her.  No, I feel the guilt of not spending as much time with her as I could have.  To be clear, I’m not referring to the often felt, ‘I could have been there more’.  I think there is a tendency for many people to beat themselves up when they have nothing to be regretful over.  When I say it I mean there were far too many times when I should have been there and I wasn’t.

This has been a theme, it seems, through out my life.  As both my grandfathers’ health had begun to wane, I found myself more reluctant to be with them at the time they likely needed me most.  Having recently written about my increasing fearful realization of my own mortality when my mother-in-law died suddenly, and now reflecting on my own personal history when it comes to ailing relatives, it seems my unease with death and severe physical ailments is not a new feeling.  As their departure of this life became more eminent, the frequency and duration of time I spent with them scaled back.

The guilt I feel about this somewhat self-perpetuating.  As I step back, the guilt of my absence builds, which makes it more difficult to visit in the future.  Of course this only gets worse because the guilt of not visiting only compounds… until the dreaded — but anticipated — phone call.  Once they have passed, there is no personal reconciliation with my missed time, especially because there was no good reason for it in the first place.

It makes matters worse to be conscious of this problem only to be paralyzed with guilt.  You know you should be there, but feel like you can’t.  My father had repeated to me often the virtue visiting older relatives “because they won’t always be here, and you’ll wish you had been there more”.  It’s something I can hear in my head over and over, but still struggle to act upon.

I haven’t spent as much time with my grandmother as of late as I ought to have.  It was selfish of me to be so weak and it will not likely be something easily forgotten.  But I have mustered up the strength, at least, to be with her often in what are most probably her final days.  Just sitting with her, even as she labors to breath, has been comforting for me.  Not that I think this somehow makes up for lost time mind you, it doesn’t, and nothing can.  It’s knowing that someone is by her side with her as she rests, and she isn’t alone.

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