In the Philippines, “Lola” is the word for “grandma.” My Lola passed away two years ago today. Her name was Barb. Barbara Ann, like the Beach Boys song. I wanted to write my memories of her passing while I can still remember most of them. Thank you for reading, and helping me keep her memory alive.
It was the day before Labor day, 2009. Sunday afternoon.
My sister had come over to our house after church. We were discussing the fact that Lolo (grandpa) and Lola hadn’t made it to church that morning. They were associate pastors and very consistent attenders, so this was pretty unusual. After a little discussion, we decided to call.
Courtney did the calling, and talked to Lolo for a couple minutes. He had told her that they stayed home because Lola hadn’t been feeling well and was still sleeping. Ok, no big deal, we thought.
We started getting on with our afternoon, but not long later, Lolo called again. This time he asked if we could come over. He said he woke Lola, and she was very weak. He thought she might be dehydrated, but she wasn’t able to sit up on her own to drink anything, and he wasn’t strong enough to both prop her up and help her to drink.
We agreed, and made the 20 minute drive down to their house. When we got there, Lola was lying in bed. I spoke with her, and told her we were going to help her to drink something, and hopefully that would make her feel better. She whispered her reply. We helped her to sit up, and gave her some water, but she was unable to swallow and coughed it out. We helped her to lie back down, and then I went to speak with my Lolo in the other room.
I told him I was concerned and that it was clear that she needed medical attention. A few things were going through my mind. The swallowing difficulty made me wonder about a stroke, but her speech wasn’t slurred, and she didn’t seem to be weaker on one side than the other. I called the urgent care clinic close by and described the symptoms. They said they didn’t want to see her there, that she needed to go to a hospital right away, and mentioned that it could be a stroke.
We briefly discussed taking her to the nearest hospital ourselves, but quickly realized that the situation of my grandparents’ house made it impossible. Their house is set on a hill, a decent distance above the street. The only way to the street is down several front steps or down the indoor flight of stairs to the basement and tuck-under garage. It was clear there was no way for us to do this ourselves with Lola in the condition she was in.
We called 911 and had an ambulance come to the house and take her and Lolo to United hospital. I still remember telling her that we were taking her to the hospital. She whispered, “No, no. I’ll be fine.”
At this time, my parents were in Upper Michigan visiting my dad’s sister. They were in the country for a short time, so they didn’t have regular cell phones, just a prepaid one they kept for emergencies. I called it a few times and it wasn’t on, so I just left them messages. Finally, they called me back and I filled them in on the situation. I can’t remember if they were planning to come home that day or the next, but they left right away to come back home.
At the hospital, she was taken to the emergency room, and at that point, she could barely speak at all. They were unsure what was wrong, and had a few different doctors look at her. My Lola had been dealing with dementia for a couple years prior to this, but not terribly severe. She mostly got confused on the phone as to who she was talking to, or she’d pray out loud the same thing a couple times. She also got upset at Lolo a lot over things like taking her medicine or driving directions. One of the doctors who saw her tried to tell us that her condition was just a result of Alzheimer’s, but it just didn’t make sense to us.
She was seen by a neurologist, who didn’t think it was a stroke because all her symptoms were bi-lateral. As we waited with her in the emergency room, she began to snore loudly, but it was unclear whether or not she was asleep. She also lost the ability to speak, although she still could make some noise and communicate with gestures.
My dad’s parents came to the hospital at that point. My grandparents had known each other even before my parents were married, and had stayed close throughout the years. We took a break for dinner in the cafeteria, and saw our pastor there. I had texted my friend, Elizabeth, who works in our church office, so I knew the word would get around. Small church, news travels fast.
At some point, she was admitted to a room. My parents & brother came in that evening, and after they came and we told them all we knew, we left the hospital.
The next day was Labor Day, which was nice on the one hand because it meant we all had the day off of work. That day and the next have already blurred together a lot in my mind. My aunt Missy lives here in Minnesota, so I think she and her kids came to the hospital sometime on Sunday. Kim and her husband & daughter live in Nebraska, so I think they made it up here sometime on Monday. My aunt Tracy and uncle Scott both live on the west coast, so they were keeping up with the news and ready to book a flight if it seemed like they needed to.
It was either sometime Sunday night or Monday morning that the neurologist ordered a CT scan to try to figure out what was going on.
Unfortunately, it was a holiday, and that meant that fewer people were working than normal. Somehow, the order for the scan got stalled somewhere. The nurse on duty called multiple people multiple times to try to get Lola in for the test. It took 17 hours from when the test was ordered to when it was given.
You know how it goes in hospitals. Tests have to be read by the right people after they’re done. I don’t think it was until Tuesday morning sometime that we found out.
She’d had a stroke, in her Basal stem, or Basilar artery. I’m no doctor, but as I understand it, that’s the main artery that comes up the center of your spine into the base of your brain. Which explains why it was so hard to determine– since the stroke was in that area, it affected her body bilaterally. Once we knew the extent of the damage, we called Scott and Tracy and they got flights as soon as they could.
Lola slowly lost her ability to communicate with sounds. Sometimes she would still try to point to things or gesture, but it was clear that it was hard work for her.
I remember that as more and more family came, we all crammed into the small hospital room. I think it was probably against regulations, but the staff knew the situation and didn’t give us any trouble.Me, with my Lola and Lolo in the Philippines
I remember that we took turns sitting with her on the bed.
Elizabeth came and we searched around the hospital for a hymnal. We found one, but it was Catholic so it had a lot of songs we didn’t know. We sang to her whatever hymns came to mind. We fought a little over who was singing what part– my mom kept switching.
There was a little interchange between my cousins that lightened the mood. Jared said he was hungry. Kyra offered him some of her Raisinets. Jared declined, saying he was allergic to grapes. Kyra said, “Hello… they’re raisins!“
We held her hands and combed her hair. Lolo stayed in a chair by her side.
Scott came some time on Tuesday, I think. Tracy couldn’t get here until Tuesday night.
By that time, Lola had lost most of her ability to communicate in any way, but when we told her Tracy was here she did her best to acknowledge she understood.
It seemed that she was holding on until all of her family could be there with her.
Not long after Tracy came, it was clear that Lola was leaving us. We took turns by her bedside, saying our last words.
I told her that if she saw Jesus, she should go to him. That it was ok, we would all be ok back here.
I’ll never forget Lolo’s words to her. He kissed her and said, “It was an honor to be married to you.”
Lola’s body hung on longer than her spirit. Her body was in fairly good health. She was breathing fast and shallow. We kept expecting her to go, but her body just held on.
It got later and later. I desperately wanted to stay. I wanted to be there for her until the end. But I had been in the hospital for 3 days and was completely exhausted. I tried sleeping in the lounge area, but it just wasn’t going to happen. My parents encouraged us to go get some sleep at home.
I think my Lolo even went home.
I don’t know if I’ve ever reached that point of physical and emotional exhaustion before or since.
We went home.
The next morning my mom called and said she had passed away. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to the hospital or go to work, but my mom told me I might want to go and say one more goodbye.
I’m glad I went.
Tuesday night her body was struggling so much. It was good to have my last memory of her be the one from Wednesday morning. She looked completely at peace. She even seemed to have a smile on her face.
I knew she was at peace now. She was with her Jesus whom she loved so much. To whom she had dedicated her life as a missionary for so many years. I’ll never know the extent of the lives she touched. I know she touched mine.
My sister and I sang at her funeral. I spoke, amidst a flood of tears. Lola had wanted us to wear white at her funeral because she wanted us to celebrate her new life in heaven.
She got to see two of her grandchildren married.
I’m so grateful to have been able to share that day with her.
But by far the most difficult thing for me today is knowing that she never got to see any of her great-grandchildren.
I know she would have loved them.
Since she’s been gone, she’s gotten two great-grandchildren. I got pregnant just a few months later. I wish Lola could be a part of Little Man’s life. I know the joy it would have brought her and me.
I hope that she can see him from up there. I hope I do her proud.
So here’s to you, Lola.
I miss you.
Here’s the song we sang at her funeral, in case you’re interested.
And I appologize to my family for stalking your pictures on Facebook and stealing these. :)