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the valley of the shadow of death





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September 14 ,2011

I walk across the lounge area and sit next to my husband. He tucks his arm around me and pulls me close. I tell him, “It feels like a dream. You know, in a dream where you are walking, but you’re not really touching the ground? That’s what it feels like. Like this is all just a dream.”

I go back into the room and watch her lying there on the bed. They’ve removed the monitors from our sight and tucked them away behind a door. There’s no reason to watch the numbers falling anymore. Instead, I watch the soft blanket rise and fall with the small movement of her shallow breathing.

She never liked to have her photo taken or to be the center of attention so I’m sure, if she were awake, she would not like having all of us standing there in her room watching her, all of us silent in our own thoughts.

I had gotten a call earlier in the evening from my mom. She left a message for me saying that Grandma had fallen and was being taken by ambulance to the ER. She didn’t know much yet, but sounded like it was going to be fine. I whispered a prayer and called my mom back, leaving a message to keep me up to date on how she is.

The call I received an hour later was nothing close to what I expected. My mom told me things weren’t looking good. She had fallen and hit her head…internal brain bleeding and swelling…surgery out of the question…an 18-year-old would have a hard time surviving this damage, let alone a 94-year-old…she’s unresponsive…coma…12-24 hours…

I started crying. My mom was crying. When I got off the phone, Kevin came and sat by me on the couch and I sobbed into his chest. On our way to the hospital, I kept thinking, “The next time I’m on this road, I’ll have said goodbye.” I called my sister Carla and we just cried on the phone together. There was nothing we could say. We just cried. She told me that at least I was lucky enough to be able to go say goodbye. She had to burden it from Ohio, with no last chances.

I glance over to my dad now. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed, his hand over hers. He’s holding it together for us, I know he is. He’s been holding it together since the day his dad died over 50 years ago. We’re all there, everyone from the area. My cousins, my aunt and uncle, my great aunt, my brothers… I smile as my mom says that just yesterday when she was visiting her, she said she loved her and Grandma said, “I love you too. That’s what my girls would always say when I told them that. ‘I love you too.’”

I stroke my hand over her snow white hair. It’s so fine. Her skin is so delicate. She’s always had the softest skin; like satin. I lean down towards her and I tell her that I love her. I tell her also that Carla loves her too. That Carla wants me to tell her that. I look at her face, a slightly bloodied bandage over the large bump on her forehead, her mouth open, oxygen tubes gone, her bruised lip, her closed eyes. “I’m going to miss you,” I say. The reality of this nearly collapses me and my mom pulls me close as I sob against her.

They have by now moved her up to the 5th floor, to the hospice unit. It’s nearing the end. My dad and aunt meet with the hospice nurse and the floor nurse to sign paperwork, to clarify the end-of-life decisions they make together as her joint power of attorneys. I overhear the nurse asking if my grandma was a smoker. No. Did she drink alcohol? No. I’m guessing it’s safe to say no recreation drugs? I smile at that. No. My grandma was clean as a whistle. I can’t even imagine her sipping a glass of wine, let alone puffing a cigarette. (Ironically, later that night on our way home, I would lock eyes with a college student on the street corner who was lighting up a smoke. I would comment to Kevin, “It’s so strange that people are just hanging out and my grandma is dying.”)

I put off leaving. If I leave, that means I have to say goodbye. Goodbye for real. Not “until next time.” Just goodbye. Selfishly, I want her to stay. I want her to open her eyes like she’s just waking up from a nap. I want it to be like the scene from The Proposal, where Betty White fakes a heart attack to get the family back together and then, psych, she’s fine. I just don’t want this to actually be happening.

Finally, after putting it off repeatedly, and watching others say their goodbyes and go home, I go to her bedside again. I stroke her hair for the last time. I adjust her hospital gown top even though it doesn’t need adjusting. I rub her shoulder. I notice a faint sound of lullaby music playing from a small stereo above her bed. I lean down and kiss her forehead—on the only spot left that wasn’t bruised or swollen—and say, “I love you, Grandma.”

I take a step back from the bed. I just stand there, crying. My cousin, Jenny, comes over and hugs me. I shake with sobs. I lean hard into my dad as he holds me. I think I might break my glasses from how hard I’m pressed against him. He thanks me for coming. I tell him that I love him. I hug my mom and we both cry.

Kevin and I walk out of the room and down the hallway. It’s dark; it’s almost midnight and there are very few people up here on 5th, in fact, I see no one at all. At the end of the hallway, I collapse into Kevin and he holds me as I cry. He kisses the top of my head and squeezes me tighter.

September 15, 2011

I toss and turn all night. I fall asleep only to wake up, confused which world is a dream; my reality or my sleep. I get dressed and go into work. I don’t even care that my eyes are puffy and swollen or that my nose is visibly raw. It doesn’t matter.

Mom calls me from the hospital. I answer very hesitantly, with dread. She tells me that Grandma is still the same. Her and Dad are going home to shower and grab some things before heading back to the hospital. I work in a daze. My boss tells me to go home. I say that I need to finish up some things. Working eases my mind, if only a little.

Around 12:45, I gather my things and head out to my car. I pull my phone out of my purse to call Mom for an update and see that she has just called me, one minute before. Knowing, fully knowing, that this time it’s “the call”, I dial her back. She answers and gently says, “Your grandma went to be with Grandpa Ruben today.”

I begin to cry, tears leaving little pathways on my cheeks. Mom tells me that she died so peacefully. That she took a deep breath, waited 45 seconds, and took one final breath. Then she was gone. At 12:11, she got to meet Jesus face to face and reunite with my grandpa, her sister who just recently passed away, her son, her parents, and even her grandchildren.

I go to the hospital. She’s more bruised today than she was last night. She’s pale; white, but not blue except for the bruises. Her hair is washed and pulled back from her face. Her eyes are closed. Her hands rest on top of the blanket. They are cold when I touch them. Where her chest was rising and falling last night, there is now stillness. The wall of windows spills light into the room and I see a bright blue sky with perfect white clouds. The trees are green with tinges of orange starting to color the edges of the leaves. They blow in the soft, September breeze.

Things are blurry. We talk; the chaplain comes in; we look at Grandma; we talk about the funeral; the medical examiner comes in. We find some food in the hospice kitchen and I eat one bite of my sandwich before throwing it away. I don’t remember if I ate breakfast or not. I don’t think I’ve eaten since yesterday morning. I’m not hungry.

The funeral home comes to take her body. So, I guess, this is real then. I guess it isn’t a dream.

‎”Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4


I will never be able to truly describe the amazing woman she was, but here are some previous posts I’ve dedicated to her.


  1. […] the middle of September, when my grandma passed away, I took a week off from running. I wasn’t feeling good anyway with a rough cold and the days were […]

  2. […] if I want…haha!) After last fall’s week after week of new family heartbreak, including my grandma’s death, I finally feel like we’re officially on the uphill now with Ashton’s birth and the […]

  3. […] Website 09.14.12 blue skies smilin’ at me It’s been a year now. In that time, I’ve seen countless blue skies and I’ve thought of her every […]

  4. […] the middle of September, when my grandma passed away, I took a week off from running. I wasn’t feeling good anyway with a rough cold and the days were […]

  5. […] This month I have an even greater appreciation for him. I was talking to my best friend about my grandma’s recent death and it really struck me, when looking back, how in every moment of my grief, he was there. I can […]

  6. Ivy says:

    I am sorry you lost your grandmother. I hope with time that the memories only make you smile as the sadness fades some even though it never goes away. This is how I get through each day now… hoping… missing my mom.

  7. Tricia says:

    I am so sorry Emily. Having lost my own grandma 4 years ago on the 14th, I get it. I still think about her every day.

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