And Then There Were None

Late last night I had the thought about calling my father, but seeing the time, I decided to wait until the next morning. I hadn’t spoken to him in awhile. We don’t chat often but when we do the conversations last at least twenty to thirty minutes. I was going to see how things were holding up because my grandmother just weeks earlier had been placed in hospice. I knew the end was coming, but these things have no rhyme or reason as to when they end. They just … end. She died this morning. The last of my grandparents have faded away.

She was in her 90’s. She lived a long, full life, and now the end had come. I didn’t get to say goodbye. As the descent was coming, she become less communicative, unable to operate things with her hands, and spoke less. She had lived in a home, and trying to call her was unfortunately a no-go.

When my grandfather died, we thought things for her would decline quick, they were one of those old-time couples who did everything together, my grandfather waited on her, hand and foot. But she held on, for a half-decade, it wasn’t her time yet. But after my grandfather died she was placed in a home, she was immobile, and needed care we couldn’t give her.

She was a good person, and every visit with Grandma Ranahan was always a good one. Dinner, coffee, conversation, television, laughs. I’ll remember those visits with fondness. I didn’t get to know my mother’s side of my grandparents that well, so much of my memories of familial authority come from my father’s side.

When the pandemic hit, I thought of her often. “Please for the love of fuck don’t let it be COVID that ends it…” I thought. The restrictions on nursing homes made it difficult for family to see her. The months since, she had few visits. Her decline accelerated, by what I can only imagine, was a combination of her old age, and the lack of familial sights. She did not die of coronavirus, but the looming specter of it all accelerated and exacerbated the situation.

I’ve stared at the same four, white, close walls for the last several months. I’ve seen coworkers once. I ran into a friend at the grocery store. But largely my interactions have all been online. My grandmother had next to none of that, sadly. My grandmother had her time, but I can’t help but think of the few more months she could have had if we hadn’t fucked this entire virus response up. It makes me angry. She deserved better, she deserved to see more than four white walls and the nurses and orderlies who kept the facility running. I understand why she was in the situation she was in, there was no avoiding it, but she still deserved better. My father and aunts and uncles had one last chance to see her, luckily for them. And I’m at least grateful they had their shot.

She was my last living grandparent. In the latter half of the 2010’s they slowly fell one by one, each marked with a return flight home, reminiscence, and family. This year that’s not happening, at least for me. There won’t be a flight, no camaraderie with cousins, aunts, uncles, there won’t be any Catholic services for me to attend (even though I’m non-religious) because my family was largely Irish-Italian-Polish Catholic. There won’t be a dinner, coffee, or conversations. I’ll only get to imagine it.

COVID, and the lack of response to it, has left some of us on opposite coasts, with little recourse, or motivation to chance the trip with no time for quarantine before service. I don’t trust my own body to not betray me, and with a father who has lung issues, I’m unfortunately not returning. I won’t be a swinging scythe to drop on the family .

She didn’t die of COVID, but I won’t get a chance to grieve in person. The last of the grandparents, the last familial titan, is now gone. Considering how much worse other families in the US have had it with this wretched wraith of a virus, I suppose I should count my lucky stars it wasn’t worse. I hope my cat doesn’t mind me babbling to her about the good times that were had, about how my grandmother’s sense of humor sharpened with time, and more.

There’s something strange about the door closing on a generation of family, I can’t exactly put into words right now exactly what that is, I can only meet it with ponderance and silence, and maybe some alcohol too.

My grandfather died from cancer, my grandmother died in seclusion, I take solace in the fact that any suffering is now alleviated. Part of me is also is saddened that this is the way it is, but so it goes…

When this is all over, when we can finally be around each other without worrying that the air we breathe is also trying to kill us, our family will be able to have that dinner, that coffee, and that conversation. There will just be one less chair occupying the table.

LaVerne Ranahan, you will be missed. We love you.