Humor in the face of loss

Abigail Carlin, Columnist

On the Tuesday of Thanksgiving break, I received some heartbreaking news. My grandmother had suffered a massive stroke and was being flown from her sleepy Arkansas home to Memphis for treatment.

My mother and I drove all evening through the morning and we arrived with enough time to say good-bye. The stroke was much more devastating than the doctors originally thought. She had lost her ability to speak, comprehend language, and she was paralyzed.

If that was not enough, this side of the family has not spoken to my mother or me in 15 years. Spending over a week in a hospital with family you cannot remember is an odd experience to say the least. Watching my mother’s mother waste away is the most heart-wrenching thing I have ever witnessed.

I am so proud of my mom for putting on a brave face and setting aside her anger to be at her mother’s side. I am also proud that she was willing to fight the family and the hospital for quality care.

Between the passive-aggressive arguments and the lack of sleep, the only solace I found for myself was humor. Being stuck in a place of sickness and death is incredibly draining, but because I was so desperate for any form of light, I made my own. Death and dying are incredibly heavy topics, but it is all surrounded by the absurd.

For example, my mother, a registered and celebrated nurse, had to convince my grandma’s power of attorney that hospice is not synonymous for euthanasia. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, hospice care is given to those who are actively dying. They are given morphine and some other relaxing agents in order to ease their breathing to keep them comfortable.

Dying can be scary and lonely, but hospice care ensures that no one has to die alone, scared, and in distress. However, the power of attorney was a Southern Baptist reverend, so he was quite stubborn.

What makes this otherwise unfortunate conflict funny was the tiptoeing. The power of attorney would sneak to the nurse’s station the moment my Mom and I fell asleep or went to the hotel to sleep. By the time we came back, the order would be processed and hospice care would end. My mom would fight with the staff and get the order reversed just in time for us to leave again. The process would repeat over and over.

The whole thing was so petty and wild that I could not help but laugh. The holidays are a stressful time for all of us. Once we finish scrambling to finish all of our final projects and having to deal with difficult family members, we lose perspective. We forget what is important to us, and unfortunately, it takes a tragedy to ground us.

My mom has not had a mom for 15 years, but last week, they were able to reconcile before my grandmother’s passing. I was drowning in homework and I was terrified that I was going to tank my GPA and fail my finals because I had no time to work on anything in the hospital, but those anxieties faded away in the company of a whole family I did not know I had. We cried when we watched my grandmother close her eyes for the last time, when her soul left but her body kept on. We laughed together at the Southern women and their funny Sunday-best hats. We reminded ourselves that the only thing that actually matters in this world is love and trust.

And laughter, of course.

Abigail Carlin is a junior English major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]