The Worst Week
Posted on 06/21/2020
This year has not been good for a lot of people. We are going through a global coronavirus pandemic, the turbulent (but hopeful) breakdown of systemic racism, and record unemployment. However, before all of this hit the United States, I had a week that I would not wish on anyone. I feel very comfortable calling it the worst week of my life. I shared a tweet-storm of some of the details on Twitter, but I wanted to include more of the details here.
It started on Saturday, February 15th. My father needed some help at his place in Kingman, AZ so I drove up that morning to help him out. My grandmother called me during the three-and-a-half-hour drive to let me know that her companion, Gary, who had been battling colon cancer, was not doing well and would be going to hospice. She strongly suggested that I travel home to visit him before it was too late. Since Monday was a paid holiday for me (President's Day), I decided to make the drive from Kingman to Northern California, visit Gary on Monday morning, and return to Tempe in time to make it to work on Tuesday. In total it was going to be about 22 hours of driving, but it was important to me and my grandmother that I see Gary before he passed. I arrived at a friend's place around 9pm on Sunday night and made plans to meet my grandmother at the hospice facility on Monday at 9am.
It was great to see Gary. Although he was very sick, we were able to have a long conversation. I told him how much he meant to me and I felt that my decision to drive to see him was the correct one. At about noon, my grandmother and I decided to get lunch and afterward I would start my drive back to Tempe. We had sandwiches and an admittedly morbid conversation. The following day (Tuesday, February 18th) was her 77th birthday and I encouraged her to celebrate in some way. I told her I loved her, gave her a hug, and left for home around 1:30pm.
Here is where things get crazy. About one-third of my way home, just before Highway 99 and Interstate 5 merge before going over the Grapevine in Southern California, I received a phone call and my grandmother's name popped up on my caller ID. When I answered the phone, I heard a woman crying and saying something I couldn't really understand. I was a little confused because I wasn't expecting Gary to pass so quickly. I responded with something like "I'm so sorry." Immediately, the woman on the phone (who turned out to be my mother) yelled, "No!! It's grandma!!" I realized that my mom was calling from my grandmother's phone to tell me that my grandmother, with whom I had just had lunch, was dead.
My mom and grandmother made plans to go to the hospice facility to see Gary at around 5pm. My mom showed up to my grandmother's house at about 4:15pm. When she arrived, she had a problem finding her mother. She called through the house for her, went to the backyard, and then eventually to her bedroom where she found her mother on the floor with her legs in the bathroom and head and torso in the bedroom. She called 911 from her cellphone and, very soon after, me from my grandmother's cellphone.
I pulled off the highway and immediately started making the phone calls I needed to make in order for me to turn around and head back to my hometown. One of those phone calls was to Gary's daughters who were with him. After I explained what had happened to them, they decided that they had to tell their father what was going on. He was a little out of it because of the medication, but he remembered that my grandmother was supposed to return to see him that evening. Since she hadn't arrive, he was asking about her. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to tell their dying father that the woman he had grown to love was not coming back to see him. I wish I could have been there to make it easier for them.
I made it back safely to my grandmother's house at about 9:30pm where my mom, brother, aunt and uncle were waiting for me. We all knew that my grandmother had made arrangements for her passing, but there were some details that we didn't have. We made plans to visit Gary the next day to get information about different aspects of my grandmother's estate.
That next day, Tuesday, visiting Gary was the hardest day of the whole week. Not only was everyone on edge from the untimely passing of my grandmother, but we were going to talk to a man that was suffering through the end of his life to ask questions about his dead companion. He even delayed taking his morning pain medication so he was more alert and would have less trouble answering questions. I will never forget how his face changed when he saw us walk into his room: the hurt and anguish of someone who now felt that he had no reason to keep fighting the cancer that was killing him.
Skip ahead to Thursday: my mom and I were going to run some errands which included taking some items to the funeral home to be buried with my grandmother. On our way, in my car which I had to drive 600+ miles back to Tempe, we were rear-ended by someone eating their lunch in their work vehicle. Thankfully, my mom and I were OK and my car, although dented and smashed, was drivable. The young man was very apologetic and we exchanged information. I tried to explain that we weren't mad at him for his mistake, but there was a compounding of circumstances that upset us. He understood and we were on our way.
Finally, on Sunday, just 6 days after my grandmother's sudden passing, Gary died. He was surrounded by his daughters and their families and his final moments were peaceful.
The week started out very innocently: I was going to help my dad with some work at his place during a three-day weekend. I never would have guessed that it would have ended up as it did. Crazy things happen. I did questioned whether it was really necessary for me to make the 10 hour drive to Northern California to see Gary. Seeing him and talking to him made it worth it for me, but now I know that there were bigger reasons for me to make that trip. It turned out that I was the last person to see my grandmother alive, the last person to hug her, and the last person to tell her that I loved her. In addition, I got be with my family during the worst week imaginable.