This was not a surprise, and in all the important ways, it was a very good thing. She was ready to go, and has been for a long time, and the family was ready, too. Even so, I've had a complicated response to it.
I've been lucky not to have much experience with death in my life. My family, of course, has lost close friends, but that's mostly been more abstract for me. My best friend in high school had leukemia, and survived, so that taught me a lot about the concept of illness and the idea of death, but fortunately, she's still very much alive, with a bustling family. I have also lost people who were important to me in a variety of ways, but who were not a major part of my day-to-day life, and my grandmother primarily falls into that category. But, of course, family ties carry weight, so Irene's death is significant in that sense. For me, she's the first close family member to die in my life.
Her death is also significant to me in that it's the first one for which I've ever been present. I arrived in Florida late Wednesday night, and, with my mom, spent Thursday and Friday with Irene. For most of both days, Irene was sleeping, with occassional incoherent vocalizations and some restlessness. I feel extremely lucky, though, that she had a relatively long awake and aware period on Thursday, during which time she talked, and smiled and enough laughed at my mom's joke that we should go for a drive. She knew I was there, and she was obviously happy about it, which was a very nice contact for me. I really feel like I got to say goodbye to her in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do if I hadn't come (which I nearly didn't), and that's meaningful to me in a way that I didn't expect, since she and I weren't hugely close.
It seemed clear when we left the home on Friday night that Saturday would be her last day. We asked the night nurse to call us if it looked like she would die in the night, but she didn't. I was sad Friday night, thinking of her in her bed, sleeping her way to death but finding the journey so slow. She was ready, but it takes the body some time to wind down. Early Saturday morning, the folks at the home called to say that she had a high fever that they couldn't lower, so we went over early, arriving at her last breath.
I cried a bit here and there over the course of the morning, mostly a reflexive sort of sadness, I think, because Irene had been awaiting her death with open arms for some time. In fact, she predicted that she would die before her 90th birthday. Her birthday was Tuesday, March 2, so she got to be 90 for four days, and then she got the birthday gift she'd really wanted.
I wasn't sure how it would be for me to see her dead, especially with having spent the previous couple of days with her alive, but teetering. But, in fact, it was very nice to see her at peace. She wasn't suffering Thursday and Friday when I saw her, but she was clearly working on dying, so Saturday, she was finally done, and there was a definite calm that I've probably never seen to her before.
It was a great privilege for me to be with her at her end, and I know that I'll be processing the experience and my thoughts on it for a while.