Permission Slip Away

Friday, June 13, 2014 9 Permalink 2

*This post includes a song as part of the reading experience. It was hand selected for the reading experience. It no longer auto-plays.

EL CAJON, CA

Her breathing – labored. Her limbs – frustrated. Her eyes – open but unable to blink. We have all given my grandma permission to slip away. The time between taking a breath lengthens from three seconds to five. Five to seven. She gasps for air. Now eleven without breath. A gasp. Her son (my uncle) Chris, rubs her chest and tells her, “We love you mom. It’s okay to rest now.”

We surround her. We are going to love her to sleep.

permission slip away

When I got the text from my mom that my grandma was in her final hours, I packed up and headed down to San Diego from LA. My dad’s dad died before I was born of a heart attack. My dad’s mom died of lung cancer while I was on tour. My mom’s dad committed suicide when I was eight. So, I’ve never actually dealt with or seen death. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to see my final grandparent off. It’s a learning experience that, no matter how painful, I needed to be a part of. I expect this to release a ton of pain over the coming weeks/months. Yay. And that process, for me, will start by unpacking my bags with someone else. On that note…an open letter to my next girlfriend…

 

Dear Girl Who Will Handle The Luggage I Carry,

A little background on my grandmother. She was no stranger to gettin stoned, cross dressing, or hiring strippers for my grandpa. I’m proud to have known this woman for she has lived fully.

Mom & Dad Halloween 1959

She smoked like a chimney, drank like fish, and read books like she owned a national f*****g library. 500 pages in a day was child’s play to her. Oh, you read that book? She read it three times before you could pronounce JRR Tolkien or Dean Koontz.

grandmasmoke

Fair warning – you should know I cringe at the thought of reading. Which is ironic because I write. My high school English teachers couldn’t get me to read the cliff’s notes on the greatest pieces of literature ever written. I would get a pop-quiz on The Great Gatsby, sign my name, and return a blank page to Mr. Hansen before he finished passing the quizzes out. I was that little shit.

This means that I will not teach our children to read. Not because I’m an anti-Reading Rainbow fan, rather, I want our children to grow up and be writers just like their dad. By creating a major literary void early on, our children will feel the natural absence and need to go back and explore it. The best part – they’ll think they figured it out on their own. Poor saps will never know what hit em. I hope you want kids with me. We’ll have two boys, two girls, and six adopteds – I don’t care what they are. I’m not Mormon.

grandmalaugh

Anyway, the last few days have been really hard. We take turns kissing my grandma on the forehead and saying sweet things to her. The intentions behind everything we say are always “I love you and goodbye”. That sucks. And when it feels like she’s going to make her final departure, she takes another deep breath. I begin to wonder why she doesn’t just let go. Then again, is it as simple as “letting go”?

grandma mc

I think she’s scanning her entire life’s memory bank. Processing the last little bits of life. The corners we only learn about on our death beds. Then it seems like she might be slipping away again. So we, again, make sure she knows that is her decision, and that we love her and it is okay if she wants to go. We hold her. But again, she gasps for air. One of us gives her morphine to keep any potential pain to a minimum. We like to think this helps her if she’s suffering. We don’t know if she is, but giving her morphine is a decision made from a place of compassion. So we do…

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If you haven’t been through this, waiting for the inevitable is really hard. Really fucking hard. So, I hug my mom when she cries. Somehow that makes me feel better. Seeing my mom cry is shitty. She’s amazing. So when she cries its super not amazing. Don’t worry though, you’ll get to know her. She’ll be super nice to you if we work out. She’ll actually be super nice to you if we don’t. Moms. Am I right? Just promise you won’t call her if we break up. We probably won’t be friends after. I’d like to think I’m bigger than that, but the truth is I have a track record.

smiley moms

My uncles are stronger than I and this is their mom. I can see my uncle Craig (below right) internalizing as he looks over. He seems to say most of what he needs in his head. I’m a lot like him in that way. Until I volcano. Then you get my wrath. Please ignore the red flags as I raise them.

My uncle Chris (below left) internalizes also, but interestingly, he has taken on a very care-giver role in the situation. Something I had not expected from him. He has been the first to sit down beside her. A real stepper-upper, ya know? There is something about that relationship that he cherishes more than I knew. It’s very cool to watch. I think it’s extra painful for him though. On two separate occasions he thought he was really saying goodbye to his mom. To the point that he broke, let go of her hand, and walked away. Then she would gasp for air. It’s like she knows she’s playing this terrible joke on him. We laughed our asses off when it happened. You have to. The tension is too great not to. And, again, we’re jokesters so it was perfectly appropriate.

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Almost 25 years ago, my grandpa (husband to the woman we’re saying goodbye to) was suffering from esophageal cancer. When swallowing a glass of water became impossible, he wheeled his hospital-supplied “tree of bagged meds” and a shotgun through my family’s backyard and into a neighboring lot. In his suicide note, he apologizes for the selfish act. His death was on November 6th – my sister’s birthday. After talking to my uncle Craig about it, he never considered his dad’s method to be a selfish thing. He was already in an unfathomable amount of pain. So, while his death came under the guise of a selfish act, my grandpa was guided by selfless intentions. He knew how much the cancerous experience was costing the family on all levels. Pictured below: Me trying to cop a bite of cereal from my Grandpa Don.

eating cereal

My grandma has ink all over her hands from pulling the damn fire alarm so many times. That’s not even a funny joke because you have no context for all the craziness this woman has survived. But I promise my comedy is top-notch. It will get better when we are actually together. That or I’ll wait until I’ve locked you in proper to deliver the bad puns and embarrassing shit you shouldn’t say in front of people. Pictured below: Grandma M.C. & Grandpa Don circa 1956

Mom & Dad (Myrtle) 56'

If you can’t make me laugh via text, I won’t marry. Also, marriage isn’t important to me. It’s a piece of paper. However, that unconditional level of commitment is. I learned that from my parents and my grandparents. They’ve all been in good, sometimes challenging, but always healthy marriages.

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I expect a lot from you. I don’t need long to know if you’re right for me or not. I won’t waste your time if you’re shit. I promise. I don’t like long walks on the beach. I love the ocean and my ashes will be scattered there, but walks are boring. If you want to skinny dip, that’s an ocean activity I totally approve. Even if we are on the cold ass west coast. I also like reality TV and will only ever make it through the first two seasons of any tv show. It gets stupid after that. Even Breaking Bad. Blasphemy, I know. But if that’s a deal breaker, you’re better off without me.

SIDE NOTE: I’m also looking for a good cook. I can’t cook. I don’t care about the stereotypes of women or anything. Its just that I can’t cook. So if you’re a good cook and I’m not, I’ll swap you skill for skill. You teach me how to cook healthy. I teach you how to beat Call of Duty in Veteran mode.

Back to the fire alarm though. That was a figure of speech. Of course, you knew this because you are also funny. My grandma, who you will not meet, but you will hear much about, has had skin cancer, heart attacks, and strokes galore. And yet, the energizer bunny keeps going and going and going. She scares everyone every time, but she’s a fighter among fighters. I bet she’d get a few punches in on Tyson before he’d bite her.

grandma-bw

Don’t worry though, you’ll get an earful on my other grandparents and every past relationship as well. Whole lotta pain there. I’ll probably have to read you some poetry or share some grandiose artist-type crap thing I’ll make on the heels of this experience.

That said, my grandma MC is a beautiful woman. This is someone who has been challenged by life, and in turn, has challenged me. She has seen some shit. She has lived a good life. This is someone who has inspired endless jokes in my family. An amazing family at that. I warn you though…we’ve all learned to laugh at a very early age. And we all laugh…a lot. I’m honored to share the bloodline. Pictured below: Craig (left), Candy (my mom/center), Chris (right)

kids smiles

If you don’t like comedy, hand-me-down recipes, the occasional drink, grilling, black labs, big cities, small suburbs, camping, surfing, running, spaghetti on Christmas, deep talk, coffee talk, or not talking, you’re on your own and you’re batshit crazy because we’re awesome. But if you’re cool with being embraced by a family that is able to laugh their asses off through death’s bitter process, by celebrating the joys of life, we just may have a chance. Without my grandma I cannot be me. So you must respect her authority. I do.

grandma laughs 2

It’s the morning of June 13th. My mom’s birthday. I’ve been writing this all night on 5-hour energies. I haven’t slept more than a half hour. She’s been at this fight for nearly nine years. Nine years since her heart attack in Las Vegas. My keyboard is wet and the energizer bunny is no longer in the room. It’s very close now. It’s about 7am.

Her heart slows. Her feet are turning a grayish purple. They’re cold to the touch now. She swings in and out of fever. Her breath is extremely shallow. Like a fish out of water. She can’t swallow the accumulating spit at the back of her throat. She gargles with every breath. That is a sight and sound you cannot prepare for. I finally understand why my parents have protected me from this.

I am here. I’m to the brim with grief and gratitude. It’s amazing how those two things can go hand in hand. It is a true yin and yang. It’s almost as if they are they are equal and opposite. F***. That’s an epiphany if I’ve ever had one. The smiles this woman has inspired are too many to share. Look at that face and try your best to frown. I dare you. I feel lucky and honored to have known this woman.

grandma 3 - plays with sisters

At 9:04am, on June 13, 2014, we watched my mom’s mom, Mary Carol Poulsen, at 84 years old, take her last breath. My mom considers it a privilege and an honor to share her birthday with her mother’s passing. What a woman my grandma was. What a life. What a beauty. You got some serious shoes to fill, potential girlfriend.

Grandma MC

To be with the ones we love on their journeys. This is why we live.

-Ben

9 Comments
  • Valerie Randolph
    June 18, 2014

    That was so beautifully written. I had to read it because I just experienced the same thing with my father. He passed away in March this year, and I was with him in his last hour, just the two of us. It was too painful for my mother to see. He passed away 30 minutes after I left his room. He knew I was there, he opened one eye and looked right at me. As painful as it was to see him in that condition, the shallow breathing, the rattling of breaths, the moments when his breathing stopped and I thought it was his last, I will treasure those last moments with just the two of us. I miss him so much.

    • Ben Renschen
      June 19, 2014

      Valerie, Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m grateful for anyone who has gone through it. Give or take a few, I’d guess you’re about one hundred times wiser from the experience. Again, just an estimate. ha. Hope you are doing well now and laughing with your mom when you can.

  • Patrice Swick
    July 1, 2014

    “I begin to wonder why she doesn’t just let go. Then again, is it as simple as ‘letting go’?” – I don’t think anything is as simple as ‘letting go’.

    The past year and a half has been some of the hardest days of my life. My pap (mom’s dad) had a surgery to help with the numbness he was getting in his fingers; a simple procedure; he was fine. After that surgery he had a couple strokes and a lot of other awful things happened for six months. I used to have the progression memorized. I used to call my mom almost every day and I would get a report on urine outtake and change in medicine routine and new doctors and physical therapy (when he could still get out of bed) and oxygen levels and heart rates. I’m not even in the medical field, I’m graduating with a business degree and going into higher education, but for those months I was an expert. I drove two hours to sleep in the ICU more than once, took shifts with cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles to make sure someone was always there with him. I said goodbye countless times. Prayed without ceasing. When it reached the point that my pap had lost almost 100 pounds I couldn’t stay in the room for long periods of time. He looked like the people in brochures that are skin and bones asking for food. On May 25th, 2013 I was back from school and my mom woke me up to go drive to visit my pap. It was just another visit. Another chance to say I Love you. We were ten minutes away from the hospital and my mom received a phone call. She instantly starts sobbing, I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve seen my mother really cry in my life, the desperate sobbing where you can’t control what’s happening. “daddy, daddy, I love you it’s okay daddy” was all she could get out. She was on speaker phone saying goodbye. We pull up to the hospital and she gets out; I wait. Eventually I get out to follow her. Elevator, third floor, make a left. That hospital looked way to familiar as I walked down the hall one more time. They (my mom and her three sisters) were singing when I got there. I stayed outside of the door and just listened until there song ended with sobs that can’t be described and that I never want to hear again. Pappap was gone.

    Death, like you know, is nothing like the movies. It doesn’t end with one final breath and fade out till the lights our turned on and everyone is surrounding a grave on a peaceful sunny day. Death stays with you. Leaving my pap in the hospital room was one of the worst parts of it all (and this is only an abbreviated version). May 30th 2013, we buried my pap – I’m not ready to put this into words. But you need to know that my grandma (mom’s mom; wife of my pap who I just buried) has been sick for a while and was taken back to the hospital the day we buried her husband. I’m not ready to put the rest in words- one day I will be. But May 25, 2014 my other pap (dad’s dad) passed away and May 26, 2014 my gram (mom’s mom) passed away. I lost the last of my grandparents within a year and a day. I am not ready to share any of those memories with the world; but one day I hope I am – it’s a beautiful story worth sharing. I am learning how to process so much loss. I am learning to be okay with not being okay. I am discovering what this new me looks like, and it’s hard and its messy but it’s who I am now- and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    So, thank you. Thank you for sharing your story in such a real and beautiful way. And thank you for allowing me to share a small part of mine.

    • Ben Renschen
      July 13, 2014

      Wow, Patrice. What an honor for you to share your story. I apologize the delay–I wanted the time to give you a proper response. I’m getting teary eyed reading it for the second time now. I can certainly say that putting it into words and giving the stories a voice will help your process. In an effort to accurately share and educate others on your story, you are forced to process and make sense. That’s been my experience. I’m not saying to run out and write about it, rather encouraging that exploration when you’re ready bc you mention your interest in doing so.

      Otherwise, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve known a very few people (you included now) who have experienced strings of death in short time spans. I feel fortunate to have not yet experienced that, but I send all my love to you and yours for the coming days. I think the fact that you “wouldn’t change a thing” makes the whole experience tolerable. It sounds like you have your head on straight even if you are feeling challenged and “messy”. I’m not much further along in my process than you, but I’m confident we have a lot to learn yet. Lessons that will pay us for the rest of our lives.

      Thank you again for sharing, Patrice. So powerful.

  • Tez
    July 12, 2014

    Five minutes ago I stumbled across your work for the first time, (the Kujegi piece on elephant journal) devoured it in an instant and followed you here.
    In the time it took me to read it, I fell in love with you, your family and your beautiful Grandma MC. What a treasure and a privilege to read such a heartfelt and beautifully spun tribute to what sounds like the most amazing grandma in the whole world. I am truly sorry for your loss, but what a blessing to have shared your life with such a person.

    I am a reader, not a writer, and I hope your potential girlfriend is a reader too. Because if you ever find a woman to fill those impossible to fit shoes, this letter would melt her heart and fucking soul!

    • Ben Renschen
      July 13, 2014

      Tez, You’re awesome and hilarious! And thank you for being a reader. The fact that you took the time to provide this feedback is so appreciated. I’m crossing my fingers that girl reads it! Haha. I’ll keep ya posted. The door hasn’t been knocked down yet. hahaha

  • M.
    July 15, 2014

    This is one of the most perfectly illuminated discussions on the process of death I’ve ever encountered. This piece is an amazing work, and a great tribute. Thank you for writing this.

    • Ben Renschen
      July 16, 2014

      M – You’re so welcome. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I love hearing when something resonates. It also helps me understand how to better communicate through writing. For that, I am grateful. Thanks again for your words.

  • Craig Poulsen
    July 24, 2014

    Brotha Ben…
    As much as I would like to THANK you for the wonderful ways in which you’ve presented our Moms’ passing, I want to tell you how GRATEFUL I am to you for how well you’ve represented our family.
    You may not technically be my brother as the salutation suggests, but “once removed” is close enough for me. As your Uncle, but more importantly, your friend (in case I’ve neglected to tell you) I’m proud of who you’ve become. It’s difficult to imagine that the process of your Grandma’s passing could have happened without you being present. You were indeed present in many ways.

    Thank you my Brotha, my Nephew, and my friend!
    With Love… Uncle Craig

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