Friday, March 7, 2008

The Chance to Say Goodbye

My Final Moments with my Grandmother

By Rob Sheftic

Senior Staff Writer


Traditionally for me October is solely about the Boston Redsox playoffs. Unfortunately, this past October had a different importance for me. It was learned that my grandmother’s lung cancer was growing rapidly and that she had roughly 2-6 months left to live. Now when you learn something as sad as that, your immediate reaction is an immeasurable amount of sorrow. It was one of those conversations that you never think about, nor have any idea what to say. It’s never easy when you learn that the woman who used to feed you, change you, always bragged about you and who used to sing to you was fatally ill and didn’t have much time left.

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. In sitting down with her she did have a sad but an almost comforting look to her. She didn’t shy away from telling me everything that she knew health-wise but also what she was feeling emotionally. Now my Gram was given a choice.  She could have gone through a grueling treatment process with many side effects, much of which would possibly give her only an extra month or so of life. It was a decision that she would discuss with her children, but ultimately she would have to decide herself. I said to her, “Gram whatever you decide to do you’re going to have my respect, understanding and blessing.”

I made it a point to go see her every day. When she made her decision I could already tell by her facial expression. She said, “Robert I’m not going to go through the chemotherapy. I want to live out whatever time the Lord has left for me. I don’t want to go to any more doctors. I just want to live out my time the best I can with my family.” My response was an easy one. I said, “I understand Gram, what it comes down to is how happy you can be through this time.” Gram was never afraid of death..  She had a strong religious faith and had told me, “There’s really only one man who knows how much time I have left and I’m ok with that.”

Now I never knew my Grandfather from that side of the family. Gram had lost her husband in 1972 due to heart failure. I remember saying to her, “Hey at least you’ll get to see Grandpa soon.” As the days went on, she treated each day as a gift. We would talk, but those talks were never filled with tears or sadness. We went over any memories that came to our minds, whether it was about us or the family. Gram was always proud of and bragged about her family: she had four children, eleven grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren. She did make it known to me that when her health became “very poor” she didn’t want any of her grandkids to see her in that state, so each day I had left with her so special to me. I treated every goodbye with her as if it would be my last.

Day by day, I was just waiting for the phone to ring and to find out that the inevitable had happened.  However, Gram was strong. My visits with her during her “final days” are something that I’ll always treasure and never forget. As the days went on, her family was always by her side. Each day that I would go to see her, I usually was not the only one there as all of our family wanted to spend some time with her before she passed. I remember I went to see her on a Saturday night. My uncle was there, so sitting down with him and cracking a few beers was just an added bonus to the visit. Gram was in her recliner watching the television. I can still hear her saying to me, “Just be careful Robert driving tonight since your drinking (laugh).”

I got a few calls from my friends just trying to figure out plans for the night. I had decided that I was going to stay with my Grandmother that Saturday and not go out. I stayed and just talked with her and the family that was there. Around 11:30, I decided that I was going out head home. She was still awake in her chair. I walked over to her and gave her a hug.  She kissed me on the cheek, held my hand and said, “I love you Robert.  Drive safely.” I told her how much I loved her and to try and get some sleep. Those were the last words that she and I exchanged and the last time that I would see her.

The next morning I had to rush my mother up to Gram’s place because “something was happening.” Her health had begun to deteriorate. At this point, my attitude was that I didn’t want her to suffer or to be in any more pain. Her four children made it a point that they were all going to stay with her until the end, and to this day I give them all the credit in the world. Through all the exhaustion that they must have went through, they all remained with their mother.

It was Thanksgiving morning, and my sister had came into my room just as the sun was about to come up. “She’s gone,” she said.

She passed away with her four children right by her bedside. I had mostly just stared around my room, I couldn’t really put it into words that it was over, the fight and the struggle was really over. All of the family had decided to get together just for that reason and that was to be with each other. I remember driving early that morning but my mood was really a saddened relief. I was happy that my grandmother no longer had to suffer. She could finally rest forever now.

Thanksgiving is a time when the family gathers. I know my family was going to eat, drink and watch football. This Thanksgiving was solely for one person: My Grandmother. We decided to go along with the Thanksgiving dinner.  We knew that’s what Gram would want. While the mood was quiet and not really a happy one for the day, I thought it was good to have dinner that day. It’s very ironic that on a day where you get together and celebrate family, our family lost one of their strongest members. Thanksgiving from now on will be a day that our family can come together and celebrate the life of my Grandmother.

The memorial services were as expected. Gram had a lot of family and friends, and they all were there at some point to pay their respects to her and her family. When you lose a loved one, there really is no blue print way to get over it quickly. It’s a brutally sad period that will get better with time. I’m thankful for the time that my family and I were able to have with her. Some people aren’t so lucky enough to know when they are dying and never would have the chance as my Grandmother did. I still drive by her old apartment now and then. I’ll walk up to her front door like I used to so many times. I can still imagine sitting down with her at her little kitchen table and talking with her. I’ll stare at the door with a smile because I know that somewhere in heaven, she’s looking down and smiling back at me. I love you and miss you, Gram.



Anonymous said...

Rob, that is really touching and I'm all choked up but it was a great story<3

Rob Pepe said...


You are very fortunate to have had those last moments with your Grandmother. So many people do not have that opportunity. You were both blessed. So often in life we lose someone close to us knowing that we did not have the chance to say goodbye. After losing a close family friend my wife had that same sorrowful feeling. Out of that anguish was born an idea. She wanted to provide a place for those of us who are suffering that way to say our goodbyes. Much of today's younger generation use the popular social networking sites for such an outlet or emotional release. She wanted to create a space that was universal, that required no membership, just a desire to say goodbye. Her website just came alive Please visit and share your thoughts. Thank you for your inspirational story.

Best Regards,

Rob Pepe