In March of 1993, I got a call from one of my parents that my paternal grandmother had had a stroke. She was in intensive care at Winona's community memorial hospital.
I was surprised, but not shocked (she was in her early 70's). A few hours later, I headed down to the hospital. My dad was there as was his friend, "You Can Call Me" Al. They were both in fairly good spirits. They said that grandma was just around the corner. I headed over there and saw her sleeping about 15 feet away. I'n not sure why, but I didn't get any closer. Maybe I was afraid to. Maybe I didn't want to see someone up close who could be on the edge of death. After a moment, I went back to the waiting room. A couple of my brothers arrived shortly thereafter as did my uncle John and his son, Andy. One of the kids had the idea to walk over to Fleet Farm to get out of the hospital for a spell. So, me, my brother, Mike, and Andy walked the 6 blocks to the store. We basically just browsed, joked around a bit.
On the walk home, I thought a bit about what was happening. I was awfully close to Grandma Ruth. I usually visited her once or twice a week. She had been widowed in 1975, so was quite accustomed to living alone. At the time, she was living in an apartment just 9 blocks from the hospital. I typically would bike or take the city bus to her place (I didn't have or want a car at the time).
Once there, we would talk. I'd read the paper and then sometimes walk down to Kwik Trip to pick up a slice or two of their pizza. I would leave and try to make it back to her apartment as soon as possible. I'd go down the hill in the back of the complex, run across the highway, and still basically be running by the time I arrived at KT. I made my purchases and walked quickly up the hill. I would usually make the trip in 8 to 10 minutes. She almost always wondered how I made it back so fast. We'd then watch some telly (stuff like the sitcom "Perfect Strangers")
and I'd leave at around 9pm. In the weeks before she had the stroke, I hadn't visited as much. I was starting to become depressed and didn't really want to burden my grandmother with it. Plus, I thought I might be able to solve the problem by spending more time on my own. A few days before her stroke, I did see her with a couple of my brothers. I told her I was sorry I hadn't been by lately, but that I would stop by before I went to Florida the following week (my stepdad was taking me there for 5 days). She said that was fine and all was well.
Once back at the hospital with my family, my dad said it was fine for us to leave, that not much would be happening that night. There was the possibility that she wouldn't make it, but also a good chance of recovery. I began mentally preparing myself for the fact that she might not make it, however, just in case.
The next day I went to my college classes and then headed home. I laid on my bed and did some homework while listening to the cassette of Elvis Presley's "The Million Dollar Quartet".
(It's fitting that I was listening to music that was more from my grandma's time than my own. To this day, that recording always takes me back to that day).
I got a knock on my door. It was my dad, my mom, and my mom's twin girls (who were 5 at the time) from her 2nd marriage. My dad had a serious look on his face. He said that he hated to tell me, but Grandma had passed on. He broke up as he told me. My mom gave him a hug. The girls had a look of concern. I was alright with the news. My dad told me that the funeral would be in a few days. My mom then told him that I had planned to go to Florida with Phil, my stepdad, in the next couple days. I thought about canceling the trip, but my parents were fine with me still going to sunny Orlando. They said I spent time with Grandma when it counted, when she was still alive. The funeral would've been a nice way to say goodbye, but I had never been to Florida and was looking forward to it bigtime.
A few days later, my dad said that his brother, John, finally broke down when he saw his mother's body at the funeral home. I thought about Grandma quite often while I was in the Sunshine State. I knew she was fine with me going and managed to have quite a good time considering the circumstances. I did miss the chance, however, to go to my first funeral. Little did I know that my only other grandparent would pass on almost exactly a year later and that again I would have to miss it due to extenuating circumstances.