The last year of my great-grandmother's life was tough. She had suffered a ruptured bowel, and had emergency surgery. They resected what was left of her large intestine, and thankfully, she would not need a colostomy. When she was released, she was still weak, and needed Meals on Wheels, a service that delivered food to people who couldn't leave their home and had difficulty cooking for themselves. She also needed someone to get her groceries, and take her to doctors appointment for follow up exams. As I was not employed at the time, I performed much of this labor of love.

My great-grandmother had to be taken off of her cumadin, a blood thinning agent, for the surgery and the recovery from the surgery. She was on cumadin to prevent stroke. They had to give her whole blood to give her enough hemoglobin to clot. When she was sufficiently healed, she was back on the cumadin. She required blood tests regularly to check her cumadin levels. When she was still unable to drive herself, I took her to those appointments as well.

After a couple months, she had a blood test and received a call from her doctor. Her blood was too thin, she could go the ER then, or she could go to the doctor the next day. However, if she had any bleeding problems, she was to call 911 and be transported to the hospital.

Unfortunately, she developed rectal bleeding. She was taken by the ambulance to the hospital where she would spend the last months of her life. I think this was about the time she lost the will to live. She wouldn't eat, get up to walk, or cooperate with the physical therapist. Eventually, she had a stroke.

She began slipping, being unable to talk, hear, or see, and eventually fell into a coma later that day. She had a living will, and she did not want heroic measures taken to extend her life if it was likely she would not recover, or it was probable she would be in a vegetative state. The Do Not Resuscitate was put on her chart, as her condition was terminal.

The next day, my grandparents and my younger uncle went to pick up my great-grandmothers other son (my grandfather's brother) from the airport, as he lives on the East Coast, and we're in Iowa. As they were picking him up and getting dinner, my grandmother started slipping away fast. I had stayed at the hospital, to make sure she wasn't alone when she died. I sat by her bedside, talking to her, telling her that I loved her, and holding her hand. First, her breathing became irregular, with her only gasping every few seconds. A nurse came by to check, and I told her this. After the nurse left, she eventually stopped breathing. I went and got a nurse. First they listened to her heart with a regular stethoscope. When her heartbeat became too faint to be detected with a standard stethoscope, they used an electronic Doppler stethoscope, which I could hear through it's speaker. As I sat by her bedside, I heard her final, slow heartbeat through the Doppler stethoscope. I looked up at the nurse, my eyes and face conveying a question I thankfully didn't have to vocalize. Yes, the nurses nod told me, she had passed.

That day taught me many things. I was given an added appreciation for life as well as death. I found out how arrangements for the deceased are handled when they pass away at a hospital. I also learned a far most important lesson. You see, as she lied in a coma on that hospital bed, I went to a sitting room and prayed. I prayed for God to end her life swiftly and mercifully. There comes a time when a person is no longer living, but merely existing, and its time for them to be able to depart this earthly plane. My faith, as well as hers, tell us that our spirit goes to a better place when we die. I knew she was ready to meet her creator. The only hope we had at that point was that she would meet Him soon.

The most important life (and death) lesson I learned that day was this: Sometimes, it's okay to pray for someone to die.

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