Listen to the digital audio version of “Grandma’s Room.”
I can remember feeling the loud silence as I walked into the hospital room. The sight of my grandma hooked up to machines scared me.I didn’t think it would be serious. I had hoped I would still be able to make it to my school dance. I squeezed my way to the back where counters became seats and walls were solid support to lean on. “What happened?” I asked. “She had a stroke,” my brother answered me. “She’s in a coma now,” my aunt chimed in. With those words, the reality of the possibility of her death hit me hard.
Once I left the hospital, I hated myself. I thought of all the times I didn’t spend with my grandma. My friends and I heard a knock at the front door of my house, but nobody was there. I was sure it was my grandma checking up on me and making sure I’d be OK without her.
A few days later, my family decided they would take my grandmother off life support. We would do it the next day after spending the night in the hospital waiting room.
“Wake up early tomorrow. We all have to be in the room,” my aunt announced to us.
That night, all the adults were preparing us grandkids for the next day. I remember crying and the hopelessness that shot through me. I laid on the floor until I fell asleep. I slept in the small corner by the heat.
The next day, the walk to Grandma’s hospital room felt like it took forever. My heart raced, and I wanted to cry. When I entered the room, it was packed with almost 30 people squeezed in with the grandkids in the back while the adults swarmed the front hugging my grandma. The tears dripped down our faces. I watched as my aunts shrieked in pain. They wanted the grandkids to say one last word to my grandma, but I couldn’t. I was scared and hurt and everything felt broken, yet I couldn’t even gather the courage to say goodbye to her. Throughout the days leading to my grandmother’s death, I had cried only once or twice, but in that small hospital room that day my eyes flooded with tears and snot dripped down my face. My guard had finally broke down.
As I watched my grandma take her last breath, a wave of relief went over me, she wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. I reflected and saw how my family came together and to support each other. I saw the love that radiated from each one of us. I saw how raw and human my family could be.
It’s hard to talk about my feelings because in typical Hmong families we don’t express the way we feel. There’s a collective agreement to put family first before individuals. But when my grandma passed away, I finally broke the unspoken rule about feelings and spoke to my grandmother’s spirit and told her I was sorry for not speaking to her more. I allowed myself to break down and cry, something I don’t usually do.
My grandmother’s passing taught me to express myself, appreciate my family and to take advantage of the time I have. I’ve started to say what’s on my mind and advocate for my needs. I’ve also learned to tell friends and family that I love them and to be more open about my struggles with school and mental health. I’ve started to focus more on creating memories with family and friends by taking pictures and videos or going out on fun dates with them. I also concentrate more on school and prioritized my education more. Life is short, and there are always obstacles to overcome. My grandmother’s death showed me the patience and perseverance to take on anything.