On October 19, 2012, I lost my grandmother, Dessa. It was the first time I ever experienced death first hand, and this week marks two years since that day.
When growing up, my brother and I stayed with my grandma quite often in Petersfield, which is close to Gimli and Selkirk. We would go with my grandpa to the local store and chat with the other residents, go fishing, and wander around Selkirk. We had pictures posing in front of the giant fish outside of the Smitty’s restaurant, and in front of the giant goose just outside of Petersfield. These weren’t my favourite times, though.
My grandma and I would spend hours flipping through the Sears Christmas catalogue. I would try my little best to help her make dinner. I would try to be sneaky and steal her mints, but she always knew. I would always set the dining room table, and my grandma made the best roast beef, perfectly cooked green beans, and of course mashed potatoes for my picky brother.
She was also a master at making cabbage rolls, and she had the best meatball soup. After we ate, we would always crowd around the table, pull out the dominoes, and play Chicken Foot. She was one of the only people I had ever met who still had a water bed, and I loved it. When I would go to bed, she would stay up late watching the CTV late night news, and I could always hear it from the bedroom. Back in the day, my grandpa was a truck driver, and my grandma had gotten used to staying up late waiting for him; she never broke that habit.
I was out with friends in July, 2012 when I got a phone call from my mom. She was insisting I come home immediately. I fought and fought with her, saying that I hadn’t seen my friends in awhile and that I would be home later that night. Then she dropped the news that my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. Not just any cancer, it was this rare cancer (I don’t remember the name, that wasn’t important), and it was terminal. They gave her six months.
Starting that day, we were driving out to see my grandparents almost every weekend, and sometimes more. It was easy to tell from day one that she was in pain, and there was nothing we could do about it.
By September, my grandma had stopped eating almost entirely. She would still insist on making dinner for others sometimes, but she would simply sit there and stare at her plate. She spent most of her time petting my dog, Sadie. Sadie would simply sit beside her for hours.
She would always ask us to come and sit and just talk with her. I was starting roller derby that October, so I would often show her pictures on my phone and tell her about how excited I was. She knew nothing about the sport, but she always listened and smiled.
One day when I wasn’t there, my mom told me about how my grandma was doing; she couldn’t remember my name for a moment. My grandma was asking my mom where I was, but kept blanking on my name until she eventually said, “your daughter!” My mom said she was frustrated by it, but just couldn’t remember at that time.
Then she was taken to the hospital in Selkirk.
She received high doses of pain killers and spent most of her time sleeping. When she did wake up, she would have small conversations with us, but this wasn’t the Dessa I knew my whole life, it was a woman in agony.
On October 17, I was visiting my friend working at Little Caesar’s and grabbing a pizza for dinner, when I got a frantic call from my mom telling me to head to the hospital right away. She said my grandma thought it might be her last day, and she wanted to see the family. My brother and I drove out there as fast as we could.
The second I walked in, my grandma grabbed onto my hand and squeezed it until I could barely feel the tips of my fingers. She started giving me her last bits of advice, telling me she loved me, and telling me to have fun with the world of roller derby. I don’t remember how long we stayed there, but my grandma held my hand the entire time, even when she fell asleep.
The next day, I skipped my university classes and went with my mom to the hospital, and my grandma was sort of right about it being her last day. She was still alive, but had basically been put to sleep with the amount of pain killers she was on. I think she woke up once that entire day, and it was only for one or two minutes.
My brother called me on October 19, saying my mom had called him frantic. He couldn’t understand what she was saying, he said, but we headed to the hospital.
As we walked up to my grandma’s room, I could just see my mom crying with my auntie trying to calm her down. We walked into the room and my mom managed to get out, “she’s dead” between her sobs.
I looked over at my grandma for one second, but had to look away. I didn’t want that to be my last memory of her.
I wanted to remember going to Grand Beach, going for dinner at Pete’s Place in Selkirk, helping her make the table, listening to her talk with my grandpa while they watched the late night news.
It’s been two years, and I still miss her all the time.
Rest in Peace Dessa. Thank you for helping to take care of me, for being a role model, for taking me out and teaching me things, for holding my hand and not letting it go even when you fell asleep.