Updated: Dec 5, 2021
“Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.”
― Helen Keller
Last night my aunt called me to ask for my help. My grandmother, who I'm hoping is not tech savvy enough to even notice this blog post since I'll be sharing it on FaceBook with her excluded from people who can see it, has been losing her hearing for awhile but it has gotten to the point it is impacting her quality of life. If my grandma is reading this and did find it - please just log right on off of the internet because I don't want you to read about the year you lived through. It's hard for me to write about it, I know it was hard for you to survive, and I don't think you should relive it through this blog post.
So really, log off - and call me. I can tell you what it's about.
If you're not my grandmother, this post is a long one to fill in anyone who might wonder why we need help for her. If you know the year she's had skip to the bottom and know that we are trying to raise $1400 for hearing aids for her if you don't need to know how we got here. I just wanted to explain to people who haven't heard her story why she deserves the help she won't ask for herself, even if she's already been given help last year. Originally when I posted about this we were looking for someone who might have guidance on resources, but a friend commented that she'd be happy to donate and knew others would be, too, and to make a fundraiser. So she helped pay for a mini shoot that we'll be raffling off ... like I said, scroll to the bottom if that's the part your here for and want to skip the sadness because you know how this past year played out for us.
So. As I was saying she's been losing her hearing. My aunt said she's so frustrated (she as in my grandmother) that she doesn't want to leave the house because she can't understand what anyone is saying. To make things harder most people she interacts with when she's out and about are wearing masks (we're a pro-mask family, so the issue isn't masks - it's that she already can't hear people talking to her and masks make it impossible to read lips and harder to hear as well).
[I found this on Pinterest while researching why hearing aids are so expensive even with insurance, but don't know who to credit]
My grandmother has had a horrible year. Right now, this very moment, my Facebook memories are all of the house fire that burnt her and my grandfather's home to the ground this time last year. They stood outside watching it burn. They were lucky to wake up, and I'm thankful they got out alive. Not everyone involved did (multiple homes burnt). We spent most of December last year navigating that crisis. They had to start over. & they just kept talking about how they had each other. They were homeless for most of December (and thanks to the efforts of people we know and people we know through social media) they did get a new camper and get moved in right before Christmas. She had bought the twins gifts and they burnt up in the fire - and their favorite stuffed dogs that "lived" at her house. It was one of the things she fixated on.
We replaced the dogs. People from all over the world sent recipes and Christmas ornaments to them so that next Christmas (this one, in 2021) could be better. & my grandmother and grandfather would talk about being settled into the new place and excited for holidays since 2020 was so awful. Because what could be worse than your home burning down right before Christmas.
During the fire fiasco my dad came down with what we thought was pnemonia from inhaling smoke (he lives right next to them). He was in and out of the hospital through December & January. & then my grandma called to tell me she watched him try to walk twenty feet from his truck to his front door and have to sit down several times.
I called him and he couldn't talk to me on the phone. I wasn't asking anymore if he wanted to go to the hospital, I let him know I was on my way to get him. He wanted to go to Sylva first (he'd been admitted and discharged three times, twice while in AFIB and once without the medication they said he needed, honestly - I wrote them a scathing email nobody ever did reply to) and I told him we'd chat about it in the car. I had zero intention of taking him to a hospital that sent him home in AFIB and as sick as he was but I said, "Sure. We'll see." I picked him up.
He sat next to me and I held his hand while he nodded off, stopped breathing, gasped for air, panted, fell asleep again, and repeated. & I cried the whole way from Whittier to Asheville because it was hard to imagine not getting horrible news and even harder to imagine losing my dad. They admitted him almost immediately, and explained he was in end stage heart failure. I don't even remember the order things happened but I know they shocked his heart at some point and gave us not great news and I sat there wondering who would walk me down the aisle one day if I lost him and how the twins would feel losing their grandpa at the same age I lost one of mine. My grandma was a wreck. She was afraid she'd lose her son. Mission told us he would have died if he hadn't come in, and they have no idea why Sylva let him leave.
But she didn't lose him, and I didn't - and dad came home. & he got better. & we celebrated by spending Mother's Day weekend on a boat with my grandparents, the twins, and dad. My grandma and I talked about how important these memories might be if he got sick again. What we didn't know was it would be one of the last times we all spent together as a family and it would be one of the last times I took pictures of the twins and my grandpa. I wish I had taken more.
& then shortly after that trip this summer my aunt, my dad's baby sister and my grandma's youngest, had a heart attack, and my grandparents had to drive to Florida to say goodbye and be there when they took her off of life support. The same week that Florida's COVID counts sky rocketed. My grandma was vaccinated. My grandpa hadn't been yet. They stayed with family, they were careful, they only went to the hospital - and they caught COVID while they were down there.
I remember my dad mentioning they were sick and I got a knot in my stomach. I was anxious about them driving to Florida during all of that... and I had the worst feeling. They thought they were having allergies. I told my dad I hoped it wasn't COVID, and they came home. My grandma was a wreck. Her youngest daughter had just passed and they were both sick.
Because the twins are high risk we have stayed away from anyone who travels for the recommended amount of time, but I wanted to make sure they were okay and called to check in after my dad mentioned that my grandpa was pretty sick the day before when he saw them. I called on the way to take the trash out one morning and all I heard on the other line were gasps for air. I called back. Same thing. I called back. No answer.
I called my dad and told him I was probably being dramatic, but that I was driving there. I was afraid I would walk in to one of my grandparents passed out on the floor. I got scared halfway there and called an ambulance. But I couldn't remember their new address and had to describe to the person on the line how to get there. When I pulled in the ambulance was getting ready to leave because Pops was refusing care. So I walked in, and he was sitting on the bed trying to dress himself. My grandma could barely stand. & The paramedic explained they couldn't make Pops get on the stretcher without permission from him.
So, I said, "Hey, Pops? The ambulance is going to take you to the hospital I'll meet you with grandma, okay?" "Okay," he said back. "That counts, right? Please get him." - I wanted to cry I was so afraid they would leave him. But they didn't. They put him on a stretcher after he got dressed and I put my grandma in the back seat.
We drove to the hospital. Got them both in a room. My grandpa needed oxygen in the ambulance and had it in his room, but she was doing okay without it. They told me I had a few minutes to grab a coffee so I walked out, grabbed one from the lobby, walked back in and both of their rooms were quarantined off with red tape and signs that said, "COVID POSITIVE."
My heart sank. Fear for them. Fear I had exposed myself and might give it to the twins. Just, fear. They said I could pick one room to be in with a mask if I kept my distance. Since he was more sick I picked his room, and I wish I would have known then that I would never see him again. I would have stayed longer. I would have hugged him - like a really, big, long hug (and I'm crying typing this because I was just so afraid to bring it home to the twins that I squeezed his feet as I was leaving and now I just really wish I had known. I would have bathed in bleach after). Instead, I teased him about not answering the phone for me and then ignoring them again like that if he didn't want to be drug to the hospital again and laughed. He smiled. He promised he wouldn't ignore my calls again.
Later my grandma would tell me she was in the shower when I called and him walking to the phone took all of his energy, so he couldn't talk. He could barely breathe. & then he couldn't answer it again.
While he was admitted we got "okay" news. Then we got bad news. Then some good news. Then they put him to sleep. Before he went to sleep a nurse had asked him what his favorite thing to do was and he said, "Dig holes." She said it was weird for a minute and then he laughed and said, "To plant flowers for my sweetie." He loved to garden. & Nick & I have plans to help my grandma this year with her garden since he won't be able to. Then we got worse news. Then better than horrible but not great. Then okay. Then bad again. & Holding onto hope was during the rollercoaster that is a COVID patient fighting for their life is hard, but not impossible because there was enough "okay news' to grasp onto and hold onto tightly, and denial made it easier, and fear made it easier. So, we held on, tight. & he tried to hold on, too.
But then they called to say he had a heart attack and they'd let her in to say goodbye. & I haven't cried as hard as I did on the way to pick her up than I have in a long time... and I held her hand while she cried on the way to the hospital. & she said goodbye, and they gave her his wedding band.
But then he didn't pass, and for a moment we had hope again. & then they called her back to take him off of life support. & she grappled with that decision like anyone would. Less than a month after taking her daughter off of life support. & I don't know how she has survived - but she has.
& it's been hard to watch her grieve. & harder to watch her fake a smile for my twins and that smile to drop the moment they walk out of the room. My aunt, her other daughter, moved in with her last month to try to help keep her company and pull her out of the funk. That aunt noticed how much her hearing loss is impacting her, how much worse it makes her depression, and how much she needs hearing aids that work. But with everything that's happened in the last year none of us just have an extra $1500 right before Christmas to spend, or we would.
So we're asking for help getting them for her. & to do so we are creating a gallery of images (that will be linked here by Monday morning) that anyone who donates at least $20 will have access to. & we are raffling off a mini shoot at Lake Junaluska (that can take place from April 2022-August 2022). Every $5 donated is an entry. & we're hoping by January when her new insurance kicks in we will have that money. Because right now she doesn't want to leave the house. & a woman who lost her child and husband and house and all of her belongings in less than a year's time needs to leave the house. Needs to be able to walk around the grocery store or the antique store like they used to.
Or she's not going to survive all of the loss.
& the twins and I need her to.
My dad and my aunt need her to.
Our family needs her to.
The twins talk about the day they'll lose her sometimes because they've lost a cousin and they've lost a grandpa and they are realizing they'll lose more people. & I have to tell them that one day she'll go to Heaven to be with Pops, but hopefully not soon
I could link study after study about the correlation between depression and deaths in elderly people especially after the loss of a spouse, but we all know about that already. There's a reason grandparents pass closely together. Heartache is a killer. & so is isolation. & while she's isolating herself the depression is getting worse.
So at this point we really are just hoping we can do this for her. & that in the same way the generosity of others was a bright light after she lost her home, that the generosity of others will remind her that there are good people in the world - she just has to leave the house to be around them.
The Fundraising Part
We are raffling off a mini shoot at Lake Junaluska (I'll be taking those) that can be used from April of 2022 - August of 2022. It's 25 minutes and will include edited digital images logo free with a print release.
My aunt and I are also combining our favorite images (my landscapes, her landscapes, and images of animals like grizzly bears she's taken in places like Alaska) into a gallery on Sunday before I shoot a wedding and will be giving access to it for anyone who donates at least $20. You can use them as wallpapers, wall art, or make your own calendars out of them (you just can't sell them). We will each put at least 10 photos into the gallery, more I'm sure once we sit down and go through them.
To make donations you can send them to;
My Venmo - @Victoria-McFall-1 (it's a picture of me with a camera) please put "hearing aids" in the caption.
My Aunt's PayPal - firstname.lastname@example.org
My Aunt's Venmo - @KatmaiGuideTammy
& just let us know you want the link and/or raffle entries ($20 minimum for the gallery link and $5 per raffle entry).
PS; I know this blog post was heavy. It's heavy living through it. It's heavier for her than anyone else. When the fire happened my grandpa's A&W Root Beer mug collection burnt up, and because of social media a representative for their company sent him an anniversary set. That was my big Christmas surprise for him last year. & I wish I could buy him more this year. & as sad as it is I can't, look how happy he was this time last year in spite of everything he'd lost. He was the best.
When I thought my dad was going to die I remember thinking my grandpa could walk me down the aisle after I had a panicked moment of "who would?" - and I spent fall wedding season really appreciating the moments brides shared with their dads and with their grandpas and thinking about him, and one day I'll get married (someone remind Nick to mentally prepare himself) and we'll serve A&W root beer in his honor. Click here to watch why.