Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Grandma

My grandmother is dying.

We visited her while we were back home in Ohio. She’s in an assisted living facility, a pretty and cheerful place, but she doesn’t know it. She’s past knowing.

She didn’t know me. She had trouble remembering who I was the last time I saw her, so I wasn’t expecting her to remember me this time. But she’s not recognizing anyone now.

She’s delusional, maybe due to the all the meds she’s on for pain. We couldn’t tell what she was talking about—things that weren’t there. Nothing that made sense.

I held her hand. She’s lost so much weight—she’s only 80 pounds or so—that her hands are skeletal. So withered and bony.

I held her hand and thought of how these hands used to hold mine. We’d go for walks on the farm, and always she’d hold my hand. When I got older, she’d take me shopping sometimes, and she’d hold my hand when we crossed the parking lot, even when I got embarassingly old for it. But I never let go.

These hands had changed my diapers. They had baked cookies, prepared meals and wrapped gifts for me. They held me and helped me hold open a book on Grandma’s lap—Aesop’s Fables, children’s poetry books, Sesame Street picture books. They pointed out flowers and kittens and family heirlooms. They taught me to make pie crust and Rhubarb Dream Dessert.

Now these hands, this body, are slowly wasting away. Her 97-year-old heart is still beating strong, but she’s not eating enough to sustain herself. She has occasional bouts of scary coughing, maybe the beginning of pneumonia. It’s just a matter of time--a short time.

I took my children to see her. I debated a little at first: Should I leave them with the memories they had of her, before she was like this? But death is part of life, and we are so insulated from death, in our age of modern medicine. I think of the “birth and death room” that old houses used to have, and I think of the statement of a friend, who had lost a child, that “you can’t control birth and death.”

And we can’t control this death. We’d love to see her suffering end quickly. Both her children and half her four grandchildren—and their families—were there over the past weekend, and we discussed among ourselves: Do we leave, or do we wait? She’s very close, but she has such a strong heart…

Such a strong heart.

12 comments:

Jennifer Merck said...

Thanks for sharing this journey. The structure of our society today takes aging and death away from everyday life. I think it was wonderful that you brought the children.

Rosa said...

You are absolutely right: death is a part of life. Not only a part of it, but one of the most fundamental components, as all life must eventually go through it.

This post made me cry. Your love for your grandmother shines through the sadness.

Bless you all.

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Heather said...

Isn't it an odd place to be. My Grandfather passed away 2 years ago around this time, Rachel and I stayed at the hopsital that night with him and my grandma, knowing the end was coming soon. A few years before that my other grandmother was in that place, not eating, sick of all the pills and kidney dialysis, hospitals, and pain. Before that it was my husband's dad and his grandmother. We have made sure our kids were involved, both in caring for them and in being there at the end. Right at this very moment a friend's father, who is also a friend of mine and a psudo grandpap to my kids, is at that place 5 hours away, and I am praying we get a car in time for me to get there before he passes-both to help her prepare (she is a single mom to a 3 year old) and to say good bye. It is hard to say goodbye but it is even harder not being able to be there. I praise God that you are able to be thee with her, that your kids are there as well.

Megan (FriedOkra) said...

As does the family around her. I know your prayers and strength and love must surely get through to her even though she's somewhere else now. You did a very selfless thing to spend time with her when I know it had to be so hard to see her that way. (At least that is how my very selfish and cowardly heart views it.)

Bless her and y'all.

Jessica said...

Oh, I'm sorry. God bless you in the midst of it, and her, and your family.

mama said...

Oh Jeanne - what a lovely, but sad, post. I'm sorry for you all. I'll pray that her transistion into Jesus' arms is not too painful...

Islandsparrow said...

It's so hard to watch someone you love die - but I think that it's very important to allow children to be there. It teaches invaluable lessons about hope, courage and love. All of these shine through in your post. I'll be be keeping you, your grandma and the family in prayer.

tonia said...

beautiful reflections, jeanne, as you walk through this time. i admire the way you are facing it head on in such a healthy way. it's so true that death is a part of life.

thinking of you today and praying.

Papa Bear said...

Sometimes holding someone's hand is all you can do. And sometimes the best moments in life are when someone holds your hand.

Amy said...

I was so touched by your post. Thank you for sharing. May God be with you all during this time.

Emily said...

Death is so hard, it is such a blessing though to know that it is not the end. Not even close! :) Your family is in my prayers.