my grandma died yesterday.
Not unexpected that it wouldn’t be long until she passed, but at the moment she went, we weren’t expecting it. To say we weren’t ready? I don’t know. Are you ever really ready for that moment that someone you love leaves you, even if you have known it is imminent for a while now? Ready, prepared, but still caught at a moment that it wasn’t expected. It was so odd.
I saw her not 45 mins before. She stays, stayed, at a home that was an actual house converted to accommodate the elderly a mere minutes away from where I live, right by the school my kids go to. If I am right, I do not think she left there the last few months she was alive, not even to go outside. She was existing my grandmother was, and it was almost painful to watch her in this existence knowing who she used to be and what she used to do.
She was 89 years old. She was lonely. She could barely see or hear and had no short-term memory, in the end even not knowing the people who had been around her for years, my brother, my dad and myself, even my mom the last few weeks.
She slept almost constantly, although she still got up in the morning, got dressed impeccably as usual, put on her eyebrows and lipstick, and jewelry. She was fastidious about her apparel and appearance and there are very few days that I remember my grandmother not being put together. She always drew her eyebrows in with a liner, and put on lipstick. Every singe day.
As she got older and her eyesight failed, there were days she would have blue and black mixed up, maybe one blue and one back earring or shoe, or even once in a while, her eyebrows would be drawn in blue instead of black.
She slept so much lately that it was rare to go to see her and find her awake, and although in the past she would insist that you wake her up and be upset if you hadn’t, now she would grumble her way back to awareness, and after a few minutes insist it was time for you to go so she could sleep. So I got to the point where if she was sleeping when I stopped by, I wouldn’t wake her, and I started stopping by, less than before, less than I should.
Less than a wonderful grandmother such as mine deserved while she lived out her end days lonely, and for the most part, confused, although her confusion was, it seemed, happy as she was talking to long dead loved ones and living a pretty full life like she once did, in her head. That was a blessing.
Yesterday, I had two chances to miss the last time I got to speak to grandma. The first was a brief thought that we would come back that way after dinner and see if we could catch her awake before she went to bed, quickly squashed by the thought that I had said that a hundred times before and not made it back that way at least 98 of those times.
Why would that thought pop in my head yesterday, I wonder now, as an unacceptable excuse for not stopping in right then? The second near miss was that she was again sleeping and I was hesitant to wake her.
Watching her sleep, I remembered the time before that when she had told my mother how wretchedly lonely she was and how she felt forgotten, and the two attempts between then and now and I decided no, she needed to know we were here, that we came to see her, that we… I, did not forget her. Not now, not ever.
I am struck by how close I came to not having those last few minutes with my grandma. Of having the last time I talked to her when she spoke of loneliness and being forgotten and asked my mother where her mother was be my last memories. How close I came to not being able to end that chapter of my life as it should be with warmth and humor and love present, the way the whole book of her life was.
How sad that would have been, how sad to have to know that she would have thought it just another day that no one remembered she was there.
She was dressed beautifully as usual and her eyebrows were the most perfect I have seen them in ages. She looked good and I told her so. She told me that she had worn red today because someone was coming to visit that liked red, but she couldn’t remember who it was.
That was the moment that if I had been on it, I would have known without a doubt that her time here with us was coming to an end, imminently. As it is, I did think there was only one person that I knew that liked red that she would dress up for and wait for a visit from. My grandpa. I almost told her too, but stopped before I said it. Why? I don’t know.
At moments such as those, by not saying what we believe to be true, are we missing the opportunity to expand our consciousness beyond that which we can touch and see and hear and smell? If I had said to her, that is sounded to me like she was waiting for grandpa, would it have jogged her memory enough to have her reply yes, yes it was grandpa and he would be there around 5, that she was going to go with him? She talked all kinds of crazy stuff but I would have believed her if I had asked. I wish I had asked her if it was grandpa.
I have so much I want to tell you about my grandma. Pages. Who she was, what she did, her strengths and weakness, how she was the best grandma ever. The force of existence that was my grandmother, woman extraordinaire, even if in the end she was as frail and fragile as a baby bird. I can’t. Not right now.
Yesterday, she was happy that we stopped by, happy to know that we didn’t forget her. Pleased at the little kids running around and amazed that she had been part of creating this whole line of people, that they were a part of her. She said she didn’t know what she thought about it, and she wondered what her mother thought about it all, in a way that hindsight allows me to say suggested she would ask when she saw her.
Undoubtedly, she was not unsure of her mother’s whereabouts as in the previous many months. She was not frantic about the whereabouts of my mother as in the previous times that my parents had taken a trip and mom wasn’t there every single day.
When I said something about it snowing in Colorado when mom and dad first got there she wondered who my mom and dad were. It was after straightening out the lineage and talking about my brother’s recent birthday and the fact that I am a grandma as well, when I was saying goodbye, that she made the remark about her descendants. The fact she retained that understanding of who is who that long, was remarkable.
She was alert and talkative and unfortunately her hearing aids weren’t working correctly so she couldn’t understand all of what I said unless I yelled, and she was becoming frustrated with the process and not being able to organize everything for proper consideration. I promised to tell mom they needed to be checked and now wish I had … done what? For what?
More time I guess. She was the closest I had seen her in a long, long time to the vibrant brightness that she was in days past, even though she still was a mere shadow of that woman. If her ear buds had worked, would we have talked longer, would she have told me things about life I needed to know? Would I have been the one with her when death came to collect her? It was not long after I left that she passed.
I have often wondered what you think as you get closer to death. Is it much the same as waiting for a baby to be born? You just know it will be someday soon and wait for it with some sort of inevitable divine acceptance, or do you just go through each day the same as we do at younger ages, without thought to the fact that any minute could be our last? I can see how we don’t dwell on such things at ages we in all likelihood should not be worried about it at all, but at a certain age there is no more denying the clock is ticking is there?
I believe that depending on how we live, is how we must approach the inevitable. A good life with love and laughter, full of all the things that make us humans feel …human, fulfilled and worthy, will bring end days of peace and nostalgia while it is the ones who live with regret and bad intention who will fear the visit of death to their door.
It is easy to live in denial that visit will ever come when you are younger. I think denial is the reason the elderly feel so forgotten and lonely. It’s hard to go see someone as they get closer to the end of their natural life.
For one, if you knew them when… well not only is it hard to see them less able, less alert, less..anything, but it is proof positive like a brick between the eyes that we live, and we die and one day, barring any unforeseen sudden expiration, you too will be old and deteriorated, and lonely and forgotten. Even if you aren’t forgotten, I imagine it is easy to feel that way.
My grandma certainly wasn’t forgotten. Her last days were lonely, but she has been lonely really since grandpa died, no matter who was around, or how many visitors she had, and that I understand oh so well. She just wasn’t the center of attention running the whole show anymore, merely a figurehead. But never forgotten. I know she knew that she wasn’t forgotten because I got the chance to tell her.
But for those two quick decisions yesterday, the ones that were not the norm, today might look very different to me, to my mother too. It is not for the departed that we grieve, it is for ourselves.
If the one who passed had a long full life, and both my grandparents had nine lives – you have no idea, if they are at the point where they are merely breathing, waiting for their body to give out, if their spirit already has, then how can you grieve for them? No matter where they are, if there is a heaven, or we just cease to exist, they are in a better place if they were ready to go.
It was not too long ago, it dawned on me that I don’t want to live forever, for what of life’s moments would be sweet or special, or magical or memorable if there was not a definitive end? If you would never die, how could you possibly live? The same as many people who live in denial of their mortality do I would think. ON autopilot, going through the motions, taking time for granted because it won’t run out. No, I am grateful of all things that there is no immortality and I don;t know if you come to that by living more in the moment, or if you start to live more in the moment and consciously when you realize that you will, no matter what, die.
If I had not stopped and woke my grandma yesterday, today would be unbearable for not only me, but for my mom, who was out of town of all things. Mom who does everything for grandma, goes to see her and makes sure she has….had all the things she likes and needs, who rarely leaves town because of my grandma, was on an impromptu, much needed few days away to see friends in Colorado where we used to live. As it is, my grief is…peaceful and accepting of what is, rather than regretful of what was, or wasn’t and I hope that my mother feels the same and does not feel any guilt or regret for not being here.
Two things stand out about yesterday, that my grandmother was wearing red waiting for a visitor, whom she could not remember their name, and that on the way home I very clearly remember thinking, I hope she waits for mom to come home, mulling the irony of the dedication my mother had to hers, if she should go while my mom was miles and hours away.
She took a cat nap after I left then her nurse came in to get her ready for dinner. She had brushed her teeth and her eyebrows were magnificent. The nurse says that she was getting ready to put her lipstick on when she gave a small utterance, almost in surprise and pulled back a little and stopped breathing. My mom called. My brother and I went and sat with grandma one more time waiting for the mortuary.
When people die, they no longer need their body and there is a distinct difference between sleep and death. I knew she was gone as soon as I saw her. The people who were in and out of the room, the ones of us who knew her, remarked to a person, about the absence of lipstick but her eyebrows were perfect.
I’ve thought a lot about what death looks like. Is it the resemblance of loved ones who have gone before so that when it is our time, we want nothing more than to go too? Does it bring one of them with it, or send one of them in its place?
No matter, which it is, my grandmother was ready to go, and whether he was there acting for, or just with death itself, I am certain my grandfather was there too and that surprised utterance was that he was there, that she remembered and that she didn’t get her lipstick on soon enough. She wouldn’t have cared about the lipstick too long though with grandpa there, and wherever she is I know she is happy again.
I am very lucky to have had 43 years with my grandma, and 34 with my grandpa. They were always present in my life, and huge influences of who I am and what I believe today. I regret things like, not getting to show either of them my book, although arguably, grandpa missed that one by a long shot, but he missed out on my 5 yo and I think they would’ve liked each other.
I can not wish my grandma didn’t go except for purely selfish reasons and I know she was ready, but there will always from now on, be that hole where grandma used to be, mended over piecemeal with memories, right next to the one where grandpa was.
They taught me much about life, someday I will tell you more about them. But they also taught me about death. This is the way things are, the way they go. It doesn’t really make it easier, but being with each of them right before they passed knowing that what my little voice was telling me I was seeing and hearing and experiencing was correct, gives me comfort and a small measure of faith that we will see each other again and allows me to think of death as a natural and necessary part of life instead of something to be afraid of.
And with that given me by my grandparents, each in their own time, I hope that I will live the rest of my life with grace and humor and approach my time with a measure of curiosity at what irony will present itself, as it seems there is always something in each of the family members that passed during my life. Kinda like the universe thumbing its nose at you, a little inside joke I guess.
I hope, one way or another, my grandma has found peace, and that my grandparents are together. I will never forget them. Someday maybe I will even see them again.
That will be a good day.