Well, folks, the day finally came. The day that 38,994 days have led up to. On Halloween morning my sweet Grandma, just two months shy of turning 107 years old, passed away. Peacefully, painlessly, and in her own bed. My Mother even said she had a smile on her face.
She was ready to go, trust me. There’s a reason they call it the “bitter end”. Boy, oh boy, was she bitter. I went to visit her in early October to give my Mom a break and to say goodbye. She was very weak and frail but her mind was strong and sharp. “What would you like for breakfast, Grandma?”, I asked her one morning. “TO DIE”, she answered grimly. I replied, “Well, let’s start with an English muffin and see what the day brings, okay?”
Mom and I managed to have some laughs inasmuch as is possible while you wait for someone to die. Every ten minutes or so we’d peek in on her to see if the blanket covering her was still moving up and down. One afternoon we had picked up a late lunch from Subway and we were both starving. We came in the door and Grandma was very still. Before I could help myself I blurted out, “if she’s gone can we please go ahead and eat our sandwiches”!? Mom shook her head in agreement as if eating a six inch sub with a dead body in the next room was something she did on a weekly basis. Just then Grandma coughed and we shrugged, laughed and ate our sandwiches. False alarm.
I’ve blogged about her before, she was an amazing woman. Strong, firm and sometimes frightening. A world traveler, a formidable Bridge player and an antique bell collector. Her optimism and eagerness to learn have always inspired me. You guys, she was emailing up until about a month ago. Up until a few days before she died she would enjoy her evening cocktail. We knew the end was near when she turned down her nightly nip.
It was Halloween morning and I was sitting at my desk at work, dressed as a scarecrow with full on make-up because I’m a dork. My phone rang and I glanced down and saw it was my Grandmother’s number. Abrupt stingy tears instantly filled my eyes because I knew what news this phonecall was going to bring. I steeled myself and tried to hold it together while my Mother confirmed what I already knew. As expected and overdue as it was, I simply couldn’t control the tears streaming down my face. I tried to keep my voice from shaking for my Mother’s sake but it was impossible. After we hung up I darted into the office bathroom to get a grip on myself. I burst out laughing at my reflection in the mirror because I had been transformed from a cute whimsical scarecrow into a maniacal Heath Ledgery “Joker”. My halloween make-up was smeared and streaked everywhere. As Dolly Parton famously quoted in Steel Magnolia’s, “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion”. Indeed, Truvy.
That brings me to my final lesson in all of this, my Mother. My husband has joked over the years that we Michigan women are a bunch of hard ankles. We’re tough and sometimes we border a little on “cold”, you could say. Not a lot of lovey-dovey emotional stuff. Where I come from there’s a minimum of sympathy and a whole lot of “have a cocktail and get over it”. Having said all of that I was overcome and humbled by my Mother’s absolute devotion and mercy shown to her Mother, especially these last few weeks.
Over the last ten years, my Mother has sacrificed her time, her finances and her new marriage to care for my Grandmother. Grandma remained at home and towards the end my Mom was flying up every single month to stay with her anywhere from a week to ten days. She took her to Doctor appointments, did the grocery shopping, did the laundry and cleaned her home. She cooked meals for Grandma and kept her company. Mind you, Grandma wasn’t always terrific company and she certainly wasn’t an enjoyable patient at the end of her life. My Mom might have been cursing under her breath, but I never saw it. What I saw was love with a strength like I’d never witnessed. “Yes, Mother, no Mother, you’re right Mother, I’ll do that Mother”, all with a smile on her face and grace like I’d never seen.
So while we may not be the over the top, hug it out, lovey dovey kind of gals, we certainly know how to love when it really matters. I’m so thankful for the example she has set. Besides being inspirational, her actions completely put things in perspective for me; what really matters in life, and in death. Thanks, Mom.*
*Mom, I’m really glad you married a younger guy because let’s face it, I’d make a lousy caregiver. If you’ll remember, Grandma’s little farts made me throw up in my mouth and run for the back porch. Especially when she farted on the way to the bathroom and I started laughing because you were right behind her and then that damn oscillating fan blew that horrific turdy smell right into my open mouth. Notsomuch funny then.