Saturday, May 07, 2005

Remembering Grandma

This morning I got word that my maternal grandmother had passed away. She was my last remaining grandparent and would've been 99 years old on the 29th of this month.

We are all as much relieved as anything else. She spent the last ten years in a nursing home due to Parkinson's and the effects of a few strokes, and the last few years had seen her becoming increasingly feeble-bodied and forgetful. There were times last June, which was when I saw her last, that she wasn't even sure who I was, although she had periods of remarkable lucidity as well. She didn't have Alzheimer's. Her mind was simply atrophying from age and inactivity. She was at one of the best homes in the country, but even they could only do so much for her.

It was no kind of life, at the end. I'd go visit her each year around her birthday (she lived in Connecticut which wasn't conducive to frequent visits) and I would usually find her in her room, hair coiffed, nails done, a pretty dress on, dozing in front of a TV turned to news or Animal Planet. She no longer read or participated in activities. She just dozed and waited with only marginal interest for lunch, her hair appointments and visitors.

It was distressing. At the end, she was not the woman I remembered.

The woman I called Grandma took me on my first plane trips and educated me in the art of airport navigation. She picked blueberries from the yard of her Cape Cod house and put them on our corn flakes in the morning. She took me to the beach and told me sternly that we were only there for thirty minutes, even though I was too young to know what thirty minutes meant. She walked into town each day to check her post office box (no house to house deliveries in Dennis, MA in those days). Then she would walk to the grocery store or the library. I lived for those walks to the library in Dennis-- a tiny little house with all its rooms filled with books. Grandma took me to visit her sisters on the Cape, and I especially loved visiting Pin, who had an antique shop and a rambling old colonial house with a big tree in the yard where we would all sit in the shade and look for four-leaf clovers. Every summer we found at least one.

Those were lucky times.

But all things come to an end, and the death of her siblings and my grandfather took a toll on her. She sold the house and moved into a condo. A few years later she moved to Connecticut to be near her younger son. When even the assisted living facility was unable to meet her needs, she moved into the nursing home. It was her choice. My uncle wanted to set her up with a nurse in his home, but Grandma had her notions, and thought she would be a burden and her grandsons would be a nuisance. As if those bookish boys could ever be a nuisance to anyone but a textbook publisher!

So she went into the nursing home, and we all assumed that she wouldn't last long. She lasted a decade. At her death, she was the longest term patient they had.

The inactivity eventually wore her down. She lost interest in the scheduled activities of the home. She lost interest in reading. Her last few years were spent in a sort of hazy limbo of dozing in front of the TV, waiting for something to happen. Not much ever did. She had regular visitors and phone calls, but it all melded into a sort of timeless sameness for her, making her lethargic and vague. Up until a couple of years ago, she could still come out of it, though. One sunny June day, Dan and I wheeled her outside to enjoy a bit of fresh air. I caught a butterfly for her and was startled at her agility when she caught it out of my hand to examine it more closely.

Sadly, such incidents were the exception rather than the rule. The last time we were there, Dan and I had a feeling it would be the last time. She was more vague than we had ever seen her, and wasn't recognizing even those closest to her. It was necessary to remind her often who you were.

On my very last visit, after chatting with her about my travels in Maine and thinking she understood, she had another one of her blank moments. Grasping at my hand, she asked me earnestly, "Am I your grandmother?"

"Yes, Grandma, you are. And I'll always love you."


Kyle said...

I am sorry for you loss. She was a link to your past and I know how much you loved her. Maybe there really is a better place on the other side, if so Im sure she is being welcomed with open arms.

Wil said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. This is never easy. It will take time to feel better, so don't rush it, but try to think about all of the good memories with her, it will help :)

Will be thinking about you...

Phoenix said...

I can only give a simple word: be calm and smile. she is know better she had ever been.