Thursday, July 16, 2009

Living and Dying

On July 30, 2008, my father's father died.

Yesterday, nearly a year later, I went to visit my father's mother as she lay dying. Grammy has been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for several years. Recently, she had a bout of Pneumonia and, it seems, never fully recovered. Currently, she is being kept as comfortable as possible while the inevitable takes it's course.

When I received the phone call yesterday, I struggled briefly with whether or not to go visit her. I wondered, might it be better if I remember her as she was? Also, I am a grandchild, not a child, might it not be my place? I decided to go, among other reasons, because not everyone has the opportunity to be with their loved ones at such a time.

Upon my arrival, things were not good. Grammy was in pain and her morphine shot was not ready. There were others in the room, but I stood at the end of the bed and rubbed her feet through the covers. When the nurse arrived, I left to make more space in the tiny room. A little while later, my father and I went in to sit by her. Soon after, my brother arrived and joined us. She was resting seemingly comfortably with her eyes closed. I readjusted the cool cloth on her forehead and ran a damp cloth over her face and neck. Her skin and hair were still soft and smooth as ever. I whispered to her a bit and kissed her on the cheek before I left.

Maybe it is "inappropriate" to share such intimate details, but death is a part of life that we rarely talk about and I think we should be more open about it.

Sitting by Grammy's bed, she looked so small and I tried to imagine her as a child. Though I know her as a grandparent, there is so little I know about her as a person. I remember her as matriarch, always at the center of family gatherings. Her laugh. The taste of her Lemon Meringue Pie. The woman who took our family in when we needed a place to stay and food in our bellies. Brooches, scarves, and aprons at the center of her wardrobe. Picking blueberries on 4th of July.

I know the story of how she met my grandfather. I know about her sister Katherine (died young of cancer) and her brother Joe (died in the War). I know that she spent her first years in Pepperell, Massachusetts. She didn't get her driver's license until she was in her forties. When her kids were grown and my grandfather retired, she started a daycare in her home for school teachers' children.

So many bits and pieces make up a life. For everything I know and can remember, I wish I knew more.

In high school, I had to interview an older member of my family and I chose Grammy. I want to go dig out that interview.

I wish I took the time to get to know her better. The woman lying in the bed. My grandmother.

She is still with us, but it is only a matter of days. She will remain with us, even when her breathing ceases and her heart muscle gives out. Her heart, her family, still beats strongly. That I know for sure.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your Grandmother! I'm sorry she's not doing well, Alzheimer's is terrible disease.

  2. Aww *hugs. My mother went through a long illness before she died so I have some idea what you're feeling. It's different for everybody so I won't say I "know how you feel", that somehow diminishes your feelings. But I have an idea. I hope she doesn't suffer. I'd hate for you to see that and hold onto that memory. I also think if you want to visit her you should, it is in no way inappropriate!

  3. You wrote a lovely memorial for your gramma. You are right, she lives on in all you.


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