Stopping Death

I think of so many things when it comes to this topic, but mostly it’s about the death of my Grandmother. I remember her last hours, the last of which I fled. Not because I was fearful, but because I had excuses—okay—maybe I was a little afraid.

I think of things I should have said/asked in her last hours/minutes of life. I performed the perfunctory obligations—called her son—my absent uncle—to let her have one last conversation with him, etc.

I think of all the decisions I made for her, to her, that impacted her final days. There was the time she hovered near death. They wanted to remove all supports and let her slide away.

I railed against that idea, and said, “She’s strong. She will pull out of this.”

She did. Everyone—family members, staff at the nursing home, her doctor—wanted to let her die. I was stunned. My Nana was strong and sharp. Her body was frail, though. She was 100 years old. When she drifted back into the here-and-now, I said,

“I missed you.”

Always the jokester, she said, “That must mean you like me.”

“Like you? I love you!!” I exclaimed.

I think when one is 100-years-old and poor, people figure it’s time to die. Why live on the system? She’d had a good, long life. But I loved her. I held on.

I think about the joy on her face as she came out of her death rattles long enjoy to positively enjoy one last phone call with her son. When she was done, she fell back into her stupor—slack-jawed and incoherent—and dissed me. She was tired, but I was not tired of having her around.

I think about those final hours when I came to realize there was something at which I would always fail:

Stopping Death.

What follows is an earlier post I wrote about my grandmother shortly after her death 10-years ago.  A few thoughts might repeat.

The Prodigal Granddaughter Returns

My grandmother lived 100 years. I knew her for only a fraction of those years. I can only speak for those years I was involved with her. My life took me in a different direction.

That direction wasn’t fed merely by the differences between us – there was an animosity I fed on for years, I never forgave my grandmother for what I remembered as her stiff, aloof demeanor when I was a child, and for other perceived wrongs, I carried with me into late adulthood.

Although l did not speak to my grandmother, the time came that l checked on her daily through my mother. She was, after all, my grandmother. I had a sense of responsibility towards her. There was no love involved. My grandmother was from another time, and I often describe her as a character out of a Jane Austen book. She was a proper lady.

What I didn’t know was that the sense of duty and responsibility I experienced was attributable to her. I was my grandmother’s granddaughter.  But they can be exclusive from love and can require no concern.

I became those things for my grandmother that she couldn’t do for herself. I became her legs and arms, and when her legs failed her.  When they bound her to a chair, I protested.  Through becoming an extension of her physical self, I began to understand her.  She had a fierce pride that railed against being so limited that often manifested itself through impatience with me.  I learned to reflect that impatience with quiet patience most times.

I brought her foods not readily served in the nursing home.  I fed her when her hands became too crippled for her to enjoy each bite.  We joked about how she had fed her babies, and now her babies must feed her as she acknowledged a return to helplessness with humor.

But there was always a snap of pride in her eyes that told me it hurt her to lose her ability to care for herself. Still – she held herself like the lady she was, sometimes instructing me to close the door so that no one could see her being fed.

I couched my help in the words, “You would do this for me.”

I believe that with all my heart.

She had humor with a quick twist.  She was a master of one-liners that made me laugh even in difficult times.  She poked fun at herself and others.  One day I explained to her she was hallucinating because of antibiotics and backed myself up by saying it was even in her chart.

”I’m surprised they could spell it,” she quipped.

And then there was a time when she seemed to leave me entirely through antibiotic dementia for days. The moment finally came when I walked into her room and saw recognition in her eyes.

”I missed you,” I said as I sat on the edge of her bed and took her hand

“I’m glad you missed me,” she said with a smile. “That must mean you like me.”

“Like you? I love you,” I declared.

I am also cut of my grandmother’s cloth when it comes to being stubborn.  We came to learn together the meaning of the adage: Charity begins at home.

Although my grandmother’s works of charity are far, far greater than mine; our charity of thought, for years, never extended to what should have been the most important people in our lives: each other.  We lamented over not having picked up the phone and trying to iron out our differences sooner. We took comfort in the love we were able to enjoy for the days we had left.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that we are all human and that the human condition plagues us with inadequacies no matter what we accomplish. But that very condition allows us to change and to grow no matter how old we become, and that is a gift that can never be taken from us.

It went as she wished: A small group gathered for her funeral. She had instructed my mother to wait in the car while she made all her arrangements for her funeral in I995.  She slipped quietly from this world into death. It is such a little thing to be honored in death.

Three years ago, I couldn’t tell you anything about Lena Clapp. .But now I can tell you that I am proud to be Lena Clapp’s grand-daughter.  As I look at the pictures that I have of my grandmother, I’m glad they honored her in life.

So the prodigal granddaughter returned, but it was not earthly wealth I squandered; it was emotional wealth. My only consolation is that I returned at a time when she needed me most

I love you, Nana, and I will always miss you.

Copyright 2017 Joyce Bowen


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