Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Grandma

My Grandma is dying. I sat on her bed yesterday and held her hand, listening to her labored breathing and watching her eyebrows rise in response to our voices. When we arrived, I leaned over her and said, “Grandma, it’s Martha, I am here and this is little Evie.” She opened her eyes, looked right at Evie and said, “Happy Birthday.” It was barely audible. It was special because Grandma is not talking much anymore. But we heard it. Of course it is not Evie’s birthday, but her birthday is only a month and a half away and Grandma had never met her before yesterday.

Poor Hannah understood what was happening to Grandma. My sister found Hannah crying in the living room when we had asked her to come in for a picture with Grandma. She talked with her and Hannah seemed to understand that soon Grandma will be at home in Heaven. We try to make it sound so simple and easy but it never is. It is a goodbye that has no earthly hello; it is beyond our capacity to comprehend. Yet somehow Hannah has found her peace with it. We talked again tonight and she seems to be doing okay with the whole idea. Last year at Aunt Barbara’s funeral I think she was just starting to put it all together. She was only six at the time but when they carried the coffin out of the small church, she had turned to me and asked, “What is in that box, Mommy?” I told her that is was Aunt Barbara’s body, that her spirit was gone to heaven. So confusing. Not just to a six year old, but still to me. I just pretend to understand it. Don’t we all?
Eli just turned six and yesterday he seemed more at ease with being by his Great Grandma. He came into the room a little timidly. But he came up close to Grandma’s bed and held her hand even though she could not really respond to him. I can’t tell how much he understands about death. He uses it as a punch line a lot which is disturbing me lately and I know Jeremy has talked to him about not doing that but it is his age, his stage in development to explore the idea of mortality. Maybe being near and holding Grandma’s hand helped him to see that death is not a great punch line to immature jokes, but something that is hard and sad and complex. Maybe. I don’t really know what he took from the experience. I was Eli’s age when my Grandpa died from a heart attack. I remember feeling quite adrift and confused. Feeling that at one moment I understood everything and the next I hadn’t a clue.
And sweet baby Evie came in and out of Grandma’s room with ease although she would become visibly uncomfortable when she looked at Grandma, I guess she too could tell that something was happening, that Grandma was not feeling well. She heard Grandma coughing and said, “GG need water!” (they call their Great Grandma’s GG for short). She was very insistent that we should get GG some water. She said, “I vuv u GG!” (I love you).
Once I re-introduced myself to Grandma upon entering her room again and she opened her eyes and said, “Hello sweetie.” Reminded me of being a little girl coming into the kitchen at camp and seeing her sitting on the edge of her stool, peeling carrots to make muffins for breakfast.
We had dinner with my Aunt who has dedicated these last years of her life to caring for Grandma around the clock and is already having a hard time adjusting to impending freedoms. I know it will be a difficult journey for her. One for which she is owed all of our support and encouragement after all that she has done for us in caring for Grandma all these years. She put on a fabulous meal and we had a good time talking and telling our favorite stories about Grandma. I wanted to hear her tell about Grandma and her sister starting a fire in their alley as little girls. I told about getting up early at camp when she and Grandpa would take us out for breakfast. I would get dressed quickly so I could go and watch her brush her LONG beautiful hair and then twirl it up into a pretty bun and pin it with all those hairpins that we would find for weeks after she had visited us. I like to think about her being madly in love with Grandpa and going out to San Diego to marry him before he went off to serve in the Marines in WWII. I remember her telling us about smoking with her friends out behind the cabin as a teenager. She sure was a spunky lady! She made me my first tea when I was four and I felt so special. She gave me a beautiful blue velveteen skirt with pink and purple and green ribbons on it for my sixth birthday and it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen.
When I went to tell Grandma good-bye one last time, I struggled to hold back tears as my sister and I sat on either side of Grandma’s bed, holding hands across Grandma and each holding Grandma’s hands. I know Grandma knows she is dying but the reality of it is still something that seems so surreal. Does death ever become something ordinary? It is a necessary part of life and yet we never ever get used to the idea of death. Kids joke about it in the attempt to reconcile themselves to its existence in their lives. I myself knew that Grandma was getting older and was not in the best of health and yet still death is not something that I am prepared to deal with. I wanted to say the 23rd Psalm by her bedside but I could not get past saying it in my head over and over and over. I wanted to sing the benediction for her but could not get it past my lips. I felt weakened by the nearness of an ending that I did not want to recognize. And yet I knew that I had to say good bye. The lump in my throat was too large. Evie came running in, looking for me. I asked her to say good-bye to GG, and she did. She said, “bye bye, bye bye, bye bye GG, I vuv u!” I could not hold back the tears. Death makes no sense. Even to me.
Grandma is still holding on. She has more visitors coming. Her newest Great Grandchild may not get there until Wednesday. Her youngest child, my Uncle, will come on Monday. Her little sister will get there on Wednesday.
Grandma Susan (yes, that is her last name) is my last living grandparent. I love her and I will miss her.


  1. Thank you, Martha. And thank you for bringing your children to see Grandma.
    (Also, what excellent writing, e.g. "It is a good-bye that has no earthly hello.")

  2. My dear Grandma has passed away. My eyes sting from the tears but I know that she is happy in the arms of her Heavenly Father.

  3. Interestingly, two years and ten days later, I attended the birth of a baby who was named Linnea, like my sister and Grandma (actually her middle name, but one she used more than Edith).