She was so frail when I went back for my last visit in January. Even though Mom had found her a place close by, she had a difficult transition from her own place to a “retirement home” and she often had moments of panic calling my Mom desperately after Mom had just left. My Mom confided at times she felt frustrated to see her own mother, such a tough pragmatist become needy. Grandma knew she had become this way and lamented leaning so hard on my Mom. There was nothing wrong with her intellect. The day before I flew back to Tennessee we sat around and did crossword puzzles with her and argued over words and spelling. The last few visits home I was nagged by a feeling it was the last time I would see her. When I spoke to her last week on the phone she sounded tired but alright.
Thursday afternoon I got “the call” from Mom. Massive anterior MI. She was still alive. She had a DNR. We had discussed dying and funerals over the years. When she was still conscious, Mom told her how much we both loved her. Grandma instructed to her call a list of people. She was gone at 0630 AM this morning.
Yes. Intellectually I knew she had to go. Her body gave out. Considering she had smoked many years, quit, survived colon cancer living to her age was pretty good. Intellectually. Yes. I understand. She had suffered the last few years, not acutely but gradually. Her sight. Her independence. She became weak and tired. In fact, I told Mom and she agreed that her heart would just stop working.
But emotionally? No. Even though I prepared for this moment, I still feel intense sadness. Things get sad at work sometimes but you wrap yourself around professionalism in order to be able to be useful to the families. But it has been a while since I felt intense sadness. Tiring. It doesn’t matter whether you expect to lose somebody or not.It doesn’t really matter whether they were 8 or 88. They are gone. In my case I lost one of the few people in the world who knew me very intimately. Did I lose something of myself?
Maybe that isn’t so bad. I don’t believe in heaven and hell so maybe when she passed she took a little piece of me with her into the universe. And a piece of my mom.
She did not want a funeral. She wanted to be cremated and she told us the place where she wanted her ashes scattered. My mom told me not to rush home for a visit but when i came we would scatter the ashes.
Her name was Jeanie.
Her parents met on the boat coming over from Scotland and got married. Her father had already run away from home several times. She was the youngest of six. A few years before there was another baby who died in infancy probably from the flu. Growing up she had a German Shepherd named “Dawn”. Dawn walked them to school and met them when they returned. They dressed Dawn up like a baby and she went ice skating and sledding with them.
Her favorite brother Bill died in the war. There is a street in France named after him. He was injured and saved several other injured people by stealing a truck getting them in and taking them to a medical station while under fire. Somehow he disappeared. Another brother did some semi pro wrestling and boxing in the 1930’s.
She married a man named Cecil when she was 17. Cecil was the youngest son of a relatively wealthy man. He looked Tyrone Power. He was not a good husband or father. She had to steal money out of his coat to pay for groceries. My mother recalls him bringing her to a pool hall when she was quite young. Cecil had a heart condition wasn’t eligible for the draft and died unexpectedly of pneumonia after a fishing trip. It was war time. She had two young children and was doing war work at a factory like everybody else. They pretty much did not give you a choice. She lived in a slummy house owned by her father in law. He got the neighbors to spy on her. Once when her father came over to do repair work and left his boots on the porch her neighbors called the 1940’s version of child services. You weren’t supposed to entertain “strange men” if you were a young widow. it got cleared up.
After the war she met a man named Jack at a local dance. He fought in the war. He carried a friend who got his legs blown off from the battlefield to a medical station. the friend also named Jack, lived. They were life long friends. Didn’t talk about the war much.
Jack wanted to get married. Grandma did not. He had mumps or some other aliment as a child was was sterile and the fact that she had kids was great news to him. He got laid off from his job at the steel mill and went to the Yukon to work in the gold mines. Instead of proposing he just gave her a ring. She eventually started wearing it and married him when the steel plant recalled people. They had a good marriage. When I was young and my parents separated my mother worked weekends at a hospital and I spent every weekend with them for a few years. Grandpa Jack died in an accident at their cottage when I was ten. Grandma was still young, early fifties. She was devastated and only got half a pension.
When I was a teenager we fought a lot. When I was 15 I went out and got a Mohawk haircut. She hated it but defended my choice to my mother. She was so pragmatic at times she could seems harsh.
I lived in the same apartment building as her for several years as a young adult. Cried on her shoulder many times. Went for walks. Watched our TV programs. She even got me hooked on a stupid soap opera. When I went to nursing school and she got sick from colon cancer and had a protracted recovery I was her main care taker. I screamed at her surgeon who had allowed her to be discharged to early until her got her in a rehab hospital. I was the only person allowed to care for her colostomy. It got reversed several months later.
I moved to the US for work and right I was to return to Texas after my first visit I burst into tears sobbing fantastically saying I did not want to go. I think I freaked her out, I am not a crier.
She loved hockey, animal programs, the news, crossword puzzles, walking, she did volunteer work. We always had tea after dinner. She was a good card player and we made excellent euchre partners. When she was married to my grandfather she loved camping and dancing.She once got Wayne Newton’s autograph. She had an oddball sense of humor. She liked it when I sent her sarcastic cards. When my mom and I went to see Frost/Nixon we both remarked that she would have enjoyed it. I have a severely mentally ill friend who live din the same building as her and she maintained a relationship with her after I moved to the US.
She was never rich or famous. Part of the reason she did not want a funeral is that most of her relatives and friends are already gone.
She was not an ordinary person, not in my eyes or my mom’s eyes. When I was in university I took this stupid leadership class. Stupid because the guy doing it fancied himself a potential cult leader and encouraged students to be too deeply involved in his life. We had to write a paper about people who influenced our views on leadership, I chose my grandmother, Bugs Bunny, and I forget who else. He told me he did not like the paper but was forced to give me a good grade because it was well written. He told me my grandmother as a subject was “too sentimental”. I told him to go fuck himself.
My love for her was real and complicated but it had no reservation, we knew one another’s faults quite well, and had no agenda. I know I was damn lucky to have a grandparent around for as long as I did given that I am almost 45.
I called a friend to tell her and to cry some. She said it was a reminder for her to enjoy her next visit with her mother who can be trying because of mental illness.
Life can only be sweet and painful. Pain is OK. I now understand why she told me she still thought of her brothers and sisters every day all gone. Just like I will think of her.