Lunchtime Stories, An Epilogue

Two weeks ago today my grandmother died.  I haven’t really been able to write about it, because it’s taken me awhile to process it all.  Even though she was 97 years-old and had lived a long, full, life, and I knew she was declining physically, I wasn’t ready for her to die so suddenly.

I have written about my grandmother before,  here, here and here, and I have finally added her own story to this blog, here. Last March my grandmother fainted while my mom was with her. My mom called the paramedics and my grandmother was admitted to the hospital. They conducted all kinds of tests, including an ear-splitting MRI.  While she was getting the MRI,  I was allowed to stand next to her and pat her feet as she was slid into a tunnel of bright light and screeching sound.  The test was intended to determine if something happened inside her brain. In the end, the doctor’s had one diagnosis– she was old. She may also have been dehydrated. The remedy was for someone to be with her, making sure she was eating and drinking fluids.  But, the doctors didn’t know my grandmother. She was independent, feisty and above all stubborn. My mom tried to get her to move in with her and my dad. She refused.  We hired some people to come to my grandmother’s and take care of her. No way. She kicked them out. We hired Meals on Wheels to provide the food and a daily visit. She didn’t eat their food and barely acknowledged the visit. In the end, we all realized it was futile. She was not going to accept our help, and the only thing that would make her happy and keep her alive was to let her live her life on her terms. Independently. She said she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, yet sometimes it did feel like a burden, the worry and care-taking that was involved in letting her live alone.

About a month after her hospital stay we had a family meeting to discuss how we could take care of grandma. My uncles, my mom, my brother and I each agreed to visit her once a week and bring food and sit down and have a meal with her.  My day was Friday. On Fridays I went to her house for lunch, or I would go over after work. We would sit together and I would eat with her.  I would bring her food I knew she liked. Fresh pineapple, a pastry, coffee and donuts. The salt-free, healthfully prepared Meals on Wheels would go untouched. We would visit. I recorded her stories, and I would sometimes sneak a photo of her, because she did not like having her photo taken. She probably hated getting her picture taken as much as she hated doctors.

Even though I spent nearly every weekend with here when I was a child, it had been years since I spent so much time with her on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it seemed like an inconvenience to have to drive to see her and race back to my office, or visit her on my way home from work on a Friday evening, when I was anxious to start my weekend. But, I did it and with each visit, I felt happy about the time we spent together, and glad that I had taken the time to see her.  It’s funny, I thought I was there to take care of her, but really, I think she was still taking care of me. She would protest when I would get up to wash the dishes, throw out her trash or do any household chore. She would make me feel cared for, and I would leave feeling loved, and grateful for the time we spent together.

On the last Friday I spent with her I could tell something was wrong. She seemed tired and weak. Usually she was anxious to go outdoors and sit on her patio so we could visit. On our last visit I asked if she wanted to sit outdoors in the warm sun. She said she would rather stay inside. When I asked if she felt okay, if she was tired, she replied, “No honey, I am not tired, I am old.” I tried to take her picture but she wouldn’t let me. When she wasn’t looking, I did it anyway.

The last picture taken of my grandmother, two days before she died.

The day she died,  I was at work when my dad called to tell me that my mother had arrived at my grandmother’s for her Monday visit.  She found my grandmother. She had probably died at night, alone in her house, the way she wanted. I left work immediately and went to her house where my parents and my uncles had gathered.  I was sad that she was gone, but I also felt at peace. These past several months when I visited her, took her for drives, brought her donuts, those visits allowed me to have peace in this sorrowful moment. I knew that her insistence that she live alone, as challenging as it was for all of us, created an opportunity for us, to spend time with her, to care for her, and for her to care for us. As sad as it is to imagine her spending her last few moments alone, I know that dying in her own home was what  she wanted. It was the reason she had so fiercely resisted all our interventions.

She did things on her own terms. And so,  it seemed fitting that during the funeral mass, my cousin surprised the priest when he read a poem by Emily Dickenson, instead of the New Testament scripture that was pre-selected and indicated on the program. The organist missed her cue and the deacon kept looking through the program to see if he’d missed something. Even I didn’t know what was happening since I had never heard the Gospel According to Emily Dickenson before. But, when it dawned on me what my cousin was doing, I laughed and thought how much my grandmother would have loved that.  The priest seemed equally exasperated when, as the mass was ending, and it became apparent the priest wasn’t going to allow time for my prepared eulogy, my father yelled from the first row, “Wait! There’s a eulogy!” The priest just threw up his hands at that point, and I sprang from my seat to get to the altar before I lost my window of opportunity. The priest didn’t seem to know what to do with us, these grandchildren who wanted to do things in their own way. I know that’s probably the way my grandmother would have wanted it too.

My grandmother in earlier days.

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18 responses to “Lunchtime Stories, An Epilogue

  1. A beautiful “picture” of your grandma…in photos and words.
    Seems she passed on her independence to her family…I’m sure she would be proud. (Great story of her memorial service.)
    Your stories of your grandma has reminded me of my great aunt who passed about 3 years ago…many similarities of things I did with her. I’m stubborn, just like her. We would laugh when I’d tell her that my mom called me stubborn… like her…as if it was a bad thing, which neither of us thought it was.
    Thank you for sharing your grandma with us, Diana.
    I’m sorry for your loss and sadness at her passing, but happy for the memories you have of her and your times together. <3

    • Lora, thank you. I know we have “talked” about my grandmother and your great aunt before. Even though it’s sad to lose these great women, I would not trade the pain of the loss for the joy that we shared in our lives.
      Peace to you.

  2. I want to say something comforting at this sad time, but from my own experiences, sometimes the words just feel empty, especially when coming from a stranger. Just know you are not alone in your grief and I’m sure there will be many more light-hearted moments at this time, just like the grandchildren doing it their way.

    • Thank you so much Sophie. I know that soon the happy memories will overtake the sadness. I find myself missing her a bit everyday. I am so glad I was able to be with her as much as I was. I appreciate your comforting words.

  3. My dad used to call me everyday when I lived in Chicago. Oftentimes I looked through the mail or looked at the newspaper while he was talking to me. One day it dawned on me that he was old and I might not have all that much more time with him so I put down the mail or newspaper and went to sit in the living room to listen and talk. My Dad was around for several more years after I started doing that. Still, just like you visiting Grandma and getting those last few, great memories in, I will always be grateful that I listened to myself and stopped thinking of the time on the phone as an inconvenience and more as a gift.
    Your eulogy for Grandma was fantastic.Your Dad didn’t “yell” to the priest (smiley face), but I am glad he said something and you were able to read it. Grandma might not have liked the idea of a fuss being made over her with a church service and a reception, but the kids and grandkids have to get their way sometime, don’t they? ;) It was great for those of us left behind. We were able to remember Grandma with others who loved her-remembering good times and bad, and to reconnect/meet people who knew and cared for Grandma, as well. Even though she wasn’t my Grandma by blood, she took me in as her grandchild, treated me as a grandchild and loved me as her grandchild. I love her and miss her.

    • Thank you for your comment Amy. I appreciate you sharing your experience with your dad. I know how difficult it is to make time in our lives for others and when we do, we can sometimes resent having another demand placed upon us. But, as you said, when we take time to realize how precious our loved ones are and how fleeting the time is that we spend with them, then it we can put aside our own distractions and be fully present with them. It is a gift and I am happy you realized it and that I did too, before we had any regrets. I am also so glad you knew her as your grandmother too.

  4. Beautiful and touching. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Diana, my dear friend, I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing. I know she was very special to you and I always loved hearing stories about her. Even though I never met her, she always inspired me with her spirit and independence. Hang in there!

    • Jenn, thank you. I know we shared stories about our grandparents and I know that yours are very special to you too. I am blessed, as I think you are too, with the many memories of have of all the happy times we shared.

  6. I am very sorry for your loss.

    It is beautifully obvious your grandmother left a legacy of smart and independent people…She sounds delightful and I can hear the gratitude you feel for having had all the extra time with her.

    I too had grandparents who insisted on dying on their terms, in their own time. It has been more than a decade since I have been without living grandparents, mis abuelos, and I still miss them fiercely. My peace comes when I know just how much love they left for me to pass on to my own.

    Peace to you and your family.

    • “My peace comes when I know just how much love they left for me to pass on to my own.” I love that. I think that is how I am able to have some comfort too, in this sad time. Thank you so much Carrie.

  7. I, too, just lost my grandmother. And though I knew it was going to happen eventually, I was still stunned and deeply saddened when it did. I spent my whole childhood with my grandma but then moved from Michigan to Florida and rarely was able to go home and see her.
    Bless you for taking the time to spend with your grandmother…it’s so hard, but so worth it. I wish I had made a trip up to see my grandma before she passed. It just always felt “too hard” or “too inconvenient.” Oddly enough, just an hour or so before I found out that she had died, I had determined to take my kids to see her as soon as school wrapped up for the summer. =(
    Anyways, thank you for sharing your grandmother with us.

    • Tara, it does seem sudden when we lose someone we have always thought of as being there. Even though our grandparents age and maybe their health declines, when they have been a constant and important part of our lives, it seems like they will always be there. Until they are not. But when we have happy memories of the times we shared, then in some way their presence is still with us. Peace to you in this difficult time. Thank you for commenting, Tara.

  8. I just lost my grandmother this January. Even with all the facts of a life well lived full of happiness, it still seems like such a short amount of time that we have to really appreciate someone. I’m glad you had that window of time to visit with your grandma, as did I. Still, though, I wish I can go down to visit one more day.

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  11. I thoroughly enjoyed this! I lost my grandparents about 15 years ago, and I still miss them. I included this on my post about Emily Dickinson because it was so well-written. Bless you in your time of both loss and celebration!

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