Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's Left Behind

My maternal grandmother was born on November 30, 1920. She was only nine years old on Black Tuesday, but she remembers that day. Her parents took her to get new shoes, but when they stopped by the bank, they found the doors chained and panicked people on the sidewalk outside. I asked if she still got new shoes, and she said she did. She doesn’t remember much about the Depression, saying that her parents shielded her from whatever hardships they experienced.

She married my grandfather in September 1947, and had her first child (my mother) in November 1949. While in labor, there was concern that both my grandmother and her baby would not survive childbirth, and my grandfather was brought in to say goodbye, just in case. She delivered my mother via C-section, then remained in the hospital for two weeks, and in bed at home for another four. My great-grandmother stayed with my grandparents during that time, since my grandmother was confined to bed. When I asked if this long recovery was due to the complications she experienced, my grandmother replied that six weeks of bed-rest was normal after childbirth. I was surprised at how differently doctors saw the recovery process then.

I was born in 1976, and was close to my grandparents from the start. Since I was their only grandchild for the next nine years, they doted on me. My name for my maternal grandmother is Mema (Meemaw), and she was – and is – my favorite grandparent. For 90 years old, she has been healthy, especially considering her diabetes and high blood pressure. Her mind is strong, and we’ve only noticed it beginning to slip in the last two years.

As I write this, she is very ill. She was hospitalized on August 23, but returned home after two weeks. Mema was better, but not the same as before. On October 12, she was hospitalized again. I went to the hospital immediately, and talked with her while waiting in the emergency room (for her to be admitted to the hospital). I was able to say all the things I needed to, in case she took a turn for the worse. But she improved, and even though she was still experiencing pain and needed oxygen, she was moved to a rehab facility on October 18. Her condition has deteriorated, and each day seems to be worse. On Friday, she had difficulty recognizing both my mom and my uncle. I was delighted that she said my name as soon as she saw me, but then she started asking where she was, over and over again. Late on Saturday evening, she became combative with the nursing staff as they tried to medicate her.

It is apparent to the entire family that her time is short. She has lived a long, happy life (as she told me herself in the ER last week), and we don’t want her to suffer. Of course, this is difficult, but it has made me reflect on all the time I spent with her, and all the wonderful memories I have. I realized that, although I don’t know nearly enough about my family’s history, what really counts are the parts of my grandmother that will live on in me.

My grandmother gave me unconditional devotion. She bought me animal crackers every time I went grocery shopping with her. She encouraged my love of reading by renewing magazine subscriptions for me year after year. She cooked separate meals for me when I was a picky eater and didn’t want what the rest of the family was having (how I wish now that I’d tried her Shrimp Creole just once!). She made 24-Hour Salad and Chocolate Icebox Pie every time there was a family dinner, because she knew I loved them. She made Date Loaf every Christmas, just for me, and there was always a LifeSavers Storybook in my stocking. She never told me “no,” but she didn’t spoil me. She bought me my first pair of pantyhose, and took me to get my first contact lenses. She didn’t even frown - much less get angry - when I spilled bright red nail polish all over a set of white sheets. And she never told me that I’d disappointed her, even when my life was in shambles, and I was a disappointment to everyone (especially myself). I have her fingernails, and from what I can tell, as an old woman I will have her crepe skin and snow-white hair. And I have her name; my middle name is the French deviation of her first name.

Her life was devoted to her family. Our happiness made her happy, and as strange as it seems to me, it was all she ever wanted. She loves J., and never fails to say what a nice man he is. She sees the goodness in him, and I think it gives her comfort to know that I’m cared for. Her three grandchildren are all married now, but I don’t expect she’ll live to see great-grandchildren. As much as I don’t want to, I’m prepared to let Mema go. She’s told us that she’s ready, but what really hurts now is that we can’t do anything to ease her suffering. The doctor talks about “making her comfortable,” but they can’t. She’s not physically sick enough to have IV painkillers, but she fights taking pills. Two years ago, I wrote very briefly about euthanasia; then, it was an abstract concept. I believed it was a tragedy to let humans suffer in ways we would never inflict on our pets, but now that I’m seeing that suffering first-hand, I realize that "tragedy" doesn't even begin to describe it. It makes me angry, and it hurts much more than the idea of losing her. Mema gave to her family for the last sixty years, taking nothing in return. She doesn’t deserve this.

1 comment:

RoseAnn said...

I'm so sorry, Carol. The longer I'm alive, the more I realize that there is no easy goodbye to a loved one. A sudden death deprives everyone of the chance to say goodbye and a drawn out end never brings the comfort it might.

Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman and I'm glad you have so many happy memories to carry you on.

{{{Hugs}}} are simply not enough.