I used to call her my Christmas tree Grandma. She had these bright green pants that she often wore with a bright red sweater. I saw this wardrobe for years of my life. We would watch endless slides of my grandparents’ adventures traveling the world. I used to love the sound of the projector changing slides.
She was a peculiar lady. In many ways, the typical grandma with warm yummy cookies, knitted sweaters and big hugs for all her grandchildren. She was a family matriarch that always gathered family together and did everything to keep the generations connected to a common history. She also never cared what people thought of her as evidenced by her wardrobe. She enjoyed sitting with the kids at restaurants making the napkins dance. She was an awful cook. Never used salt and made tasteless mush out of any vegetable she touched. She was kind, warm, accepting and a bit eccentric.
In the end she used to tell stories to us grandchildren until we would all laugh our heads off, usually about Blackie the family dog running away. She would smile at our laughter and then say: “That reminds me of a story…” and then tell us the same story again. I know more about dementia now than I did then. At the time I thought it was endearing, now thinking back it makes me a bit sad.
She died after a bowel blockage erupted shortly after my grandfather went in for a quadruple bypass. We all had said our goodbyes to him in case he didn’t make it through the surgery. I have always felt a bit cheated that I ended up missing out on saying goodbye to her. I was so focused on saying goodbye to him that it never occurred to me that I might lose her. My grandfather lived for 8 more years after his surgery, some good others not.
I have been reflecting on my grandmother lately. There is no mystery as to why. It is Christmas and the colour combination of green and red will always remind me of her. There is another reason, the last few weeks my husband’s 92-year-old grandmother has been gravely ill.
GG as we call her is also a quirky lady. She can be grumpy, opinionated and crotchety. You don’t get to 92 by being passive. She has authentic unfiltered emotions and this makes her wildly funny. She has not often missed an opportunity to tease me or give me a devilish smile not to mention occasionally call me inappropriate names. She is one of the lucky ones. While her memory isn’t what it used to be she has her wits about her.
When she was acutely ill we all pulled together and spent turns with her in the hospital. No one wanted her to go through it alone. She is a lucky woman to have so many people love her. We are lucky too. At the end of life, luck is a funny thing. It really depends on how you look at it.
The gifts of getting near the end of life is that you get to see what is important. She talks a lot about the past and people in it. She talks about the simple things like how good food will taste when her taste buds start working again. Mostly she talks about being scared of dying. She isn’t scared of being dead but she’s not looking forward to how it will happen. I can understand that.
End of life is something we often try to avoid. It makes us think of our own death and the potential of losing people close to us. I have worked with people dying of cancer, dealing with trauma and struggling with mental health. One thing I have learned is that most of us want to avoid these intense feeling like the plague so we miss out. We miss out on the journey and the victories along the way. Mostly we miss out on the deep connections that are forged when we are most vulnerable.
There are gifts in being present to our loved ones through their dying process just like there are gifts to the experience of childbirth. Transitions are always hard. They are also intensely intimate. We learn a lot about ourselves our loved ones and about humanity during these times.
People dying or near death are sometimes inconveniences in our busy lives. They demand our attention and our time. Depending on the person we either make room or don’t. That usually says more about us than them.
GG is getting stronger. We are hopeful that she will fully recover although I am sure we are all a little scared she won’t. I know she is. She is at home now and I am grateful for that.
Christmas is a time of celebration. While I can’t honestly say I feel like celebrating GG’s current state, I can say that she is worth celebrating.
**Note: GG can be a private person. My mother-in-law read her this post to make sure she was OK with me posting it. GG would like it to be known that she doesn’t remember calling me names. I think that she uses her age to conveniently forget but for the record I may have been asking for it. :-)**