For ninety-nine years my grandmother has been a tough, kind, gentle, funny, fierce, wonderful woman.
For my whole life she’s been my model of forgiveness and unconditional love.
For decades she has missed her husband keenly but has found joy in her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
For years she has been saddened by a body that does less and less of what she wants. Now unable to read, hear, follow television shows, play piano, or walk well, she has still found a reason to see the bright side. She’s the champion of silver linings. Not Pollyannaesque. But genuinely grateful for her lucky and blessed life.
I saw her Monday. She was sleepy after a rough night but she still told good stories. She still fawned all over my son. She perked up comedically for the Acme sourdough cheese roll I brought her. She loves to eat.
Wednesday she had a major stroke. She’s had small strokes before. But this time her left side is useless. Her speech is slurred and swallowing is compromised. She’s very conscious and very pissed.
She’s ninety-nine years old; long-term rehab isn’t in the cards, even if she were cooperative, which, thank heavens, she’s not. Because the only thing that makes being that old any fun is telling people you refuse to do what they tell you.
I am grateful to have her in my life. I’m grateful for the ways in which she has and does bring my family together. I’m grateful I saw her two days ago.
I don’t want this to be her end, not because I hoped she’d live forever, though I did until the last few years showed how threadbare living had become for her. I don’t want this to be her end because this is the wrong ending.
Quickly, silently, napping in the sun in the family room is the right end. Quickly, painlessly on the car ride home from a remarkable family gathering is the right end.
Immobile, unable to eat or talk, unable to do anything well that means something to her? Fighting for a glass of water to be told that good old dashing water isn’t in the cards for you anymore? Thickened water, whatever the fuck that means? That is the wrong story. I want to write her a different story.
How selfish I am. A wonderful woman lives a wonderful life full of love, and I have the audacity to complain about her frailty at age ninety-nine? In a world replete with poverty and hatred, wars, inequality, wide-scale Othering that hastens if not caused deaths all over the globe daily, I have the gall to ask for a different demise for a cheerful, privileged grandma?
Yes. I have that gall. I am that selfish.
She told my mom a year ago that she wanted to read my book. It isn’t done. I told my her it isn’t done. You won’t like it, I said; let me finish it. She can’t read now. She could a few months ago, in the afternoon sunlight with big print. But now not even that.
I need time to make a time machine and go back and finish my book and print it large and give it to her. Ten years ago. Two years ago. Two months ago.
Two days ago.
I’ll go see her in a couple of days when hospice has figured out the details and she’s settled. When I stop gagging over the idea of thickened water. When I have some good stories to tell.
Because she deserves to hear some good stories now. Once she’s done high-fiving my kids.