When the End Is All Wrong

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.

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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.

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21 thoughts on “When the End Is All Wrong

    • Grandmas get a special bond with grandaughters when the stars align and both have open hearts. Mama relationship is often fraught with more details and more pitfalls.
      I was so lucky to have two rockstar grandmas. One died 20 years ago and I still miss her keenly. They both taught me so much about love, about amart women, about when yo compromise and when to hold the line.
      I wish a wondrous grandma for everyone in the world.

  1. That is so difficult to go through, for all of you. My heart goes out to you. I hope your grandma finds peace in the end and goes with the dignity and grace that she deserves.

  2. I hope, with all of of my heart, to go out on my own terms. It is a gutteral need/want… You are not being selfish at all, she was a wonderful woman and it doesn’t seem decent that this decency is taken away.

  3. My grandmother died when I was 8, and I don’t remember much of her. It’s hard to see deterioration, for sure, but even if she doesn’t get to read your book, she got to know YOU.

  4. I am in awe…I adore my grandmother…she will turn 94 in a few weeks and is permanently in a not-so-great nursing home after several bad falls and illnesses. She had a great little apartment at an assisted living facility that loved to do her nails and makeup and claimed she had the best clothes out of all the ladies there…they miss her. I miss her. She forgets who I am sometimes and then I just sit a hold her hand and will her in my mind to remember me…that little girl she loved and said I was her favorite out of sixteen grandkids. ..Everything you wrote, is me. It is my Grandma. I know the end is near. ..she cannot say what she feels anymore but I know she misses my Grandpa with unbearable pain…he was a champion…he suffered so badly at the end…but why? He was our hero. It wasn’t fair. My grandma would spit and kick and scream if she knew I arrived for a visit and her hair was greasy and uncombed and food all over her shirt. She would cry and be mortified to know grown male nurses have to pick her up like a child and bathe her. She would be devastated to know she cannot write a check or dial a phone number anymore…her two favorite hobbies…shopping and gossip. My heart aches for you and I am sorry to have vented this on a comment…I guess I should’ve blogged about it too. It just hit a chord. Thank you for sharing. Praying for you all…

    • Oh, do blog it. Because all that love and pain comingle in so many people who are watching a loved one sink into dementia. I’m so sorry for your long, slow, awful loss. Im glad you had someone who loved you that way, though.

  5. My mother in law died today, she had a stroke 5 days ago which left her paralyzed on her right side unable to talk with a feeding tube. She contracted a chest infection which meant she had to have an oxygen mask on permanently. Today they said that the chest infection was gone and that they were going to give her a permanent feeding tube and arrange her discharge. Well they removed all the machinery attached to her and her co2 levels started to climb so the family was called. In the end after a total loss of dignity caused by the stroke she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. For her this was the best outcome, she was a very active 80 year old who had lost her husband 18 months before and couldn’t have coped away from her home for us left behind it is sad but also a relief as now she wouldn’t be in a nursing home suffering from the damage the stroke had inflicted upon her. I wish we could have said goodbye but we live 8 hours away so wouldn’t have got there in time, she +wasn’t alone though as she had her daughters with her and they say she passed peacefully.

  6. Thank you for your writing. Today my grandma was diagnosed with Kidney Cancer. It’s the kind that take over, and for some reason, I found your article today…months after you had written it…and it meant so much! So, thank you!

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