In Memory of Grandma

March 24, 2006 at 4:31 am (Personal)

On Tuesday, my last surviving grandparent – my mother’s 90 year old mother – died. She survived her husband by over twenty years and for a while there we were certain she’d survive most everyone else in our family. As unfortunate as any death is, hers though, was bittersweet.

In 1987, while I and my parents were visiting NH we got a call from my aunt that grandma had just been admitted to the hospital because her pancreas had ruptured. Apparently her alcoholism had finally shown its toll on her body. Dad and I stayed behind to finish our vacation while mom hopped on a flight to Chicago to be with her mother.

Grandma survived and left the hospital with the warning, “One more sip of alcohol will kill you.” Now, nineteen years later we think to ourselves if only that had been true. Before you deem us terrible children and grandchildren you have to understand how her life did, finally, come to an end.

Yes, she continued to drink. Though often you would never know it but for tasting the glass of orange juice sitting beside her as she slept only to discover it was mixed with vodka. We assume this was the case for much of the nineteen years since her release from the hospital. And since, I’ve heard that the drinking could have been a contributing factor to her Alzheimer’s disease.

To my recollection, it was between ten and twelve years ago when the disease really started to put its hooks into her. Grandma was living with my parents after an unfortunate incident at her home in Illinois where a contractor took advantage of her financially. Eventually, she had to be watched nearly every minute of the day, for she would go for walks without us knowing. One day, to let my parents have a break, I watched her myself. For several hours all was well; then, ten minutes before my parents came home I got an earful from her about what a horrible daughter I had been to my parents. The tirade went on until mom and dad walked in; mom couldn’t take it and started yelling back, defending me. I tried to calm mom by telling her it was okay… that I know grandma didn’t know what she was saying… that it was just the disease talking. Mom understood, deep in her heart, but it was heart wrenching for her to hear her own mother insulting not only her granddaughter, but the way her own daughter raised her child.

Several years ago, after caring for her became a full time job – physically and emotionally – grandma had to be moved to a nursing facility. I think it broke my mom and aunt’s hearts to do it; at that point they realized she’d never go ‘home’ again. Though the physical care became the burden of the nursing homes, emotionally, my mom and aunt still had a mother with Alzheimer’s who they could connect with less and less with each visit. The toll the stress took on my mom was evident in her visits and phone calls with me. I heard of the photographs she’d shown grandma, some bringing a flush of response, many others a stare into space. I heard of how her eating habits declined and subsequently her weight.

For probably three years – maybe more – grandma lived purely by existing rather than by living. We all agreed that the turmoil she was going through had to end – and hoped it would end sooner, rather than later. Both my mom and aunt dealt with their own turmoil of wondering if grandma was able to understand what was going on but was unable to interact – as we often hear of stroke victims. Essentially, they watched her slip further and further into the grip of Alzheimer’s, unable to express how she felt.

We tease a bit within the family that she was just a stubborn Irish woman. In her last week, she lived for five days without food or water. In her last months she went in and out of decline states several times. Through her life, we recall, she had the death grip – one that made us all wish we had her upper body strength. She never wanted to let go. We thank God for the DNR she had set up with my family’s assistance.

On Tuesday at approximately 2:15 am, Grandma passed away peacefully after a long and arduous battle with Alzheimer’s and life.

We love you and will miss you, Lois.

All my love,

E

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