My 91 year old grandmother -- my mom's mom -- died today. She outlived her husband, all of her children, and most of her friends.
She will always be an inspiration to me, and I hope that I'm as lively as she was when I reach 91.
She was a funny old lady, for as long as I can remember. She travelled around the world, and had wonderful stories to tell about every place she visited. She was opinionated, and stubborn, refusing to consider living in a nursing home even when her health was beginning to fail her. She was surprisingly hearty, though, able to live alone for the last forty years.
Her hearing failed some years back, and she resisted hearing aids for a long time. When she finally did get them, she often simply refused to put them in. Or if she put them in, she wouldn't turn them on. She had a pacemaker inserted late last year; and at the same time we got her a cane. One of the funniest things I've ever seen was grandma walking across her living room, dragging the cane behind her, rather than using it to support her weight! It wasn't long, though, before she needed the cane, then a walker. Shortly after that she was mostly unable to move on her own.
Fiercely independent, she would often answer the phone "I'm alright!" when I called to check in on her.
She woke up every day and read the Wall Street Journal. Then every night she watched television. She used to read books, but her eyes were too weak for that much reading these last few months. She was sharp witted, and very alert, up until the very end. She was a terrific conversationalist (especially when she had her hearing aids in!), and I always enjoyed chatting with her. She was intelligent, lucid, and insightful.
Monday my dad asked me to meet him at grandma's house to help him get her to a scheduled doctor's appointment. She was easy to fatigue, and got dizzy very quickly. Together we were able to get her into the car without too much exertion from her. The doctor identified a number of problems that, together, were more than he felt comfortable addressing. So we took her to the ER in order to admit her to the hospital.
Her blood pressure was extremely low. The ER placed her on a pair of IV drips which helped. It took about five hours to get through ER and into the hospital proper. The whole time grandma never complained. When she was finally admitted to the ICU, she smiled at dad and I, and encouraged us to go on home. The medicine worked to raise her blood pressure through the night, and when dad and I visited her Tuesday she looked, literally, 100% better than she had the night before. There was color in her face, and she was speaking to us (she was almost completely silent throughought the evening on Monday). As soon as we walked in she said, "I'm alright. Thanks for coming. You two go on home now." We laughed, but stayed there. Several times more through the hour she said "Goodnight!" to us, as though we were just on the way out. She didn't want to be a burden on us.
Then, sometime early on Wednesday morning, she woke up and started to remove the IVs from her arm. The hospital re-inserted them, and called my dad to inform him, and finally restrained my grandma's arms because she kept taking them out. My dad went in and spoke with her, and made her promise not to remove the IVs. She promised, and she kept her word.
Around 10 AM my dad went back to the hospital. Grandma said she didn't want any more medicine. Dad made the painful decision to honor her wishes, and asked the hospital staff to remove all support. He called me, and I arrived around 10:30. Grandma had been given a shot of morphine shortly before I arrived, so she was largely unaware of anyone's presence in the room. She was thin, frail, and her breathing was labored. The parish priest arrived around 11 and administered her Last Rights. That was one of the harder moments for both dad and me. Grandma's breathing slowed, more and more. The priest left, and we stood in silence, staring at this remarkable woman who had been such a wonderful part of our lives. Grandma lay, mouth open, breathing slower and slower. Around 11:20 her breathing stopped.
Dad and I cried quietly together. We'll miss her a lot. But her suffering is over.
Rest in peace, grandma.