But she didn’t want to go anywhere, and I don’t blame her. She resisted, she negotiated, and she bargained…all in an attempt to maintain the life that was so comfortable and familiar to her. After all, isn’t that one’s birthright—to be in the place they call home? The social worker came by one Sunday morning to meet with Grandma Shirley and us to deliver the news: In a few hours, she would be going to a residential hospice setting.
The social worker rang the doorbell, and I patiently waited in the den while “the meeting” took place in the other room. I listened in. Contrary to previous conversations, there was no arguing, no pleading, no bargaining. When the plan was announced, Grandma Shirley, in the most quiet and accepting way, agreed.
I think there was something in her that, at her core, knew and understood the depth of the situation. So with grace, she prepared to confront the next steps.
Moving into action
The social worker left, and I observed Grandma Shirley move into action. From her wheelchair, she asked my mom to get her favorite stationery out of the drawer and bring her a pen. She put on her bifocals and then called out to my mom to grab her checkbook from the kitchen drawer. Then she got busy.
I wanted to give her privacy with whatever it was she was doing, so I went back to my spot in the den, while my mom and aunt began to gather up personal belongings that would go along to the hospice.
Grandma Shirley was writing out cards to each of us, her grandchildren, telling us how much she loved us and how special we were to her. The notes were written on her famous lacy stationery in her pretty handwriting. There’s not much that I save or hang on to, but I do still proudly have her sweet note, ten years later. Enclosed with each note was a check signed with love. I thought that was so precious. She had important business that needed to be taken care of before anything else could move forward.
Life, and its timing, certainly is ironic. A few weeks ago, I had set aside time on my calendar to write about this experience. And lo and behold, it was just yesterday that the same beautiful scenario unfolded right before my eyes. Bill’s Grandma Isabelle was home on hospice care. And during our visit, it was very important to her that I pick out one of the many paintings she had framed on the walls in her house. They were all painted by “Granny” herself! Bill had already claimed his.
So in her presence, I chose the one with a squirrel peeking out of a tree stump in the forest. I brought it over to Granny in her hospital bed in the living room. Her face came alive and her eyes brightened, and we talked all about why I chose that painting, what the squirrel might have been thinking, etc. And then she reached out and held me tightly, close to her chest in a way that transcended words; it was like a nonverbal nod of appreciation for honoring her request. By having the grandchildren and their spouses pick out a painting, this, too, felt like Granny was taking care of important business that needed to be handled before moving on. It was an honor to be on the receiving end.
The irony of life
Back at Grandma Shirley’s house, I stood in front of the big bay window, staring out at the field across the street where I used to play kickball and have picnics. That childhood vision vanished quickly as I saw an ambulance pull up the driveway. Two uniformed men got out and they wheeled a stretcher down the walkway up to the front door.
What? I didn’t know it had to be done this way. When they entered the house, nothing about it felt right. These strangers and their large and “official” presence, deep commanding voices, and thunderous footsteps didn’t match the softness of my grandma’s house. And the wheels of the stretcher were getting the light carpet dirty. I knew my grandma wouldn’t like that.
I stayed out of the way. My mom and aunt wheeled Grandma Shirley, wearing her housecoat, from the bedroom and down the hall to the living room. From where I sat inside the den, the space between the rooms helped to serve as a buffer, allowing me to watch everything unfold from a safe distance as the observer. The big loud men helped Grandma Shirley get up on to the stretcher.
The scene was surreal. She would never again come “home.”
My tears rolled as I became witness to Grandma Shirley’s last moments in her house. She totally surrendered, obviously in quiet agreement with the turn of events. She had lived her life, raised her children, loved her grandkids, taken care of business, and now she was ready to go. It’s funny the thoughts that run through your mind. In that moment, I thought it would be a perfect photo op for LIFE magazine…me in the den crying, watching my mom, who was watching her mom transition into the final chapter of her life. Each of us with a deep compassion for what the other was going through.
The most poignant thing about it all was that it was actually Mother’s Day.
The fleeting preciousness of life
Once Grandma Shirley was settled in at the hospice, I had the privilege of being alone with her in her new room while she was sleeping. It was a gloriously beautiful afternoon in May. The windows were open, the sun was shining in, the gentle breeze flowed through the curtains, and the song birds enthusiastically rejoiced in the birth of spring. Life was all around! And yet I watched my grandma’s breath as she demonstrated another type of birth; another type of life just around the corner.
Grandma Shirley died shortly afterwards. And Grandma Isabelle died this morning. Two strong women who made their mark on this earth and whose imprint will last forever. And for those of us left behind…where there is joy, there is also sorrow.