Life and Death


Just after 5:30 on Thursday, I got the call. My maternal grandmother had passed away at 81. Everyone, especially her, was in agreement about her readiness to go. She refused food; her body became smaller and smaller. Easter Sunday, we returned from vacation early to see her one last time.

My husband took the children out so I could sit with her. When I asked her who I was, and if she knew “the babies” were there, she answered only with “yes.” She took a little water from a straw.

My mother, who lives a thousand miles away, arrived on Tuesday. I am so grateful she got there in time, and could hear her say “I love you” once more.

When I got the news, there was no flurry of activity. She had asked to donate her body to scientific research. We’d agreed to hold a memorial service in June. My brother and his wife, who live close to the nursing home, and have done so much for Grandma during her time there, would clean out her room the next day. It was filled with pictures, mostly of the great-grandchildren she loved so dearly. The nursing-home staff knew us from them, always greeting us with a smile.

Friday afternoon, I was struck by the cool spring air, greenness, sunshine and blue sky. My eyes filled up with tears. We don’t think of spring as a time for death, but now the spring would always remind me of her.

Grandma would put a cat’s welfare before her own. She took pride in working as a home health care provider, but neglected her own health. Despite her poverty, she’d always try to slip me cash, junk food, or household goods. I still use the ancient GE alarm clock she gave me for my college dorm room.

People tend to idealize the dead, but my grandma wasn’t the Hallmark-card variety. Old age and Xanax had mellowed an acerbic personality. She managed money poorly and relationships even worse. Before she entered the nursing home, we’d go out to lunch, and she’d fill the entire time with criticism of people I knew and people I didn’t. Then, I’d walk her to her car, which was stacked with so much junk she could hardly see out to drive.

Grandma was a hoarder—that form of obsessive-compulsive disorder that blights you with a need to keep everything, useful or not. We all offered to help her clean her succession of vehicles or rented homes—to no avail. Only the confines of a nursing home could quell the waves of clutter.

Now, she’s arrived in the Great Beyond, without a magazine or clearance-rack sweater to her name.

I hope that no one feels I’ve disrespected the dead by remembering Grandma as she really was. She was far from perfect, but I’ll still miss her. If only the perfect people were worth celebrating, wouldn’t the world be a boring place?

I am 33 years old. I currently work as a substitute teacher, voice teacher, and sometimes article writer. My husband and I struggle to pay the bills. Some days, I don’t feel my life has lived up to the vision of success I set for myself when younger. But is being successful really what it’s all about?

The Wednesday before Easter, I was at Disney World with our two sons. Not knowing how much longer Grandma had, we’d planned a call to the nursing home. My sister-in-law held the phone up to Grandma’s ear. I spoke to her briefly, then heard her say “I love you too” for the last time. An hour later, I sat on a stone bench, sharing a bucket of popcorn and some Sprite with our sons. My heart cried as I realized Grandma could never have such a simple pleasure again. I knew that the best I could do was enjoy it, and be glad for it. Soon, she’d be watching us from heaven.

The value of a life is not just in its own contribution, but also in the appreciation it instills for what we still possess. Love the life you have, friends.

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~ by elenastevenson on April 12, 2010.

3 Responses to “Life and Death”

  1. Beautiful and honest, lady.

  2. Elena, thank you for sharing so openly and poignantly. My heart is with you and your family. Nothing ever readies us or prepares us for the loss of a loved one.

  3. Thank you for sharing your feelings in such a beautiful way.

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