My Grandmother died today. She was 98 years old which, as it turns out, is probably too old.
My Mom’s parents came to live with us when I was in middle school. We didn’t have family meals together every night or all hang out and play games, but they were right next door and they were daily fixtures in our lives growing up. I think I probably took for granted how special it was to be able to spend time with them on a daily basis then, but I’m grateful for those times now.
I’ve always thought of my Mom’s parents as being old. By the time I was aware of their ages they were already in their late 70s or 80s. When my Grandfather died in 1994, at the age of 94, I was already accustomed to thinking of grandparents as kind of ancient.
I spent a lot of time hanging out with my Grandmother after my Grandfather died. We’d watch Law & Order and Murder She Wrote. We did puzzles. She taught me to crochet — a skill I’ve long since forgotten. She had a seemingly endless supply of snack mix and cookies only grandmothers have, and I was the happy mooch.
My parents moved a couple of times after my brother and I were out of the house — first to California and then to Washington state. But once they settled down in Gig Harbor, my Grandmother ended up there with them. I know they were happy to have her there, but with each passing year she could do less for herself and needed more help and care from them.
For several years this was their steady, indefinite routine. And then eventually my Grandmother’s mind started to go. And with it her ability to contribute to her care. And my parents could no longer leave her alone for. My Mom’s full-time job became looking after her Mom. And she handled it with poise and pragmatism like she’s done with everything else I’ve ever known her to do. But eventually it just wasn’t feasible to do anymore. And so the story ends with nursing homes and a broken hip and pneumonia and a frail old woman whose body finally gave out long after her mind had.
I hate to say that any of us are relieved that she is gone, but I think we all are. Not because we want her to be gone but because in the end her days were illness and discomfort and confusion. They weren’t only hard on her, but hard on those closest to her.
I’m happy that my Grandmother is finally at peace now. I hope that my Mom and Dad are now able to really enjoy their lives as well, free from the burden of being caregivers. They are saints in my book, for their patience and compassion and commitment to her care. They deserve as much peace from this as my Grandmother did.