Monday, December 29, 2008

Rest in Peace Nanny

Christine and Nanny, July 2007

When we visited her in September I knew it would be the last time I'd see my grandmother alive, or perhaps by a long shot, if she went on to live in a nursing home and I went to visit her, it would be the last time I'd be staying in her home with her still living there.

I had recognized the signs that she was dying, the slow death of a person who has no acute medical problems but is 'elderly and frail' and whose body was slowing letting go. I saw the symptoms that her systems were shutting down. I felt she needed hospice care or even a nursing home admission in order to give her the supervision, nutrition, and pain relief I felt she needed. That was my opinion and I was not her caregiver nor was it a role I was able to take on, especially given the fact that we live 500 miles away from each other and that she wanted to die in her own home, not in mine.

On that last trip, in addition to journaling my strong emotions that week on paper I took lots of photgraphs of her home and her yard and fields, the sights, big ones like Mount Kathadin and small things like lichen growing on spruce trees, tiny wildflowers in the grass, and a spider spinning a web.

She said she never thought she'd make it to her 98th birthday, which she did reach in July of this year. She said she was ready to go and that living in her body was painful and that it was 'no way to live'. She wasn't one of those elderly people who say for years that they just want to die, she wasn't like that. She was truly ready to go, it seemed to me.

It hurt her for me to see her in that condition in September. I know she saw the surprise on my face when I saw how hard it was for her to struggle to move, even with my assistance. For the first time ever, during that trip she never asked when we'd come back to visit. She always used to say things like the trip went by fast and how she wished we wouldn't leave. That time she didn't say it, she just said the part about the trip going by quickly. After I was home, on the phone, she never said, "When are you coming again?" or "I wish you had time to come up". The truth is, that I never told her, was I didn't think I could bear seeing her in that state again. I was in a self-preservation mode. Actually I could have, but I felt it was too much for my boys. The only way I could go visit was if they were with me, and she was in such poor health in September that I felt it was really hard on them. From a dignity standpoint, I felt that she was not comfortable with having my kids see her in that condition. And the icing on the cake was when my uncle, her main caretaker went away for five or six weeks in November, she never once asked that I come up and help her, like I did the last time he and my aunt went overseas. I don't think she wanted me there helping her.

She wanted to die in her own home, preferably in her sleep. However a blizzard in her area last week necessitated that she move into my uncle's home, 'just for one week until the weather got better'. The bad driving conditions would not be right to leave her alone in her home, since they didn't have paid caregivers for her 24 hours a day, just for some parts of the day.

Even as I tried keeping close contact by the phone with her I could feel her pulling away. I have some writings that I did on that topic which have been too raw to re-read or to consider actually publishing as a blog post, or were just too personal.

Last night she had the burst of energy that is typical of people in the dying process have. She asked to get up from her rocking chair and to sit at the kitchen table and eat a big meal with my aunt and uncle. She did sit in that chair and shared a meal, eating a really big meal which was not typical for her. She had a good night's sleep and didn't wake up in the night at all as she normally does. When my uncle awoke he offered her her morning coffee and she declined. Her breathing was different. Less than five minutes later she passed away with a paid caregiver at her side, not my uncle or aunt.

My maternal grandmother was a big part of my life. We were very close when I was a child, a teenager and even in my adult years. We shared a relationship that was more of a typical mother figure to me than my own mother has ever been. What she was to me was different than who she was to the other people in her life.

Nanny and my boys, September 2008

Having endured the loss of her first-born son, when he was 18 or 19, due to some accident of a ship he was on, then just a couple of years later losing her husband to an auto accident (while one of her other son's was driving), she hated funerals. She asked to not have any type of memorial service or gathering. I am waiting to hear from my uncle if this will be the case or if something will be held this week that will require me traveling to nothern Maine.

My husband is on his way home from work now. We will break the news to our sons together after he gets home. I've known now for over two hours but have not told them. They are busy playing together in the other room and I have just let them continue on with their happy, peaceful playing. I know this will be hard for them, the third grandparent to die in thirteen month's time. They really loved their "Nanny-up-in-Maine". So for this moment I'm alone in my grief, having spoken to a few relatives to break the news to them.

Soon I'll have to shift gears to be the mother of two boys will will be very upset. They will snap out of the post-Christmas-joy having been doing nothing much more than playing with new toys and games since Christmas day. Now they will be brought back to real life with this terrible news. Welcome to reality boys. The chapter is turning from the one about celebrating Christmas and having fun being boys to a new chapter of boys who lost a great-grandmother who they have many memories of, all positive ones, and again reminded of death and dying.

A hospice nurse told me earlier this year that every time we suffer a loss, no matter who it is, we grieve not just them but all the other emotions of all the past deaths we've ever mourned come flooding back, and we are faced with processing all the grief of all the deaths over again. This explains why people who are not even close to a person who dies often get very upset over the new death--they are processing their own emotions regarding their past experiences too.

(Whoever says that homeschooled children are isolated and sheltered from reality can use this as an example of how they are very much in the real world and do deal with serious emotions and 'life issues'.)

My blogging will either slow down as I mourn or travel, or it may stay the same or increase if I wind up using it as a diversion.


thinggtwoo said...

I like your blog, even though I don't get to read you very often. I wanted to express my condolences on the passing of your Nanny - I pray that the good memories you have of her help alleviate the sadness.

mamak said...

I am so sorry for this huge loss. I see my own Grandma slowly letting go, and I dread the day I get that call. Your Nanny is at peace, and soon you will feel it to. Hugs to your boys. Death is hard.-K

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

May the memory of your Nanny be for blessing, for you and the boys!
May she rest in the peace she so richly deserves, after such a long and full life!

Amy said...


I have been a lurker on your blog for a long, long time, but I don't believe I've ever commented, mainly because I didn't have an account. However, I wanted to offer my condolences over the passing of your grandmother. God bless you and your family as your suffer this loss together.


Shez said...

Christine, your beautiful way with words shows just how treasured and loved your grandmother was. I hope that all your loving memories help ease the pain of her passing.

christinemm said...

Received by email from a friend who I had not told over the phone:
I just read your blog.

I am so sorry to hear of your terrible loss. I know your grandma was so precious to you.

In a world where relationships are so screwed up, I know it's no consolation now that you've lost her and you feel the pain acutely, but you were so very fortunate and blessed to have had her. What tremendous memories, and what a difference she made in your life.

I know that I for one have been the beneficiary of the warmth that emanates from you, that is there in part because your grandma showered you with such warmth. You just pass it on. So, thank you, to your Nanny. I know you will all miss her so much.

I'll call you later.

christinemm said...

Thank you everyone for your condolences. I only called one friend on the phone to tell them yesterday as I didn't really want to discuss it over the phone. So some may find it odd that I blogged this but didn't tell some of my closest friends including the ones who knew my grandmother over the years. But by not telling my own local friends I wasn't able to hear their condolences, so these Internet messages are meaningful.

christinemm said...

received by email from a friend I met through my blog that I now know in person...

I'm sorry to hear of your Nanny's passing, Christine.

Every time I talk to my own 89 y.o. Gram in (another state), I think of how lucky I am to still have her in my life and that my kids are old enough to always remember her. I'm sure your boys' lives are richer for having known and loved someone from Nanny's generation.

I hope the joyful memories can overcome the sadness of your loss soon.

peace to you and your extended family --

christinemm said...

another comment by email...

Well, I'm sitting here with tears all over my face after reading of your grandmother's passing. I've heard about her so much I feel I know her. I'm sending you hugs and thanking God for her and her influence in your life. I know she is going forward and you are as well with all she has given you. Call any time you need to...

With much Love,

Kim said...

I offer my sympathy. It is so difficult to deal with loss yourself and also to see your children in pain. Warmest wishes.