Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The bitter with the sweet

Christmas was a gentle day; even Tall Son, whose girlfriend recently broke his heart, seemed to find the day pleasant, even if he would rather have spent it with the woman who has sent him away. Far-Away Daughter -- still far away -- and her family were ill on Christmas Eve, but recovered by the big day, and she and her husband, Semi-Doc, had an exciting time with the kiddies and her inlaws. Marine Son and his wife, Indian Princess, drove down just for the day. We ate until it hurt, we opened gifts (a stunned Bitty received a new computer via gift cards and an IOU; we picked it up yesterday), and then overwhelmed me napped. While I was sleeping, Marine Son picked up his boy, First Grandson, and later in the day the three of them drove home. First Grandson is spending the week with his father and stepmother. A good time was had by all.

Before Marine Son and family went home, we called Grammie. Uncle G answered the phone. When I said I was glad he was still there so I'd get a chance to talk to him, he said softly, "Oh yes, we're all still here. We can't leave her alone any more." When I talked to Grammie she sounded weary (as she had the last time we'd spoken, on the 23rd), but she sounded cheerful. She catalogued all the people who had called her -- quite a long list since my mother alone has 10 children -- and when she was finished, she catalogued them at least two more times. Then I talked to Uncle D, who promised to call me privately later to tell me what was really going on.

My mother called me yesterday. Uncle D called her and asked her to pass the message on. Grammie must go to a nursing home. She has reached a point -- details not necessary -- that she needs someone nearby at all times, 24 hours a day. Uncle D and his saint of a wife, A, wanted to take her to their home, but she refused. So sometime -- very soon -- she will leave her home for good and pass into the care of strangers. I hope they will be kind strangers. Although there are so many nursing home nightmare stories, I've also heard that if relatives are involved, the patients get good care. My uncles will probably be there daily...and none of us expect her stay to be very long.

Death brings people together in all sorts of interesting ways. Because of Grammie's cancer, Marine Son and I went to see her in October, and in doing so, I reconnected with my uncles and Aunt P, and I met Uncle D's wife. I never got around to writing about that. Maybe I will someday; maybe what I'm saying now is all I need to say about it. Although I sent Christmas cards to them over the years, and when Grammie would be visiting any of us, she'd call the others and make us talk to one another (an awkward situation since we didn't know each other well enough to do much more than discuss the weather), I hadn't seen my uncles and Aunt P since I was a teenager. That was a very long time ago. So Grammie's illness has reconnected me with these relatives and made me a member of the family again.

I've also had long conversations with people whose loved ones have died like Grammie, not suddenly but due to lingering illness, and their stories are remarkably the same. One friend described it as the reverse of birth: the dying person acts much like the newborn, sleeping all the time, unable to converse coherently, dependent on others for food and basic hygiene.

I haven't called Grammie yet. I'm afraid I can't without crying. But I must before the end of the day.

This is life, though: great joy and love alongside deep sorrow. The secret of life, I suppose, is learning to deal with that juxtaposition.

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