My grandmother died today.
I feel as though I should be more upset than I am. Perhaps it is because I'm so far away so it won't hit me until I go home and can't go visit. But also, the fact that we've been told it could happen every time she got sick or had a fall over the past years has prepared me for this day. I barely believed the email from Mom this morning that said Grammy was rapidly declining and to prepared for her to die. I've heard it multiple times
before and she had always bounced back in the past. Obviously, this infection it was different.
Grammy has had very severe dementia for a long time and as a result, this is almost the second mourning period for the person the family once knew. The first loss happened would have been around when Grammy became unable to recognize family members and lost a lot of her physical capabilities. It was hard and painful to watch the person we love forget who we were, her own memories, and how to function. She was still there but dementia took away a lot of the person she had been. Today, we lose her for a second time.
However, this time it feels more as though we should be celebrating her life and being thankful instead of focusing on the fact that she is physically gone. To start, I am thankful that it was not a long, drawn out death. I am thankful
that she died with family around her in her warm comfortable bed. I am
thankful that she died with seemingly no pain or discomfort. I am
thankful that her last food was ice cream because dessert was always her
favorite part of the meal.
Most of my memories of Grammy are from when she was unable to recognize
me as her grandchild. When the person with dementia starts forgetting
family members, the grandchildren are often the first to be lost. As a result, for about a third of my life, my interactions
with her were always from a place of one-sided remembrance.
When she moved into the care home, she was always happy to have people visit her and look through a book or hymnal together, she was just
never clear with who exactly she was talking. If caught on a non-sleepy day, she enjoyed going outside to look at the flowers, making faces at the staff, or throwing things across the room. A lot of wrapping paper got thrown around the care home over various Christmas' and we always encouraged it as much as possible. Thankfully, she never developed the agitation, aggression, or delusions that sometimes comes with dementia which was a blessing to her and to everyone else who had to watch her mental health decline.
Now that I think of it, there was one moment of delusion where she thought a stuffed cat we gave her was real and had died so she put it outside her apartment. But that is probably because the thing did actually look much like a creepy dead cat. I thought it was terrifying from the beginning. Poor Grammy. The idea was that it might work as a cat replacement for the cat she had to give up when she moved into the apartment. It ended up at our house shortly after that incident much like the actual cat. The real cat got relocated out to the barn soon after it peed all over our house while I believe the dead cat currently lives at my aunts as it has occasionally haunted the family at various camping events.
The memories I have of Grammy as a child was someone who loved playing games with us; Scrabble, Crokinole, and Parcheesi were always the favorites and of which she would always crush us. We would spend afternoons running around her backyard, playing with the cat, climbing the apple tree, and eating all the gooseberries while she cooked us hashbrowns and delicious desserts. She loved birds and if there was a interesting bird at the feeder, we would all look it up in her bird book and try to figure out the exact species.
She would always spend a few days around Christmas at our house joining in the chaos that is a Watson family Christmas. She always joined in the stocking filling fun and was never hesitant to learn the games we would play Christmas afternoon like Scattergories or Four-on-the-couch. While they were clearly not the best game options for someone with early dementia, she always gave it a valiant effort. Eventually she became unable to first spend the night and eventually attend dinner altogether. The first Christmas she was unable to leave the care home was hard on everyone, except her as she always seemed very happy at the home.
Grammy lived much longer than anyone could have ever predicted when she developed dementia. She beat every statistic on life expectancy and expectations that come with such a diagnosis. While the dementia took away a lot of her abilities, she was still smiling, laughing, and eating sweets until the end. I don't think anyone could hope for more than the end of life than that.
I'll end with possibly one of my favourite quotes about death, although I have quite a few of them: "The people you love become ghosts inside of you and like this you keep them alive."
Rest peacefully Grammy. We love you.