August 20, 2009 by Marj Hatzell
It’s not like the call was unexpected. We all knew it was coming. In a way, I’m glad she didn’t have to live in hospice in a nursing home for long because that wasn’t her. Grandmom was fiercely independent, firey in spirit and strong of mind to the bitter end. She was pretty darn ticked off that she ended up in a home.
When she woke up from her nap a few weeks ago on the floor (and swears she DID NOT FALL! She just didn’t remember how she got there!) and they took her to the hospital, I knew. I just knew she was done. Her ninety-three-year-old body was just DONE, mmkay? She survived years of adversity, the depression, the sixties, colon cancer, strokes, blindness, one of her children and ALL of her siblings, despite the fact that she was the eldest child of her parents.
But that nursing home! When my mother went to see her two weeks ago (daily, actually, but this one particular day was tres interessant) Grandmom was her usual self. “Get me out of here, Mary! I’m LEAVING! I’m telling you I’m WALKING OUT!” And my mom was all, “Mother. You can’t walk or see. How are you getting out of here?” And Grandmom was all, “I can drive! I’ll show you! And STOP TRYING TO FEED ME! I can do it myself!” As she missed her mouth and ended up dumping it all down her front. Then she tried the guilt angle, “If you hadn’t gotten those surgeries, you’d be taking care of me at home! If you didn’t have that kidney failure, you would be taking care of me at home! Hurry up and get better so you can take me home!”
The morning she died, she was giving the nurses hell. This is no surprise, she was the worst patient on the planet, despite having a doctor son and two daughters that were nurses. She was in and out of it, refusing to have her teeth cleaned, trying to move away while they cleaned her. My aunts stepped out to get something to eat and shortly thereafter she passed. Alone, in her sleep. She did it on purpose. She wanted to do it HERSELF. In fact, she had all the arrangements made, the dress picked out, you name it.
At Christmas, when we had our last large family gathering with my siblings and parents, Grandmom wanted to come. No, she INSISTED she was going to attend. We just had to get her up the five steps to my front door. She did it, with help. But she did it. She was determined to sit and hand out her little envelopes to the “Greats,” as she called them. At first, I rolled my eyes. I really didn’t want her making comments about my dog, my kids, my house, my “lavish” spread (her words. It was roast beef and potatoes. This is a woman who ALWAYS had butter, cheese, milk and eggs in her fridge. Even if she never ate them). She behaved herself, only made one comment about Bugaboo being nekkid (SURPRISE! He was nekkid!) and LOVED holding her latest Great at the time. She was in her glory.
We just didn’t know that it was the last time.
Still, I am not sad. I still haven’t cried. I mourned while I walked through her nearly-empty house. I smiled when I remembered the nights they let me sleep over in that SCARY back bedroom. I was comforted by the smells of Estee Lauder and Dial Soap. I reminisced glancing at old photographs. I knew it was coming. And yet, there is still this big empty hole where she once was. Because she was my last surviving grandparent. I’m not a little girl anymore. It just hit me.
What did she leave behind? A legacy. She was the matriarch of a large family. Mother to eight, grandmother to thirty-one, great grandmother to forty-two (I think, I’m checking on that because a few more babes were born this year. But the answer to the question is always forty-two). She was the church secretary for YEARS, the first parishoner to register at the brand new church and she lived there until she died. Her husband was the bane of her existence yet she couldn’t wait to go join him. She was the kind of person that went to EVERY concert and EVERY sporting event and EVERY single thing for her grandkids, if someone could get her there. She was never without an opinion and had an irish temper (I get my Irish from her!). She also had a wagging tongue that wouldn’t quit. And she never, ever held back when she had something to say. She was a devout Catholic, registered democrat (!!!!), a coffee drinker and loved babies.
I’m telling you, if I am half the spit-fire she was, I’ll be proud.