My grandmother died today – actually I call her my nana. So, my nana died today. Nana Jeanette. She was 98 years old I think. She still lived alone in her house and just this Thanksgiving was painting her own kitchen cabinets. Not that she should have been doing any of this…but she refused to be put in a home (she didn’t want to be around the ‘insane’ elderly, she was not senile) and she never wore her medic alert bracelet – she cancelled her account and she didn’t let a nurse visit her.
My mom and uncle were sort of powerless over this whole situation. In Christmas of 2006, she had pneumonia and she was weak and the doctors said she needed physical rehabilitation. She kept picturing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or some such Amy Winehouse version of ‘rehab’ and didn’t want to be with weirdos and addicts. My mom and uncle nearly lost their minds trying to explain to her that it’s do this – or die and how can they just let her go home and die? So, she went. And she got better. But she was stubborn about it. I always told my mom, “Just tell her you’re selling the house and YOU tell HER what to do. YOU ARE the mom now.”
I guess it’s just not that way in every situation and you really can’t just pick an old woman up and carry her to a nursing home. I guess some generations really do have pride about being where they’ve always lived. I’m terrified to die alone. I’m terrified to live alone. I appreciate 24/7 medical attention of the physical and mental kind. I think a nursing home is going to work out well for me, as long as I’m allowed to be anti-social. I just want to know that people are around, but I might not want to play Bingo with them.
Nana Jeanette was found on the kitchen floor today. That sounds so awful. I know in my heart she died last night because I had a dream about her last night. She and I were watching a comedy show. She was sitting next to me and whispered, “Kind of stupid, isn’t it?” And I woke up feeling….wonky today. Just not right. I started talking about her in a meeting today at work – remember how funny she gets when she drinks – she can get a little horny for an old lady and it’s hilarious to see her undress Tom Selleck with her eyes while she watches Magnum PI. It’s been fun watching her turn into a Democrat and a Red Sox lover and yell at the TV for Manny or yell at Bush. We were talking about the elderly at work – that’s what prompted it. And then I called my sister and she said, “Are you sitting down?” And I knew.
Lately, I’ve been wondering about the existence of God or Divine Energy but I know there is something because that connection I felt in the dream is just too weird.
If my cousins are reading this, they might think I’m weird. We were not all particularly close. She lives on the East Coast. I don’t call her every Sunday but I feel a kinship with her. She was voted “class wit” in high school and she loved telling me that. I remember when she was just a spritely 88 years old, she hit on my boyfriend. She started winking at him across my mom’s kitchen table and saying, “I’m a Gemini, Patrick, just like you. Jennifer wouldn’t understand what we understand.”
This is a woman who never drove a car, or flew on an airplane and who confessed to me slowly over the years that her marriage was not quite ideal – it’s just something you did. And somehow her DNA spawned me, a still un-married, 33-year old always flying, always driving, travelling “professional wit.” I love that.
My grandfather (her late husband) died before I was born. She told me that for thirty years, when she went to bed at night, she heard a knocking on the wall and she knew it was Freddy, in purgatory suffering. She loved it. She used to shout at the knocking, “Stay there Freddy! I’m not praying for you!” If you don’t know, Catholics believe that purgatory is where you go if you’re a philanderer but not a murderer and you can get out if your family prays for you. So, for thirty years she didn’t pray and one day the knocking stopped. She decided that it took God thirty years to forgive my grandfather for having a girlfriend on the side.
When we did talk on the phone she’d say, “I don’t know why God wants me to live so long. I can’t really walk that much and the worst part is my brain wants to do so many things. I would never have gotten married if I could do it over. I would have been a clothing designer.” She was one of those ladies who didn’t go to college and worked in the industrial mills of Lowell, Massachusetts before sexual harrassment laws.
Nana had crushes. She went on a date with a guy who took her to McDonald’s and she was insulted that he found her to be a cheap date. This was in her swinging seventies. So, she stopped dating. She didn’t want old men. She was so disappointed in her experiences with the male species at that point. One time, we were at the grocery store and walking out she said, “Oh, I forgot to buy batteries.” I said, “I’ll run back in and get them Nana. You sit down.” And an old man said, “Miss, they sell batteries at the 99 Cent Store next store. They are cheaper there.” My grandmother turned to him and said, “Men have been telling me what to do my whole life! If I want to pay full price for batteries and go back into the grocery store, I will! Butt out! I don’t need you!” It was like watching a Bikini Kill concert in slow motion.
My parents are so old school – they insist I don’t go home for the funeral because it will be “small.” I wasn’t going home in hopes of Cirque Du Soleil. I’m not going to be at the church going, “Did we not flyer enough for this event?” But it is last minute and the tickets are expensive and I did just start a new job. Of course, my job says, “Just go. That is more important. This is just a show.” And my parents are like, “This is nothing. You are working now!!!” That’s very 1950’s Massachusetts – work first – and it’s okay if your job doesn’t let you off for funerals!
I just feel sad. I know that emotions and anxieties and depression and issues just were not addressed back then. I know that she must have known deep down that choosing to live alone – she would ultimately die alone. And she did not die peacefully in her sleep. She fell. There was blood. I’m hoping she knocked herself out before she knew what happened. And I hope against hope that there is a heaven. I have been fortunate that the only other death I’ve suffered is that of my grandfather over twenty years ago. I was just more focused on fear of death back then. But now I’m just so obsessed with hoping against hope that she felt okay in her last minutes and wasn’t thinking simply, “Ow. I’m alone.” That kills me.
My mom just lost her mom and this whole cycle of life thing – can be a real bitch. We all know it’s going to happen. Of course, she lived a long life and she didn’t suffer some horrible disease and on and on. But it’s the people who are left behind that might not have the mental capacity for self help type stuff that I do. I don’t want anyone to live in guilt or remorse. I know and hope and pray that there is a loving God who just took her somewhere whispy and white. It is really important for people to believe that shit about their loved ones. I see why.
My grandmother loved my dad, her son-in-law. She was telling him dirty jokes and cracking herself up on Christmas. (Age 96)