I haven’t been posting as regularly as I used to. A large part of that has to do with the loss of my last grandparent, my grandmother: Rosie Garnetta Hall. Her death, which followed so closely my grandfather’s, has left me a little down. Before I knew it, the Australian summer was over and I wasn’t entirely certain where all the time had gone. While I was backlogged with ideas for blog posts, there didn’t seem as much point. There was no one left to mail new content to. Piles of postcards, each representing a story about my life Down Under that I wanted to share, sat in a forlorn box in my office.
It is June now. Life moves on and it is time to get back up on the horse. So I thought I would try to get a few pieces written this weekend that I have been thinking about for some time. One of those pieces is about my grandmother.
I was lucky enough that I was able to travel back to the United States when I got the call that my grandmother would not last much longer. The choice of when to fly and how long to stay was agonizing. There are no certainties with death other than that it will eventually catch us all—even if I try to pretend that it won’t. I opted for a week and a half in Michigan and jumped on a flight the next day (leaving my husband, who was travelling to Austin, Texas the next week for SXSW, to make arrangements for the care of our dog).
When I arrived, my grandmother was doing rather well. She couldn’t believe her eyes when she realized who it was that had come to see her. She said she just didn’t ask questions about how I got there and then forced herself to eat as much applesauce as possible.
The next day marked the swift decline in her health. Anxiety, which had been a constant companion throughout her life, took hold in the evenings when my mother left the nursing home to get her own much needed rest. My grandmother, whose health had deteriorated so severely that she could no longer ring a buzzer for assistance, became panicked in the night. Most heart wrenching of all was when she explained that she had forgotten who she was. For me, this loss of my grandmother’s self identity—my grandmother who was the keeper of the family history (birth dates, death dates, anniversaries and addresses)—seemed the most cruel.
There were moments of pure anguish. My grandmother’s inability to find a comfortable position for her frail body as she slumped further and further into a contorted shape on the bed. The constant fluffing of pillows and re-arranging of the pink children’s airplane neck rest with the hope of at least providing the psychological comfort of knowing that someone was caring for her. The whimpers and cries of pain and fear. But the worst was leaving her late in the evening and returning in the morning to hear second and third hand from my grandmother’s roommate and nurses the events of the night.
Eventually, my grandmother settled into the final stages of death. Her beloved boys were brought to her bedside by my aunt. And then there was quiet. We held her hands, so soft and still with their Christmas manicure though green and black from IVs, and contemplated her worn wedding band. As the nurses ended their shifts they came into her room to say goodbye to the cantankerous woman they had cared for over the last several months. I slipped a shiny pair of red headphones over her ears and played her great love—Bill Anderson. There was her tiny body under the special sisters afghan she had gotten for her late sister, the floor fan, with its layer of dust, blowing over her, the plastic rose made by her roommate Martha, and then her once sweaty hands ever so slowly began to grow cold under the fluorescent lights.
In the end, despite all the stress, she passed peacefully.
I was lucky enough to spend many years with my grandmother. But that also means there are many things I miss.
- The long conversations we would have as I walked home from work and school when I lived in Washington, DC and then every other weekend when I moved to Australia. No one quite liked talking on the phone like my grandmother (even if she complained about all the calls she received the whole time).
- My grandmother’s steel trap mind with all its family gossip and history. There was always more and more information I wanted to pull from her. It made her the main attraction at family reunions. An event she was always looking forward to.
- The impish way she would smack my butt as I left her apartment. She never failed to do it just as sure as I never failed to blow her kisses as I departed.
- Her presence. Every dance recital and every holiday my grandmother was there. Even as her figure became increasingly withered and hunched—to the point it almost seemed to disappear into the chair—she was there talking to anyone who would listen and talking to no one if no one would listen.
- Her sloppy wet grandmother kisses as she smacked her dentures.
- Her love of all things animal: dogs and cats, but most especially our dog Yoji, who she called “Pugsy” due to her inability to master his name.
- And I even miss her constant recitation of the trials and tribulations of family members near and far. She cared so deeply for her family and she wanted everyone else to care too.
Rosie Garnetta Hall
February 21, 1921 – February 26, 2014