Life is full of stops and starts so to speak. The most emotional of these is birth and death—-the ultimate beginning and ending. Every family goes through them and each member seems to have their own perspective on the event.
My mother in law Harriett has been failing for months. At the age of 94 we all knew her exit from this world was near. Surprising us all, she met each threat to her health with a fierce rally and appeared to be on course to complete another year with us. She’s a sturdy soul; full of spit and fire. That personality at the retirement home has presented some big challenges to the staff. The necessity of having a roommate emerged when she moved into the nursing section of the facility. Finding the perfect “roomy” was quite a trick. It seemed the TV was one of the main sources of contention. Being head strong and sure she should rule the television, she warred with several roommates over what they were going to watch. She preferred sports and loved football and golf. One roommate loved only Shirley Temple movies and could watch them all day long! This would never do and Harriett would take control of the remote whenever the opportunity arose. The home tried to please them all by moving several ladies in and then eventually out of Harriett’s domain. They finally settled on a sweet little lady who was comatose. This was the perfect choice. Harriett could now watch whatever she chose!
In late October as the weather turned cooler Harriett came down with what she labeled “a flu”. We called to check on her and she did sound like she had “a flu”. She sounded very sick indeed. The family remained on watch with members who lived close by checking on her several times a day. We live in Texas and she was in California so our contact was by phone at that point. Sensing the end may be near, our daughter Michelle wanted to say goodbye to her grandma in person so she got on a plane to take that four-hour flight into LAX. Because his mama was going, my grandson Atticus was sure he should go as well to bid adieu to the great-grandmother he knew as “Mimi”. Now, he’s seven and we felt death had no clear definition in his mind. He had been told it was final but does a child understand that concept?
With her health declining, Harriett was put on oxygen to keep her comfortable and Hospice was called in. As the reality of her up-coming demise set in, Harriett made plans to get her hair done. At 94 and on her death-bed a woman still has her vanity!
When Michelle and Atticus arrived at the nursing home Harriett had been sedated. They sat by her side and waited for her to wake up. Five minutes of sitting is about all Atticus was good for and he asked if he could play a video game. He quickly engrossed himself in his DS tuning out everything around him. Harriett’s daughter Jeanne arrived on the scene and joined Michelle in a vigil that soon turned to a talkative visit. They were deep in conversation when a nurse from the home came in to check on Harriett. Much to their surprise, they were informed that Harriett had passed. Looking up from his DS, Atticus confirmed the diagnosis and said, “Yep, she’s dead”. He quickly turned his attention back to his game.
So in the eyes of a seven year old death was very matter of fact that day. “Yep, she’s dead” pretty well covered it. Since that experience Atticus has been rather preoccupied with questions about death. He asked if his dog Huckle would die some day. His mother told him yes and that they would bury him in the back yard. Attie’s reply was, “Can you dig him up once in a while so I can play with him. I know I’m really gonna miss him!” Everyone smiled at that one.
A death in the family brings on a lot of nostalgia and we got out old pictures to reminisce over. There was Harriett as a cute six year old with a huge bow tipping slightly to the right, bobby pinned into her short hair. Then there was Harriett the young bride appearing to weigh a slight 100 pounds at best. (Why is it we get rounder and fluffier as we age?) More pictures revealed me in my 20’s with Harriett and the family. Atticus took a look at that picture and said, “It’s Granny with a fresh face!” Out of the mouths of babes—so cute! It was Granny with a fresh face and I’m glad he recognized me!
They’re planning a celebration of life ceremony next month for Harriett. Well, really I should say Harriett has planned that ceremony. She wrote out every word of this event in her last years of life with details such as, “Deanne will sing Amazing Grace and then everyone will stand in a circle and say The Lord’s Prayer.” etc. This lady left nothing to chance regarding her exit plan and how she should be mourned.
She had also planned her burial which was attended only by family and very close friends. It had a few glitches she would not have approved of. For one, she arrived in the wrong coffin. She had specifically wanted a coffin just like her departed husband’s. When she arrived in what appeared to be a white Styrofoam box we all knew we were in trouble. Well, it turned out not to be Styrofoam but a metal coffin covered in white fabric. This was absolutely not what her husband had been buried in. After some tense moments and more investigation by the funeral home we were told this had been her first choice until she found the one that her husband had been buried in and then her “first choice” changed to that one which was steel grey and very sturdy—-much like her I must say! The trail of paperwork had taken them back to her other “first choice” which we left as it was in hopes she’ll rest just as well in the white one. The other glitch involved her choice of preachers for the funeral. The man she preferred and who had done her husband’s ceremony had recently left their church and signed a “non-compete” contract stating he would not do any weddings, funerals or events for his past church members for the next six months. So, her planning had to be altered to accommodate this new legal glitch and the man who performed the funeral had no first hand knowledge of Harriett.
I wonder if planning and control are really ours in the end. It appears to be a time to let go and let God. As a family we did our best to give her a good send off all in all. Hopefully that will suffice.
As the youngest member of our clan, Atticus has given us some wonderful quotes to lighten the days of his great grandmother’s illness and departure. “Yep, she’s dead” bypasses the sugar-coating we often affix to death and puts it squarely where it should be—a reality of finality—-the ultimate exit as seen through the eyes of a child.