Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Christmas Eve

She passed away peacefully today while we played at the beach with our cousins. We were with beloved family members as was she.


Grandma came home last Thursday for good and family members decamped to her apartment--a title for her home which inadequately describes the place we celebrated holidays and birthdays and ate summer dinners and congregated, just to chat and check in.

Husband and I hadn't discussed how we'd talk about the plan for his mom with the girls. Big Sis overheard us talking about her going home, though, and her eyes lit up. "She's going home!?"

Going home. A sign that things were better. A sign that we understood her wishes. A metaphor: so many meanings, contradictory and synonymous.

Husband was ready. I was more conflicted. The week prior, the week it was decided, I was angry, not about how this would go, but that she was robbed in the first place. That a stroke turned her life on a dime, irrevocably. Going home should always be good. Instead it felt portentous, momentous, and ominous. What I didn't understand--know then--was that her homecoming would be good, beautiful.

And so Big Sis overheard us talking about her going home, while we were still processing what it meant, what it would look and feel like.

"But it's your Mom!" she pleaded, crying, eyes wide at her dad. It's your Mom."


When a family member is ill, in the hospital or convalescing for an extended period, there's an emergency mode you enter and in which you dwell, on a precarious perch bound in part by unceasing worry and also the reassurance of rules, protocols, and safety measures.

But when hospice is in place, practical matters once significant become irrelevant, like her failed swallow tests. Grandma tasted ice cream, apple pie, some margarita with her family.

Other practicalities take on new meaning. She had her hair cut on Tuesday night, because it would feel good. There's a lovely clarity of purpose we too often lack in our everyday lives: comfort, simple pleasures, being with loved ones.

Her eldest son's family, wife and three grown children, were all together for the first time in ten years. They walked Grandma to the beach on Monday.


We spent hours each day with family members at her apartment, sitting in her office chair, her beloved blue chair, and on folding chairs and lawn chairs. Temporary relationships were struck with nurses, the chaplain, case manager. Her neighbor and best friend did laundry, dropped off breakfast, lunch, and unexpected snacks. Stories were told. The girls played Go Fish, drew, watched TV, played with Grandma's Beanie Babies. They held her hand and talked with her.

There was time, too, to cook, work, answer emails and phone calls, update Facebook. I imagined ancient cave-dwelling people doing then much like we were: tending to daily life while keeping vigil over a loved one passing through in close, safe, reassuring quarters. It felt so very right.

During a quiet moment, girls drawing, Grandma sleeping, nurse recording notes, Big Sis paused. "I miss Grandma," she shared, and then resumed coloring.


Cousins and siblings and aunties and uncles and nieces and nephews reacquainted and connected at Grandma's side. Family members gave what they could and how and when, in a seamless ebb and flow of being with her and together. Sides and strengths of personalities, in many cases dormant for having not yet endured this, emerged and developed. Admiration, love, and respect for one another grew.


So few relationships in our lives are unfettered by titles and hierarchies, history and unforgiven deeds, our own selfishness and demands and obligations. Jealousy, mistrust, and hidden agendas. My mother-in-law gave me and us a simple uncomplicated and unconditional love of no demands. Without question, negotiation, or agreement, our family's relationship with Grandma Shirley was organically good, always. I loved her so easily.


Our family's holiday traditions include taking Grandma to the Hotel del Coronado to view the giant decorated tree and ice skaters and have a holiday drink and appetizers. We dress up and take pictures. We eat spicy nuts and toast with our hot chocolates and martinis. To enduring love, to family, to little luxuries to count on.

All the things we are appreciating so much this year.

We love you, Grandma. The girls will have your hands in theirs at the Del this season, and forever.

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