My Grandma Sally passed away peacefully on her 94th birthday this past Monday.
We were expecting it. Around ten years ago she began showing signs of dementia. By the end she barely knew who we were. On our second to last visit, after three days packed with card playing and dominoes, she emerged from a room and saw me. “Hi Jennifer,” she said. I was so honored to be remembered.
As I am honored to remember her. I wrote about a visit to see her three or so years ago when I realized how much of me I had to thank her for.
Her most recent lesson for me wasn’t about genetics or our similarities. It was just her plain optimism.
No matter how disoriented she was, no matter how much pain she must have been–she always greeted everyone with a smile. She didn’t know me from my mother from either of my aunts but she treated us all with love and respect. The same way she treated the nursing home staff, her friends and loved ones all the way through her life. She was loved in the community she knew, the community she outlived. How hard it must have been to outlive her husband by 27 years and lose touch with practically everyone she was close to. And still, to greet every day with that smile.
One Christmas we were sitting in my aunt Linda’s living room, and she turned to me, disoriented. “I don’t know where I am anymore,” she said. I told her all about everything that was happening, but it broke my heart that such an intelligent, competent woman would be reduced to feeling like a child. I know that’s how she felt. She said so. “Like a baby,” she would say as we helped her with her exercises and to go to the bathroom. “Like a baby.”
That, too, was a good lesson. As childlike as she became, she–once again–retained her optimism and good nature. She would clap her hands with delight when she won dominoes (she always won–despite very tough competition) or we would sing one of her favorite songs. Her ability to take delight in the little things in life gave her continual joy.
To her dying days, she loved sweets and ketchup. Just like me. And just like her, I hope to keep my good nature and appreciation for fun to the very end. If she can do it, so can I. I have one amazing role model, after all.