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April 21, 2005 - Thursday, 12:47 p.m.
Wouldnít it be lovely to just step through a door and into a moment in your childhood? Or the day you first child was born? Or any moment that you cherish? It would be amazing. Instead we hold it in our mind and some of us are lucky enough to be able to close our eyes and almost hear and feel the wind in the treetops and smell the grass in the fields. But how difficult it is to share those memories!
My grandmother is dying. It isnít a tragic, unsuspected death. It is more the natural close to an amazing life. My grandmother has lived over 101 years. Amazing in any day. She dreamed of making it to 100, and she did it. She was born in a small building on a homestead in the middle of North Dakota in 1904. Once when she was about 3 her family moved to Canada for just over a year, but they moved back to North Dakota not very far from where she was born. She taught school for two years between 1922 and 1924 is the wilds of Western North Dakota. However, she lived the bulk of her life within a 20-mile radius of the spot she was born. Her entire life unfolded there. She grew up, fell in love, married, her babies were born in that area, her parents and many siblings died there. She lived through the loss of parents, siblings and children. My parents were married not more then 5 miles from her husbandís family homestead and where she lived from the 1930ís until the mid 1990ís when she broke a hip in the hospital and then never moved home again. She has thousands and thousands of memories that often jumped to life as she told a story inspired by any multitude of visual cues. How many I heard in my life, I can not even count, and now I too need a visual cue or a waft of some smell that makes the story spring to my mind.
There is something in my family that draws a person. I donít know how to describe it exactly, but Iíve seen it. My parents both tell stories of their parents. My fatherís mother and her sisters sitting at the kitchen table visiting and laughing, it drew them in. The kids wanted to be there and watch and listen. My mother says the same thing. She said that her mother was her happiest when she sat with her sister Bessie and visited. They too all wanted to sit and listen to it all. I remember growing upÖ when my mother and her sister got together with Grandma, I wanted desperately to sit and listen to the stories, the laughingÖ to just be there to absorb it all. As Iíve grown older the joy I experience when I sit with my sisters and talk and laugh is amazing. And my kids and nieces and nephews are drawn the same way to it. They sit and listen. They too want to be a part of it. Itís a lovely legacy.
TodayÖ my mother is sitting in a room at the nursing home in Minot. My Aunt Peggy is with her as are a couple of my cousins (I am thankful that Chelle, Laurie and Kathy can be there for my Mom). Grandma isnít very responsive. Since my mother arrived, Grandma hasnít really seemed to notice. For days she didnít even open her eyes. Yesterday she was somewhat alert, but Mom says when she looks at Peggy and her there is a question in her eyes... ĎWho are you?í Thank goodness Mom has spent weeks and weeks there over the last few years and Grandma was happy to see her arrive and sad to see her go. Now they sit and comfort her. If she wakes up and is distressed they tell her that they are there and that she is being taken care of. She visibly relaxes and drifts back off to sleep. My motherís greatest fear was that her motherís body would begin to give her great pain, but that her organs would keep her alive in pain. The doctor came in yesterday with test results, liver enzymes are up, 5 times the normal levelÖ that means liver failureÖ her kidneys are starting to fail as well. The body is shutting down. Itís the natural process. Itís a peaceful way to die. The breathing grows shallow; you drift off to sleep and then one time you donít wake up. For a woman who sat at the bedside while her sister Bessie died from diabetes, her mother died of cancer, who watched a son die from a self inflicted gunshotÖ it is a very peaceful end. It is the end I always hoped for her. I felt she sat beside so many who didnít die pain freeÖ I wanted that for her.
I will miss her greatlyÖ but thenÖ I already miss her. Even at her 100th birthday she didnít recall who I was. Me? I remember it all in minute detail at this point in my life, and with any luck at all Iíll find a way to get the memories down on paper before those clouds enter my mind.