Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Grandma Elliott

A lot of people will talk about their grandparents in a distant manner - like it's someone they barely know or who they are/were required to see on special occasions.  Me?  I seriously hit the grandparent lottery.  My dad's parents lived about a mile away (as the crow flies) and we saw them almost daily growing up.  And we genuinely adored them - they were fun, fun-loving, and dependable.  Like a second set of parents.

My mom's parents lived a bit further away (like, 12 miles).  Her dad died when I was 10 and since her mom, my Grandma Elliott, didn't drive we didn't see her as often as my dad's mom but that didn't mean she wasn't a huge part of my life, both as I was growing up and when I became a mom myself.

When we lost my dad's mom unexpectedly at the age of 62 (she died during the blizzard of '93), it was maybe the most difficult thing I had gone through.  Losing someone that way - it shatters you.  Eventually, you put the pieces back together but you are never, ever quite the same.

Watching someone suffer isn't exactly a picnic, either. We went through that with Greg's mom.

But the way my Grandma Elliott left this world - just last month?  It was a beautiful thing - if death can ever be described as such.  I hesitated to tell this story.  One, because it's not really mine to tell and two, well, it might seem a little woo-woo.  But her birthday is just a week away and I'm missing her SO much right now.  If the story can bring peace to others who have lost a loved one, well, it's worth it.


A little background (I realize this post might get a little long-winded so if you want to get to the important part, feel free to skip ahead):  My grandmother was 95 when she passed away and she lived - really LIVED - up until the very end.  It's so hard to describe what she was like unless you knew her.  Child-like in her excitement over the littlest things - a blooming crocus, a baby's smile, a hummingbird - she was very rarely in a dark mood (unless a Pittsburgh sports team was having a losing season!).  She grew up without much and because of that she was SO appreciative of everything she had - and she made sure you knew that YOU should be appreciative, too! 

Her biggest activity was gardening.  People would stop and look in the spring when her tulips were in full bloom.  She loved flowers and getting her hands dirty.  And she was SO independent!  She mowed her own lawn until she was well into her 80's - over an acre - and some of it with a PUSH mower!  My aunt (JoAnn) lived with her but she was unsteady on a ladder, so my grandmother also always put up their outside Christmas lights (I think one of my cousins might help now?  I hope?).  She asked for a CHAINSAW for her 80th - or was it 78th? - birthday (and she still never really forgave us for not getting her one).  She was forever trimming the hedge fence out in the front with her electric clippers (as evidenced by the fact that they were covered in electrical tape patches).  One of the things I will miss most is being able to call her and ask what to do about a landscaping debacle or how to repot a certain type of plant. :(

She came from a HUGE family and she was very close to her siblings, most especially her sisters.  She talked with them all the time on the phone, although they didn't see each other often.  Her older sister, Helen, passed away several years ago and one of her younger sisters, Catherine (who she called Cat), died just last summer.  She missed them SO much - it was one of the few times I can say I saw her truly sad (I don't really remember when my grandfather passed).

She never lost any part of her mental capacity as she aged - she was keeping her own checkbook in July of this year.  The only physical things she had wrong were her hearing (it was BAD) and some issues with her eyesight (some macular degeneration, although it never progressed).  When this last series of illnesses knocked her down we all fully expected her to recover.  She's not one to just quit.  But recently she'd been telling me how tired she was - tired of not feeling great, tired of being tired, just...tired.  This is why hospice wasn't called until the very end.

The day before she died, my aunt (her primary caregiver) met with a hospice worker to determine what, if any, help they could give.  Her main objective was to get a hospital bed.  At the time, my grandma was on oxygen and would wake several times during the night and call out for her.  As anyone who has had a newborn who doesn't sleep through the night knows, this wears on you.  You start to think you're hearing them even when they're NOT calling you.  With the hospital bed, my aunt could sleep on the couch next to her and be there instantly if she was needed but also know instantly if she wasn't.  Hospice brought the bed that very night.

This is the story of how she died.

At around 3am, she woke up and became a bit agitated.  She started yelling for my aunt. 
"JoAnn!  JoAnn!  I can hear!  EVERYTHING!  I can hear! I don't even have my hearing aids in!"

My aunt got her settled back down and she relaxed a bit.  About 20 minutes later she became agitated again.  She sat up a bit and was looking towards the bottom of the bed.

"Cat!  Cat!  It's you, Cat!  There you are!"
"Oh, look!  Everyone's there!  Everyone!"
"It's beautiful.  It's SO beautiful!  JoAnn!  Can you see? It's so beautiful."
"Yeah!  Yeah, I wanna come!  JoAnn, can you come, too?"

And those were the last words she ever spoke.  She was given a shot of morphine and breathed her last the following afternoon, surrounded by her children. 

I can't even tell you the amount of peace this gives me.  Do we all miss her?  Yes.  I've never doubted where she was going.  But the story of the end, well, it suits.  She would have absolutely been excited to get there.

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