Old telephone books: out they go. Piles of spiral notebooks that mother used for her unending to do lists: into the blue bags. Another dozen notebooks in which she scribbled notes for her Sunday school articles and rough drafts for the letters that were later carefully typed for mailing (with carbons made and then filed in her own unique and, to me, unfathomable, system): yet another blue bag filled and tied off.
I dragged the big step ladder into the kitchen and attacked some high and yet unexplored cabinets. Suppressing a sigh of frustration, I brought down a laundry basket stuffed with yet more papers stuck in plastic bags. Old plastic bags; very old paper. Here was a report card from my father's elementary school years--sometime in the 1920's. Some yellowed newspaper clippings preserved words of his increasingly distinguished career in the life insurance industry. And another manila folder marked "F" for "File."
I opened it, expecting to trash the contents as I had so many of these folders, and I saw a letter. Since I'm keeping all correspondence with the dream of someday creating a family history, I stopped to read.
It was an account of my grandmother's death.
My grandmother, "Granny" as the entire world knew her, moved in with my parents in 1953 and lived with them until her death in 1979.
Here are snippets of the letter, written on a Saturday, the day after Granny's death.
"Mother passed away yesterday afternoon about 5:30 p.m. after steadily going downhill each day since the apparent stroke she had on Tuesday evening. . . . Yesterday was a day in which I feel divine inspiration guided us through some fearful hours. Mother seemed suddenly to be deteriorating before my very eyes. [After my mother was unable to reach the doctor] I called the church office, sobbing and asked them to send one of the ministers over. . . . What a blessed feeling it was to have him there as we clasped hands and prayed together in search for God's will and help, particularly in knowing how best to care for her.
About 4:00 p.m., she rang her little bell, indicating by motion that she wanted to lie down on the bed I had made up for her in the sunroom. This last move to the bed was a difficult one which exhausted us both. She was so weak she could no longer stand up so I could maneuver her into the wheel chair. It seemed that all of her bodily functions were wearing out at the same time, her heart, bladder control, etc.
About 5:00 p.m. I checked on her and she seemed to be slipping into a coma, so I bathed her face and head and massaged her back and neck and she closed her eyes and seemed to relax. About 5:30 p.m., I checked her again and she seemed to be asleep but I could find no pulse.
[After calling her church, a friend and the paramedic unit] . . . Christy had been ill with an ear infection so I tried to spare her but asked her to reach her husband for me. She immediately knew that Gran was gone. She had had a dream last Friday night and knew then that Gran was soon to go so she was prepared, so they all got out here soon. . . . Still no one could reach the doctor, so there was nothing to do but send for the ambulance from Parkland since she would have to be examined by someone from the coroner's office. . . .On Tuesday afternoon, I had taken Gran for a drive around White Rock Lake to see the redbud and cherry trees in bloom, the forsythia, the pansies, and she enjoyed it but by the time we had finished she was shaking all over with chills and that is when I brought her home and covered her with blankets. About two hours later, I heard a loud thump upstairs and when I went up she was not in bed, but I found her on the floor unconscious and burning up with fever. For about 30 minutes I worked frantically, bathing her with wet wash clothes and massaging her back and neck and arms and legs and she finally came around and I gave her a pen and paper so she could write answers to my questions. I am certain now that if I had not heard that noise she would have passed on Tuesday evening, because the next morning she had a bump on her head and bruise on her shoulder but she had no memory at all of falling."
This is eerily similar to my mother's situation, with my mother about the same age I am now when this happened to Granny, except mother's death is being more drawn out because of medical intervention after her first stroke. But I have been remembering how Granny died, and had vowed a long time ago that I would try to do for my mother what she had done for her own: give her a chance to pass from this life to the next in gentleness and quiet, supported but not hurried.
Supported but not hurried. She's just not ready to go yet. So we will wait until she is.