Friday, October 9, 2009

You Must Become Like a Child

I went to NY for a week in August, to see my grandmother, who is 87. She had a lung removed about 9 years ago and we had just found out that the remaining lung has a malignancy. I hadn't seen her in 3 years, so I wanted to go, and I brought 2 of my kids.

I had planned on making a vacation of it, and seeing everyone I ever knew since birth, but when I saw Grandma all of that went out the window, and I just spent the time with her, mostly.

She is not getting a lot of oxygen, due to the lack of a lung, so she has developed some dementia. Thankfully, she remembers people, but she forgets events. She still lives alone, due to the fact that all her children live very far away and she refuses to budge. She does have Mary, a wonderful woman who comes every day for a couple hours to bathe her and do some housekeeping, as well as keep her company.

We went over there every day for hours and just sat with her. When we would arrive, the door would be wide open.

"Grandma," I would say, "You have to keep the door locked."
"But I like it open."
"What would you do if a thief came in the door?" I ask.
She looks up, waves her hand in the air, smiles and says, "Hi!"
"Not the proper response," I sigh.
"Well," she says, "I don't have anything worth taking!"
"OK, let's try another approach. What if a murderer came in the door, then what would you do?"
She thinks for a moment, cocks her head to the side and says, reluctantly, "I guess I should keep the door locked."

Over the week I worked with her on that, asking all the time if the door was locked, why did it need to be locked, etc. She did pretty well by the end of the week. I don't know if she is still doing it, though.

She used to be pretty high strung, before the dementia. Now she is as happy as a clam and nothing phases her. She is like a baby, in that way. Once, we came over in the evening and she was sitting in her usual place; the comfortable chair in the corner, by the TV, with the cat at her feet. She was watching an infomercial about room heaters.

"Grandma?" What are you watching?"
"What am I watching?" she asks, incredulously.
"It is an infomercial. Do you know what that is?"
"Infomercial? No."
"It is big long commercial."
"A commercial!" she laughs and slaps her knee.
"Do you want to buy that thing?" I chuckle.
"Me? Nooooo," she says.
"Then why are you watching it?" I ask.
She shakes her head and gives a toothless grin. "Why am I watching it?"

She enjoys eating. Her favorite is Entenmann's crumb cake. We replenish her stash and the kids get hooked on it. We decide to eat our way through NY, because the kids have never had authentic NY food. We get take out from my favorite childhood burger joint. We get pizza. We go out for Chinese food.

"I can't eat much," she says as we settle in at the table in the Chinese buffet.
She gets a small plate of food and polishes it off immediately.
"Let me get you some more," I offer.
"OK," she says, "Some more chicken...and some egg foo young."
"I'll be right back," I say. Then she calls over her shoulder, "Fried rice!"

One night we had coffee and I put some French vanilla creamer in it for her. My Uncle Tom is a top-notch baker and he had left a chocolate mousse cake, so I cut her a piece. "Uhmmmmm...I love this cake...this is SO delicious. What did you put in the coffee?" She smacks her lips. "Mmmmmm." We should all enjoy our food as much as Grandma does.

The night before we had to leave I have a conversation with Grandma.
"You know we've been here for a whole week, Grandma."
"A whole week," she answers, nodding.
"I am so glad we came, but we have to go home tomorrow."
"Home? But I am so used to you being here now... Stay!" she says, slapping her leg.
I can feel my throat closing as I whisper, "I wish I could, Grandma, but you know I have to get back home so Joe can work and I can take care of the kids."
I go into her kitchen and cry. I wish I could take her home with me and take care of her, but that is an impossibility.

The next day I wake up early, with Grandma on my mind. We were going to breakfast with my childhood friend, Denise, and her family, who patiently put us up in their house for a whole week. I decide to make a quick stop at Grandma's before breakfast and then spend the rest of the time there between breakfast and our departure for the airport. We pull up in front of the house and immediately I sense something amiss. It looks empty and Mary should be there at this time, but there is no car in the driveway. I go up the stairway and knock. While I am waiting I notice a neighbor walking over.

"They took her away in an ambulance just a little while ago."
"But...but she was fine when I left her last night," I stammer.
"Well, I don't think it was very serious, because they didn't have the siren on, but I thought I should come out and tell you." I thank her and then call my Aunt Andrea, who lives in New Jersey and is Grandma's primary care giver. She tells me she is on the way to NY and which hospital Grandma will be in. I find out later my grandmother has been diagnosed with pneumonia. I don't know how she can possibly survive that with one lung.

When we get to the hospital, Aunt Andrea is asking Grandma about the Do Not Resuscitate order. "I know you have one at home, but do you want one for this hospital stay?" Grandma cocks her head to the side and ponders. "Mom, do you understand? Do you want them to revive you if your heart stops?" she asks, with tears in her eyes. "Natural," Grandma answers. "I am ready to meet Jesus."
My Aunt and I both burst into tears. "Why are you crying?" she scolds, "I am ready." She grins, "Hey, what do you expect? I'm 87 years old...I'm pushing 90 here!"

And then it hits me. Scripture says you must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is what God has done for my grandmother. What a gift. She is exactly like a child. And she is there with arms wide open, embracing both life and death.

Miraculously, she made it out of the hospital. One day I call her to chat.
"When are you going to come to see me? You live so far away. When do I get to see your kids?" she asks.
"Grandma, I was just there for a week, with Noah and Bella, remember?"
"A week?"
"Yes, remember we had Chinese food and burgers from the Good Steer? You loved the cole slaw. I got you extra cole slaw," I reply, wistfully.
"Burgers? We did?"
"Yes, Grandma; we did. And we had fun." I remind her.
"We had fun," she says decidedly.

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Luke 18:17


  1. beautiful. humbling too. I just found you, coming from st blog's parish. im waiting for st blog to approve my application to be one of you all. :)

  2. Let me know when they do and I will visit your blog. Welcome!