My last living grandparent, my paternal grandmother, Grandma Mac, is quickly approaching her 91st birthday. This longevity astounds me, flying in the face of my sometimes overly-cynical, anything past 40 is icing on the cake, take on life.
But sadly, I get the feeling that it astounds Grandma in a way, too, and maybe even dismays her.
She is in relatively good health, considering. She walks and talks and writes the nicest, kindest birthday cards ("To dear, sweet Emily -- Late, but with lots of love. Grandma McNeil") and always seems thrilled when we grandkids call to chat, though chatting is increasingly difficult. She lives with her beloved fat cat, Lola, in an assisted living home near my aunt & uncle in Olympia, with whom she also spends a lot of time.
But she is forgetting things, and worries, I think, that she will soon be forgetting people. She has outlived her husband by almost ten years and her youngest son by fifteen. I can only imagine that she must be lonely, despite the undying devotions of Lola (who takes advantage of Grandma's kindness and forgetfulness by asking for, and receiving, lots and lots and lots of treats), despite the proximity of my uncle and aunt.
She recently spent some time at the lake cabin in Idaho with various relatives. Cousin Eric emailed me earlier this week with lake pictures, an update on the local development scandal, and a short description of one particular morning at the cabin when Grandma was having difficulty breathing and thought she was dying.
I've been talking to friends about Grandma, about her forgetting and her age and her desire, not in a morbid, depressing way, but rather in an "I'm old; I've lived; I'm done," kind of way, to die. And while we all adore her and maybe have a difficult time imagining the world without her, I think we all also understand this desire, and hope that she will go quietly, comfortably, perhaps in sleep, surrounded by people who love her, and whom she loves.
It would have pleased her immensely to have passed away at the lake this summer. As Eric put it, "Her thing is that she wants to die at the Lake and join Bill and Grandpa and doesn't want to make anyone drive her ashes back across the state -- very practical woman Grandma."
None of us would mind, of course, driving her ashes back across the state. But it would make her immeasurably happy, in her last moments, to think she'd saved us the trouble.