My two grandmothers were such a lesson in life. Both lived close by. In addition, my friend’s father also added lessons to my life…lessons about dying.
My younger grandmother was very good about visiting the elderly. I used to go along with her. She was old, herself; or at least I thought so at the time. But there were friends of hers who were older and were shut-ins. Those were the elderly that we visited. She could still drive, and she was a great cook. She would make them a covered dish and deliver it. I really did like to go along. Her friends had such great stories of times long past. Dying was not a subject I heard, though, unless it was a funeral.
My other grandmother was almost fifteen years older, but she herself was a shut-in. She was active in her garden, and she liked to take long walks. However, she no longer drove, so she depended on all of us for her needs and groceries.
Several of her lady friends came to visit from time to time. I loved to lay on the cool wood floor in her hall, where I was out of sight. They had no idea I was anywhere around. I loved to listen to them talk. Those ladies loved to gossip, and it was better than a soap opera.
One time I fell asleep, but thankfully woke up in time to slither back out the side door. If she had caught me, it would have been hell to pay. She could snap off and strip a switch faster than you could bat an eye.
I think she really liked being at home, though; and she never seemed bored. I can’t remember her complaining. The only cross word I ever heard from her was when one of us kids got out of line.
Passing Relatives and New Friends
So where am I going with this? Well, my grandmothers have long since passed, but I still like to visit the elderly. One gentleman, the father of a high school friend, lives alone now and is 86. I try to stop in about once every two months. He is losing his sight. I always take him something to eat, because he is alone now. His kids live out of town.
We always have something to talk about. Today, we talked about where he used to work. He worked on one of the large hunting plantations that we are famous for in this region.
He always begins talking at some point, though, about his ailments; but we usually move on to other subjects. Today, however, he returned again to his infirmities. He even talked about God’s plans for him. He said that he cannot fathom why God wants to keep him here.
My friend is almost blind and growing feeble. He is worried about having to move out of his home.
My Friend’s Old Dog
Then he told me a story about an old dog that he and his late wife owned. He said the dog was really his wife’s. It developed problems with its hips and was in terrible pain.
The vet in our community lived just down the road from them, and from time to time as needed the vet stopped by their home to give the dog a shot for his pain. My friend said that the dog would be fine for a little while, but the pain came back sooner after each shot.
Finally, he said, one day the vet came down to their house; and he asked my friend’s wife if she would please go and help his (the vet’s) wife down at their house. When she left, the vet told this elderly friend of mine that it was time to put the dog down.
My friend was telling me this story, while we were sitting in the long dogtrot-like central hallway that travels from the front to the back of his old farmhouse. He said that it was here that he held the old dog, while the vet gave the shot that put him to sleep.
My elderly friend wondered aloud as to why we can put dogs out of their misery but not ourselves. It was a sobering thought, but I didn’t try to add any thoughts of my own. I think he just wanted me to listen.
The conversation, though, reminded me of my grandmother, the one who was a shut-in. She lived well into her 90s, and I became her caregiver in her final years. She told me on numerous occasions that she didn’t understand why she was living so long. She said that she was tired and ready to go. I was young and immortal. I argued with her and tried to convince her that she was important to all of us. I wasn’t ready to let her go.
I heard it again when I visited my 96-year-old uncle. He too questioned why he was still around.
Now I’ve finally reached the age where I, too, ponder death. I’m lucky to have had family members who bravely accepted this next chapter in their lives. I’ve lost all my grandparents and parents. None of them ever seemed to have any fear of dying, but it is still a little frightening to go where you have never been before. My elderly friend, my uncle, and my grandmother were ready, but I guess I’m not…yet.
Who in your family taught you about dying with grace? Do you fear dying? Do you think it comes easier with age?