My grandma is one month and two weeks shy of 98 years. She has seven siblings. Of the eight children in her family, four are still living - all are nonagenarians except her elder brother who just had his 100th birthday. That's a very long life.
A couple of years ago Grandma stopped taking her daily walks. We used to joke that they were called "daily walks" because it took her a day to walk around the block. There are many people in the neighborhood who have told me they miss seeing my tiny grandma who always greeted them with a smile and a wave. She stopped walking because she had begun falling down unexpectedly and was afraid of falling where no one could help her. She also refused to use a walker because people might think she was getting weaker and falling down or something. When I pointed out to her that that was exactly the case, she laughed and said, "Well, I can't figure out how to use that big old thing anyway."
Until last month, Grandma made bread every week. Years ago she had surrendered the mixing and kneading of the bread to a machine, but I have loved to visit her on Bread Day and watch her shaping the loaves when the dough was mixed. Grandma always poked a fork from the top to the bottom of each shaped loaf prior to baking, so that no holes would form in the dough while it was rising and baking. My mother has done the same thing all her life. Until I was 12, I had no idea that a loaf of homemade bread could be made without the design of small holes across the crusty top. For the last decade, if I was visiting on Bread Day, Grandma sent me home with a warm loaf--not for me. It was for Aaron. Always for Aaron.
My boys always note that when they visit Grandma, she tells them about something she's heard recently that she thinks is funny. Sometimes it's not funny at all, but they laugh anyway because Grandma's giggle is infectious. And it's fun to laugh with her. She's always had trouble remembering Alex's name so she put a Post-it Note on the mirror in her sitting room to remind her what "Dian's second boy" was called. I love seeing the note. It's been there for more than three years now. It reminds me that I'm important to her, and so are my children. Her 90+-year-old mind is too full to retain one more name, but she wants to remember anyway so she writes it down.
My children have had the privilege of knowing all their great-grandparents. Both great-grandfathers passed away when my children were very young, but the grandmas lived long enough for them to establish a deeply loving relationship. Natalie called my dad's mother, Grandma Ruth. She passed away about 10 years ago. But my children have known Grandma Erwin all their lives. We visited her often both before she moved in with my parents, and after. When I was a child, Grandma was 5'4" tall. She was lovely and energetic and always treated me as if I was someone very special. The Grandma my children have known has lost many inches due to osteoporosis. She is now about 4'8" and struggles to weigh more than 90 pounds.
Natalie has always felt a special bond with Grandma. When she was three, she said, "I have lots of Grandmas. Grandma Erwin is like me. She's my little grandma." Over the past decade, I've watched my daughter quietly take Grandma's arm and walk her through the store, or from the chapel to Sunday School class. She spends time in Grandma's sitting room chatting with the elderly woman who can barely hear her. She makes sure Grandma gets a hug. When Nat was in a Utah facility for treatment for depression, Grandma missed her. She was losing her memory at that point and couldn't understand why Natalie was gone. I finally just told Grandma that Natalie had gone away to school. Grandma would smile and nod and say, "She needs to write me a letter."
Grandma had a heart attack last month. At that point it was clear that her death was very near. She's in Star Valley right now with my parents. Grandma's death will come in the next few days. Her body is shutting down. Her digestive system no longer allows her to eat or drink very much and her body is beginning to swell as her kidneys shut down. Breathing is labored, and Grandma sleeps most of the time. She's unaware of where she is or who is with her. Hospice will ease her pain as Grandma passes away.
She's almost 98. Her body has been unable to heal itself from minor cuts and bruises without the aid of intravenous antibiotics for more than a year now. She's lost her ability to read, do handwork and quilting, and even dress herself some days. She told me a few months ago that she's ready to join Grandpa whenever the time comes. But I'm realizing there will be no more days of watching her aged hands shape bread dough, no more giggling with my sons, no more moments for Natalie to gently take her arm and provide stability as Grandma walks. There will be no more smiling through hymns at church as I listen to my Grandma sing. No more questions about whether Chris is ever going to find a girlfriend, or what I named "that second boy."
I understand that death will be a necessary release for my Grandma, but I'm missing her already. And I'm feeling a little bit sad.