A Good Death

Thursday, September 12th, 2013


My sister and my grandmother: Two hands meeting across the generations.
(Photo courtesy of my younger sis.)

(aka, “The post I meant to write when Uncle Ken died.”)

Yesterday my 97-year-old grandmother entered hospice care. She’d been hospitalized more than a week before, after falling in her bedroom – to which she’s been more or less confined for the past few months – and cracking her pelvis. While there, her condition declined steadily; by Monday the doctors were predicting that she wouldn’t last through the night. She stopped eating around this time and refused any further medical intervention. No more poking, prodding, or tests; no meals through a tube or artificial life support. After 97 years, all Arnie wants is to die in peace.

The last few months, her eyesight and hearing have failed her. The simple act of breathing – in, out, in, out; so instinctive that most of us take it for granted – proved a constant struggle; speaking, nearly impossible. (This, after more than a decade of carting around oxygen tanks.) She wanted to die; insisted upon it, much like her brother Ken before her (who, at the ripe old age of 102, preceded her by just over two years). Death became a constant topic of conversation, as my mother and aunt sat at her bedside, reading to her and making up puzzles in 2″ block letters that she could just barely make out. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream. She was ready – is ready, has long been ready – to enter that clearing. And yet her body, with those crazy long-lived Naber genes, stubbornly hangs on.

Today we enter Day Three of her hunger strike and, at last update, it appears that she’s actually doing marginally better: Her feet and hands, slightly less blue; mind still there, if drifting in and out of consciousness. Arnie wants peace, but it’s painfully slow in coming.

(More below the fold…)