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Are You Ready?

November 14, 2011

“We all fear what we don’t know…It’s natural…You were not afraid when Spring became Summer. You were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why, then, should you be afraid of the season of death?”

from The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia, PhD

We have been visiting with my grandmother for a couple of days now. She certainly looks a bit weaker each day, but I am so glad to have this time with her. My children understand that we have come to say goodbye. They understand in their wonderful innocence that she is preparing for a journey home. Having only experienced death with the loss of our elderly dog, they seem to understand it in the way that we all hope to- as a goodbye for now. A journey to a place where God can take care of you and make you feel better than we could here on Earth. A natural change.

Whether my grandmother leaves us this week, or lingers here for another year, I could never regret bringing her great-grand babies up here to see her again. We missed some school and some therapy. I suddenly rearranged their routine- something that often sends my routine-oriented babies into a tailspin. But this was a trip we had to make.

We had a wonderful visit yesterday. My son was so filled with the purpose of our trip to see Grammy. He watched her from the corner of the room. He didn’t talk much, but he watched intently. While my Joyce hugged Grammy freely, and chattered on about the princess dolls she had brought with her, he watched, silently from his corner of the room, absorbing every minute of the visit.

Grammy had moments of clarity, mixed with confusion. She was talking to people who were not in the room, while reminiscing with me clearly about our trip to Ireland in 2001. She cracked jokes with me, and cried with me. She told me how hard this life has been these last few years, how lonely she had been, how much she appreciated the visit. Meanwhile she asked my daughter how she liked her old doll carriage that she had given her the last time we visited (actually connecting a fantasy she had experienced with us 3 months earlier with our visit today). Joyce, absorbed in her own fantasy about her dolls, didn’t even seem to notice. Instead, she asked my grandmother, in her quiet 4-year old voice, if she was ready for her trip to Heaven, and was she excited about it, adding that she would miss her. I’m honestly not sure if my grandmother heard her. It was so innocent and heartfelt that a part of me hoped that she did. Then another part of me worried that we were not yet to that part of my grandmother’s acceptance that she could appreciate the beauty of that question, asked with such innocence and absolute faith.

It broke my heart to quietly hush her, not wanting to upset my grandmother. You see, I grew up in a family where such things are not discussed out loud, stiff upper lip and all that.  Our emotions were best hidden in the family I grew up in. The family I am raising, is quite the opposite. We speak freely and purposefully of any emotion, taking great care to identify what we and others are feeling, so that there is no confusion among our autistic brood. We had always done this, even before we knew that our children were all on the spectrum, but now it seems to be even more purposeful. That is why it was so difficult to hush my daughter. She was seeking some sort of validation from Grammy that this journey is one to look forward to, instead of one to be feared.

Today when we saw my grandmother, she was quite changed, even from yesterday. She was just so tired. She had been sleeping all day, and struggled to remain conscious during our visit. My thoughts couldn’t help but return to my experiences working in hospice when I was in college. My father had happily told me how great she had looked only a few days before- better in that one day than she had been in months. Today when he saw her, he looked defeated. So many times I would see patients rally for a day or two. They would be absolutely radiant, talking and laughing. They would have that one great visit with their family, and then they would slip away. Looking at my grandmother this afternoon, I wondered if, indeed, that was what was happening here. There is always the chance that she will hang on. That she might still be here for Thanksgiving and Christmas, or even for my son’s First Communion in the spring. But, if she isn’t, I will cherish the memories of these visits.

Life on this spectrum has taught me how important each day and each transition is. How important the preparation for the journey is. At least I can feel confident that my children have been as prepared as they can be for her departure. As for Grammy, I know she is prepared as well. She received the Sacrament of the Sick last week, and she has gotten to know this latest generation of her family. She has left her mark on them. As my son left the nursing home (something he has never regarded as “fun”), he quietly, but firmly demanded that we go back tomorrow. Here is a boy who fiercely loves his great-grandmother,and he will carry her memory forward. We will visit again tomorrow.

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