The breakdown of body and mind is eventual and unpredictable — yet inevitable.
Whether we are moving along our unique continuum with the best intentions — or in denial — it matters not. We will all reach a state where we are less in body and mind than we once were.
And if we are lucky, or blessed, or enlightened — whatever you wish to call it — we will not be diminished. In fact, we will become more.
This has never been more evident to me than in the moments of grace spent with my soon-to-be-97-year-old grandma.
A week ago I tucked her in before leaving her, a process that took both physical and emotional muscle on my part.
“Turn me on my side,” she says, waving an arm in the direction of the bed rail. I place her hands on the bar so she can help me shift her upper body from her back to her right side. The lower half will be all mine.
“Now move the fanny! Get behind and push,” she commands.
“Geez grandma, kinda bossy, aren’t you?” I find some leverage, lift and then heave.
“I’m a bitch — that’s me,” she laughs. I come back around to face her, bend to pull the covers closer to her chin.
“Oh, that’s not true. I think you’re nice.”
“I don’t try to be good or bad. I just am what I am. Some people think I’m nice, others think I’m naughty. It doesn’t matter — it’s only what’s in their minds.”
I kiss her forehead, nose and both cheeks before flicking the light off.
“Good night Grandma. I love you.”
“I love you too. Let’s do this again real soon.”
After a day of family chatter that included Last Rites, hospice arrangements and packing funeral dresses, I thought I was there to say good-bye.
Instead, I left filled with peace and deeper understanding.
The words of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a victim of “locked in syndrome” at age 43, touch me profoundly at this time. Imprisoned in an inert body, able to communicate only by blinking his left eye, Jean-Do wrote a book using a communication system devised by a brilliant and selfless speech therapist.
Her name was Sandrine.
“Quite apart from the practical drawbacks, this inability to communicate is somewhat wearing. Which explains the gratification I feel twice daily when Sandrine knocks, pokes her small chipmunk face through the door, and at once sends all gloomy thoughts packing. The invisible and eternally imprisoning diving bell seems less oppressive.”
Blessed are the Sandrine’s of this world.
They bridge heaven and earth.
I dedicate this piece to my sister Jackie who is the Sandrine in Grandma Trudi’s life. She’s made sure Trudi has choices and access to what matters most to her — a phone with braille speed dialing, clean clothes, her favorite tunes and rosary channel, conversations with loved ones who cannot visit. Now, as we enter “end of life care”, she has arranged to give Trudi more control of her days and nights. Even how often she bathes — which is something others may have something to say about if she wants visitors.