Monday, October 23, 2006


Early Wednesday morning, I'll be driving down to New Orleans to attend the funeral of my paternal grandmother.

A retired English teacher and strict grammarian, "Gramma" Fink was first and foremost a Lady (capital L). When I make references to the "genteel society" in which I was raised, I must respectfully tip my hat to woman who most engendered it.

She was graceful and proper, yet pragmatic - and my brothers and I rarely needed to be admonished to watch our manners in her company, for her presence and quiet dignity wordlessly commanded it in a way that even young children could understand. Despite this, she was not an imposing figure. She was gentle and understanding, and only firm when necessary.

Giving birth to triplets in the early 1940s made her a minor celebrity at a time when America was looking for homegrown heroes. The death of my uncle, James, at 3 months due to pneumonia transformed her celebrity into the role of tragic and brave heroine. It became her public secret, and we were all cautioned never to ask about the resident of the simple grave in Hook and Ladder Cemetary after whom both my older brother and our first cousin are named.

She lived alone after the death of my grandfather until her own health gradually began to fail her. When she began to require more care than her aging younger sister - and later a retirement community - could provide, my father made the decision to move her up to a unique living and nursing environment here in Texas where she could live in a neighborhood residence under constant care. More importantly, she could now be in the company of family, particularly her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in whom she took great joy. When my parents retired to Arkansas, my grandmother moved with them. Undertaking the herculean task of becoming my grandmother's sole caregivers was not made lightly, and I honor my parents' dedication and sacrifice to the well-being of my increasingly-frail and bedridden grandmother. Love and loyalty can buoy a body for only so long however, and eventually my grandmother's care requirements increased to the point of taking a serious emotional and physical toll on my parents.

A difficult and tearful decision was made to place her in a local nursing home in Mena, Arkansas, where her condition continued to deteriorate. There would be moments of clarity when the light would shine through the clouds in her mind and she would know who she was and who had come to visit, but they became more and more rare. In the last few weeks, her only real responses were reflexive in nature and her kidneys failed her. Blood clots had settled in her legs, and to our dismay, her doctor was unable to find any trace of a pulse in her already-discoloring lower legs.

After consulting with doctors and family members, the decision was made to do all that was possible to make her comfortable and pain-free, but to discontinue her medications and to remove the IV which so ravaged her frail hand. An extra bed was placed in her room for my parents, who made plans to remain with her for the days or weeks that followed.

She lasted only an additional few hours.

Although one might easily make the argument that her life and suffering continued well after any hope of quality had passed, we believe the end was mercifully quick and painless for her, and even now she is in the arms of the Lord. None of us wanted her to go, and yet we couldn't bear to make her stay. The gentle and swift nature of her passing was a loving answer to a painful prayer.

Well after she ceased to know us, she continued to be - and still is - loved.

Wednesday, I go to honor her memory.


Blogger Dianne said...

HC, this is beautiful writing. Thank you for conveying your love and respect for your grandmother. I hope that you all feel God's peace as you remember her life and say goodbye.

October 23, 2006  

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