Thump, thump, shuffle, shuffle. The sound of my grandmother’s walker echoed through my mother’s house while we were visiting. Thump, thump, shuffle, shuffle—then a terrible thud! My husband, Bob, and I leaped from our chairs.
A thin, frail figure, Grandmother lay crumpled on the floor near her walker. Bob gathered her into his arms and carried her to her bed.
“I’m fine. I’m just fine,” she kept repeating. She had scraped a patch of paper-thin skin from her forearm. I blotted a trickle of blood before cleaning and bandaging the wound with loose gauze.
“Please, Bob,” Grandmother pleaded, “give me a blessing. Ninety-eight years is long enough to live. Pray for me to die.”
A difficult request to fulfill, but her eyes were impossible to deny. Diplomatically, Bob laid his hands on her head and blessed her that she might enjoy the time she had left on this earth and that it might be a fruitful and productive time. He also blessed her that her sweet spirit would permeate all those around her.
Later, in the living room, my mother paced the floor. “How can I take care of her this winter?” she asked. “What if she falls while I’m at school?” (Mother, a teacher, had been a widow for thirty years and had cared for my grandmother most of that time.)
Faced with some major decisions, Mother summoned her two sisters, and other family members gathered together as well.
There were four possible solutions. Nana, as we called Grandmother, could go to a rest home or have live-in help, but we discarded these ideas quickly because the family wanted to have the privilege of caring for this lady as she had cared for us through the years.
The third option was rotating the responsibility for her care by having each family keep her for several months. This idea was also discarded because Nana’s memory was fading, and it was hard for her to remember people and places. Sorting out new surroundings and a new family every few months would be an insurmountable task for her.
The last solution was for Nana to live permanently with a family where she could have constant care. Obviously, this would be the best choice. We volunteered our home; our children were young, and Nana loved little children. She would enjoy being part of a family again.
“Happy?” Bob asked as we went to bed the night the decision was made.
“Oh, yes,” I answered. Memories of my childhood with my grandmother engulfed me—baking bread, drying apricots, sewing a new Sunday dress. Now I would have a chance to return a tiny part of the love and care she had given me. We drove home to California with five of our children, leaving Nana and our eldest daughter, Kirsten, to fly home in a couple of days.
As Nana entered our home that first day, her feet shot out in front of her. Bob grabbed her to save her from falling. My eyes immediately found the culprit—a forgotten rollerskate.
“We need a family council,” said Bob.
We all met together and talked about how life needed to change with our new family member. It didn’t take long to lay down a few ground rules.
“Toys and clothes have to be picked up off the floor,” observed Chris, owner of the wayward rollerskate.
“All in favor?” asked Dad. Everyone agreed.
“Since Nana is going to be my roommate, I’ll do her hair and nails every Saturday,” offered Kirsten.
“Nana needs a job,” said Rebekah, four years old but with amazing insight into the needs of a woman more than ninety years older than she. “She can fold clothes, and I’ll make her bed.”
“We’ll reorganize the job charts,” said ten-year-old Laura and eleven-year-old Robin.
So our family began a new routine. Every morning I bathed and dressed Nana before she made her way to breakfast. (A new seating plan had been established to accommodate her wheelchair.) After the older children left for school, she folded clothes or rocked the baby, Rachel. In the fall, we shelled peas and snapped beans from the garden.
“Here’s your book,” I said one day. “You can sit here in the sun and read a while.” Nana, partially blind, loved her large-print magazines.
“Do you hear that beautiful choir?” she asked.
I listened carefully. “What are they singing?”
“‘O, My Father,’” she answered. “Isn’t it beautiful?” The veil was becoming thin.
The blessing Bob had given her was being fulfilled. She was enjoying her life, and it was a fruitful and productive time for her. Her sweet spirit permeated our entire family.
One night, when it was time for her to get ready for bed, she headed out the front door.
“Nana, where are you going?” I called to her.
“Spence came to get me. He’s taking me home,” she said. Spence was a nephew who had been killed forty years earlier in World War II.
“Maybe he is coming,” I whispered, tears in my eyes.
Two days later she fell while trying to get out of her wheelchair. The shock to her body was great, and I could not get her to eat or drink.
“Spence came to get me,” she kept whispering.
I knew it was true. She would die soon.
Many years earlier, Nana had requested that the family let her die at home, so we did not take her to the hospital. Instead, she spent her last hours with me by her side. It wasn’t easy to lose Nana. For almost two years she had been a singular part of our family. It hurt as I watched her struggle to breathe.
“Pray for me to die,” she said, echoing her plea from months earlier.
I did not want her to die, but I could stand it no longer. I knelt beside her bed, took her limp hand in mine, and asked God to release her spirit. In an hour she was gone.
Bob came home unexpectedly from work. Miraculously, all of the children’s baby-sitting jobs, music lessons, soccer and swimming practices were canceled for one reason or another.
As a family, we knelt in prayer to thank our Father in Heaven for the privilege of caring for our Nana. A never-to-be-forgotten spirit of love rested upon our home in that great teaching moment about the plan of salvation.
The cemetery looked dreary—a typical December day. As my brother dedicated the grave, the clouds parted and sunlight streamed down upon the family. My grandmother had met with these loved ones at family reunions for many, many years. We felt she was with us for one last time.
I was warmed by that thought against the cold chill of the wind. As I looked around at those I loved so completely, I caught a glimpse of what I hoped would be my heavenly family, with Nana leading the way.