Few times in a persons life are as heart breaking as the death of a loved one. This was a good death though.
While sat at my Grandmothers bedside and in the many years leading up to her last breath, we had talked about death often.
It was easy for us. Even easier after the premature death of my Mother, her Daughter. My Italian Grandmother (Nonna) would question her religion and wonder why. I would attempt to offer logic which came shrouded in little comfort.
She was the matriarch. She held the keys to much of my families past but alzheimer’s hid them away long before her body failed.
Up and about till the last couple of day’s a recent move to a care home had given her a new freedom. The freedom to take matters into her own hands and die with a little dignity. She had decided to speed matters up by not eating and in the last 4 days not drinking.
She knew death was always near but had grown impatient waiting.
Death was freedom from her demons. Demons that gnawed at her heart since her daughter died. Tormented her soul while her four younger siblings died. Toyed with her brain throughout.
At the end philosophy failed me. Logic failed me. A deep sadness began to seep in to my otherwise rational thoughts.
Occasionally perspective would offer some relief, but in the quiet times, when I felt I was the only one to ever feel this, I cried.
I’ll leave my most self indulgent reflections to my offline diary, but I will share her last moments.
The rest of the family were elsewhere. On the floor above her room I took a photo of the sky and what I believed to be her last sunset. It wasn’t a picture postcard. Far from it. Just a lopsided snap through a window at a pale orange sky. A large vanishing sun barely visible through the haze and trees.
On the windowsill a plant I realised I’d have to adopt and an ornament I’ll give away. Then I saw her walking stick. A battered but loyal assistant with a brass horses head. It hadn’t left her side since She’d inherited it from my Grandfather. It was propped against the wall never to be held by her again. Underneath, her old slippers, never again to be worn.
These seemed small but significant things. Props in a drama that had lasted 90 years to the day.
I held my phone showing the sunset in front of my Gran’s fading gaze. I knew she could hear me but was not sure what she could see.
“This is the view from the window” I said.
She blinked and squeezed my hand. Not my best photo I thought. But suddenly, really significant.
I asked her what she was waiting for. If she wanted me to go. To give her some peace. She squeezed my hand and I could picture her saying she didn’t want to bother me with all this dying stuff. So I left the room, I remembered one of us planned to eat. On the way out I saluted a single magpie through the window.
Shortly after, on returning to the room I heard a sigh. Her last breath.
She’d gone. I’d walked in as she breathed her last. I spoke to her for a bit. Cheek to cheek. Wondering how long her brain would register my words. I thanked her with all my heart, pausing to hide the quiver in my voice. Then I took her pulse and closed her eyes.
I kept reminding myself that this was exactly what she’d wanted.
Even though I knew it was coming I was numb. I’d been preparing myself for a gut punch that I now realise had been tearing through me for a while. Anaesthetised in the moment I stood by her bed. Holding my breath. Waiting for another of hers. None came. I hugged her again and felt her still warm face against mine.
Dying on your birthday is not as uncommon as you would think. Me and my Brother while chatting in the room had googled it earlier in the day.
It’s a milestone. Something to aim for. I thought about how 90 was quite an incredible journey. About how my Gran, possibly the most generous person I’ve ever known, now had something for herself and her alone. The milestones had become millstones and now she was free.
More than half of her life was a mystery to me. And the latter dedicated to others. Children, Grandchildren, Great Grandchildren.
Of all the lives she may have touched, I’m forever indebted to her for bringing my Mother into the world. And for being more than a Mother to me.
I miss her already and when her body fades in the ground, I hope this page can remain somewhere in the ether. A pale facsimile of her spirit. Evidence that she lived, loved and was loved by others for all her 90 years.
R.I.P Ofelia Matilde Podolski Nee Battaglia 20/11/1924 ~ 20/11/2014