I am very fortunate that, until very recently, I had only lost one person whom I dearly loved. My grandmother was a very complex woman, who had lived in poverty for most of her life, but still managed, usually, to maintain a positive outlook on most things. She never quite expected the best, but she always encouraged her grandchildren to do so, and gave us the gift of hope and confidence. She was an optimistic cynic.
As she grew older, time began to rob her of all of the things that she had held dear in her life. For the last thirty years of her life she refused to look in a mirror, explaining that she “didn’t recognize the old woman” she saw there. She had been a voracious reader, yet her eyesight started to fail until she could no longer discern the words printed on the page. She loved to crochet, yet arthritis plagued her and she was forced to give up her yarn and hook. She used to walk for miles in the city, at times with no particular destination in mind, simply enjoying the people and sights she encountered on the way. But in her last years, due to injury and illness, she was confined to a wheelchair, unable even to stand on her own. In earlier years, when she encountered other people with these various afflictions, I recall hearing her say that she would rather “die early” than have to live “like that”. But she continued to fight for her life through everything. To a certain extent she was understandably bitter about all of this, but for us she always managed to find a smile. She had a wicked sense of humor, and she could always laugh. There was a light somewhere within her that refused to be extinguished by external circumstances.
Many people, when asked how they want to eventually die when their time comes, respond that they want to die peacefully in their sleep. Although my grandmother did not have a great many of her own wishes fulfilled during her lifetime, she realized this wish of many in her departure. At the age of 94, she passed away quietly, in her own bed. I was not able to be present with her, but I like to believe that she was smiling.