My grandmother's last day
Editor's note: Nearly two years ago,
NolaVie columnist and radio personality Brett Will Taylor said goodbye to New Orleans, relocating to New Mexico. Today we repost BWT's recent love letter to his late one-of-a-kind grandmother. Couldn't you envision her in New Orleans?
My grandmother began her last day as she did most days: With judgment.
It wasn’t that Gran was mean; she just thought most people could use a little straightening out.
Gran was strikingly beautiful and incredibly seductive. She wasn’t just the life of the party. She was the party itself.
I once watched with a combination of horror and pride as a man tried to pick her up during the intermission of a Lena Horne show. Gran was wearing a brown leather dress. She let him buy her a drink and light her cigarette before blowing smoke in his face and saying, “My dear, I’d love to stay and chat, but you see I’m here on a date with my grandson.” The man was so stunned that, if you went to the Dallas Music Hall today, I am quite sure you’d find him standing in the same place. Still.
Gran also was tough. Extremely tough. She thought life was a battle. To be won. Which she almost always did.
I used to tell people that Gran was a cross between Auntie Mame and Victoria Barkley from “The Big Valley” TV show. In today’s world, she’d be more like Hillary Clinton … in Caitlyn Jenner’s body.
On her last day, Gran directed her judgment at me.
She had had a stroke about 10 days before. The doctors told us she didn’t have long, so Mom, Sister and I flew in for the final vigil.
I slept on the floor at the foot of Gran’s bed. On the night before her last day, I had bedded down in my clothes, which happened to be a black shirt and khaki pants (Gran would not allow us to wear jeans in her presence).
As the sun rose, I got up and went to the side of Gran’s bed. The stroke had left her bedridden and unable to speak. I gently squeezed her hand and bent down to give her a kiss. “Good morning,” I said.
Gran opened her eyes and turned to face me.
Reflexively, I looked down to give myself a quick scan and immediately saw the problem: Lint.
You see, if you sleep on the floor of your dying grandmother’s skilled nursing room in a black shirt, it is highly likely that you will get up covered in lint.
Gran did not approve of lint.
“Old woman,” I said, “cut me some slack. I slept on the floor!”
Gran shrugged her bony shoulders, rolled her eyes and turned away from me. I, on the other hand, ran to the bathroom to change clothes. When I emerged, lint-free, Gran smiled.
The rest of the day saw no change in Gran’s condition. She was on her third or fourth day without any type of food or liquid, except the ice chips we’d put between her gums and teeth. “It’s for comfort only,” the nurse explained. Gran slept for the most part. Every now and then, she’d open her eyes, see that Mom, Sister and I all were still there, and close them again.
There were no more judgments. Just peace, as the old woman released what little fight remained in her. And stillness. The kind of stillness that heralds Death’s approach.
The sun crossed the sky, night fell and the day ended.
Around 10 o’clock, Sister went up to one of the guest rooms they had at the skilled nursing facility. Mom got into the bed that was next to Gran and I went to sleep on the floor. This time I had put a sheet down so as not to wake up with lint.
Several hours later, Mom and I both sat up with a start. The room was silent. We looked at each other and at Gran.
“This is it,” Mom said.
There was no reason for Mom to say that. Gran was asleep with her hands folded across her chest. Her breathing was shallow, but not labored.
But she knew. And I knew. Death was in the room.
We both got up. Mom went to one side of Gran’s bed, I to the other. We each took a hand, gently unfolding them.
“Thank you, mother, for everything,” Mom said.
“We love you very much,” I added. “And we’re going to be ok.”
“Yes, we will,” Mom confirmed.
With that, Gran shed two tears. One in each eye.
It was 1:55 a.m. on a Saturday night. “What do you know,” I said. “Gran made last call.”
“Yes, she did,” Mom said. “One last time.”
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]