Monday, December 3, 2012

Do We Tell G'ma?

My great-aunt died.  The timing wasn't great; Superstorm Sandy had just finished washing away the east coast, where she and all her relatives live. Her grandson's school was closed for the disaster, and there was no back-up child care.  She had been child care. My sister drove in from New Jersey to collect him and amuse him and take him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; that will be an odd memory for him to fold into the tale he tells of his grandmother's demise.

She was old, Aunt Lilly was.  She had been sick for a while, and palliative care was the most recent prescription.  It was only a matter of time.  As TBG describes these events, it was sad but not a tragedy.  It was also a fact.

Aunt Lilly and G'ma weren't close. G'ma wasn't close to anybody, except, perhaps, my sister. There was no antagonism, there was distance and disinterest.  Still, the woman was married to her brother; she was a part of my mother's life.

The question is, should her death become a part of that narrative?

I wrestled with it alone.  I talked about it with TBG.  I slept on it.  Now, I am writing about it.  I'm not sure what to do.  

I asked my siblings for their advice.  My sister urged me to have the conversation, because "death is part of life and life has unhappy moment in it."  Since my oft-stated goal for my mom is "No Unhappy Days," this presents a dilemma.

I sat next to her at Thanksgiving, watching her remind herself that she was at my house, with my husband and that young man who must be my son and her grandson sharing the festive table.  There was turkey; it must be Thanksgiving.  The short-sleeved linen top was anachronistic; what was she doing wearing a spring top in the fall?  Oh, right, she's in Tucson, the desert, and it's hot.

All that in five minutes.... and then we started in again.

Why didn't my limp go away?  Would it ever go away?  "You were shot... in the ass... and a little girl died"..... over and over again.

Could she help?  Was there anything she could do?  "I am just sitting here, watching," she'd laugh, and then, after a pause, she'd ask, again, if she could do something for me.  I reminded her that she'd unwrapped the butter and opened the bag of croutons and then she laughed at herself sitting and doing nothing.

The next time she started in on my limp, I pre-empted her: I'm limping because I was shot.  I'm in therapy and they say I will get better but they don't know when. Exercise is boring but I do it because I have to.  Over and over again.

She has no memory of the wedding or the rehearsal dinner or the wonderful time she had at both events. She doesn't remember being surrounded by her grand-daughters' love.  She doesn't remember that her skirt fell to her hips as she stepped into my living room (sometimes having no short term memory is a blessing) nor does she remember that I wore pink sneakers to the party.  

She knows she doesn't remember and she's sad about it when I remind her that it happened.  What's the upside to that?  I can't find one.  She's oriented to herself and her tv and her remote controls. She knows she's supposed to love me, even if she sometimes forgets who I am.  If I don't visit for several days, she holds no grudge.  She doesn't know if I come every day or once a month. 

I recognize the importance of staying connected to the world around her; we went over every nominee and every proposition on her ballot, and she was engaged and thoughtful throughout the process.  Of course, I could have gone over the same races all over again and she'd have had no trouble voting all over again without any memory of the first time around, but, in the moment, she was there.

Does she need to have that moment with Aunt Lilly?

My brother says no.  I'm seeing both sides.  I'd love to know what you think.


  1. I see no point in telling her. I vote with you...go for happy, not unhappy.

  2. I say no too. It's not like she was close to her. She's not going to remembet and it's just something else she has to process.

    Was reading this in my boring staff meeting. Running to another meeting.

    Happy Monday.

    Megan xxx

  3. Me three. It would serve no point. From what you've said in this post, it sounds like she is losing more and more memory. How sad for all of you. If you can keep something happy, do it.

  4. Hi Ashleigh,

    I volunteer at a nursing home each week when I am not working and this is a common issue that many families face. My biggest concern is will it agitate or upset her when you do share the news? If the answer is yes, then I probably would not tell her. Otherwise, the decision is really up to you. However, I do have to agree with the others and most likely would not tell her. I hope this helps:)


  5. Well, my knee-jerk response to almost every difficulty is to follow the path of least resistance. That tells me not to mention it. If G'Ma has a favorite album of old photos lying around, and if you haven't gone through it with her lately, AND if there are any photos of Lilly therein -- a lot of ifs! -- you might consider using that to trigger a question from her: And who is this again? Which could lead into the gentle report of Lilly's passing.

    Otherwise, I'm thinking: if you won't tell her about the skirt, there's probably no reason to mention the sister.

  6. Oh, readers, I love you so. Perhaps we are self-selected and we all agree and that's why we are all here in The Burrow, but I don't care. It's nice to have my biases reinforced!

    You are right, JES, and you made me laugh at the same time. Thanks, Maggie, for the "professional" advice; being around the issue makes you a pro in my book. as always, Megan and Liz and Sharon, you see into my heart.

    I do so love the blogosphere<3

  7. I wouldn't tell her. What's the point? Even if she does remember the woman, telling her will not make her any happier, and she will not remember it the next day or so. If she mentions the sister-in-law, tell her the truth, otherwise, keep quiet.

  8. I'll add my vote to the 'no need to tell her' side of the tally. I've (twice) observed tragic news given (with the best of intention and heart) to two different family members - each had only pools of active linear memory. Both times the news instigated brief but terrible sadness. Honesty is always ideal, but I like to think hard truths are best gently weighed against necessity and outcome...

    If you share the news with her she will, granted, quickly forget any pain it visits on her heart. You on the other hand will not.
    IMSO it's part of the equation to consider how sharing such news will impact you, the news giver. It's devastating to see one you love hurt, even fleetingly.

    I'm so glad I've found my way to your writings - inspiration AND humor!



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