Against all odds, Nanny is still alive. Hanging on by a thread. We all thought she be gone by now, but her will to keep fighting is perhaps stronger than any of us imagined. She’s mostly unconscious now, and I don’t think she’s aware of her surroundings, but she’s still breathing.
It’s got to be the pacemaker. It’s a cruel irony that a piece of technology meant to bring life to people when they most need it, delays death when it’s time for life to end. My aunt and uncle have been by Nanny’s bedside for a couple of weeks now. My cousin has been with them for the past week, and my mother is going down tomorrow.
The death watch. Not wanting her to die, but not wanting her to suffer. Not wanting to see her in this state. Nanny is in this crazy kind of purgatory – neither here nor there. But I suppose she may still feel the presence of her family in the hospice, and perhaps she’s resisting death’s call because the presence of her family is providing her comfort.
I wonder what that’s like – to know that you’re dying – waiting for it to happen. Nanny was lucid enough a few days ago to give my aunt some final instructions to follow after her death. But here she is – still resisting. What’s happening inside her brain? Is she thinking of her dead relatives or those she’s leaving behind? Is she not thinking of anything anymore? Is she just existing in a primitive state of being?
Every time I think of her lying in her hospice bed, I change the scene – to happier memories, spanning my life of almost 40 years:
To our September visit with Sophie. To my tortuous car trips with Nanny and Poppy from Florida to New York (Poppy never drove more than 50 mph on the highway, and as an adolescent, the constant stream of cars passing us by was no small cause of embarrassment). To her collection of small paper shopping bags from fancy department stores that she would use to hold hairspray or an umbrella or a sweater. To the envelope full of small bills that she would carry in her purse, fastened with a rubber band (I never understood why she didn’t keep the money in her wallet).
To the plastic coverings on all of the furniture in their old Brooklyn apartment. To her glee when we gave her a used computer so that she could connect to the Internet. To her happiness at seeing her grandchildren get married, and meeting her great-grandchildren for the very first time. To her “Miss Neat” obsession with an orderly and clean home (which fixation she reluctantly and apologetically gave up as her health declined). To her chicken soup. To her hairstyle, which basically stayed the same for as long as I can remember, thanks to the cancer-inducing, industrial strength hairspray she used. To her falling asleep and snoring at almost every movie we saw together, and then denying she had been sleeping. To the Andes mints, miniature Hershey bars and chocolate espresso beans she always had at the ready when we came for a visit.
These are some of the memories of her that I will cherish – forever – because they fill me with love, and they make me smile and laugh through my tears.