Tag: Ruth Keany Brown

Still learning from Gram…

Running aloneEveryone has their own way of working through big life events. Me?  I run.
Not away…I just run until things make sense to me.

The other day, I woke up and realized I needed a run – a long run. I knew it would help me process Gram’s passing and sort out all of my thoughts. 20 minutes into the run, my worries about the confusing details of her funeral and estate subsided and I got back to just thinking about her. It was a relief to let go of the logistics for a while.

While I ran, I thought about how her caretakers had described her final day (Valentine’s Day). Her dementia prevented her from speaking, but she’d been happy that day. Like every day she dressed, ate real food, and interacted with people.

“She brushed her teeth.” She loved her water pick and would sometimes brush her teeth for 20 minutes in the morning, while in the shower. (Apparently she could make quite a mess) She’d been to the dentist, weeks before she died, and was noted to have an incredibly healthy mouth.

“She colored in her coloring books.” The big toddler crayons were the easiest for her to hold and she used them with great zeal. Her kitchen, where she sat the most, was covered with colorful pages of Disney characters and doe-eyed animals.

“She played ‘tennis’ and ‘golfed’.“ Tennis = volleying a big foam ball with badminton rackets.  Golf = whacking the big foam ball across the floor with the racket. Even though many of her basic functions were disappearing, her coordination and competitive spirit persisted.

“She biked a ¼ mile.” I hadn’t understood what this meant until I got to her house. Her caretakers had brought in a recumbent stationary bike and glued comfortable Velcro slippers to the pedals. She pedaled every day. When she was younger, I’d known her to ride horses, swim, and walk – never to ride a bike. So she had picked up cycling sometime in her early 90s. (So awesome) She biked a ¼ mile on her last day.

At the end of the day, she was exceptionally tired and incredibly weak and needed to be carried to bed. She slept peacefully, without pain that night. She died of natural causes at home, in her own bed, early the next morning. Exactly the way she had wanted to.

Her day sounded like a modified version of the days before dementia. She was very much a creature of habit (or disciplined, if you asked her). She had changed a lot, but she was still very much herself.

10 miles later, it felt like things made sense, like there were as they were supposed to be.

I can never be lost

never lostOur grandmother had a knack for discovering the best Chinese Food Restaurants in the most distant locations. For birthdays and holidays, she’d pick up any combination of my brother, me, friends, and cousins and we’d set out to see if we could find the spot again. It was always an adventure and it always started with her signature “whopee!”

Our grandma was pretty cool as far as grandmothers went. She’d always let us pick the radio station and if she didn’t actually enjoy our taste in music, she thoroughly enjoyed our enthusiasm for rockin’ out. When we couldn’t find our jam, she’d lead us in long, never-ending verses of ‘Found a Peanut’ and ‘Hole in the Bucket’. (These were her favorites)

More times than not, at some point in the adventure, the singing would drift to quiet. We’d find ourselves on turning back roads, slowing down, driving by landmarks that were starting to repeat. We’d feel a little nervous and ask, “Gramma, are we lost?”

With surety and joy she’d reply, “No, we’re not lost. We can’t be. There’s a yellow line on the road. Someone’s been here before.” And she’d keep driving.

The quiet would continue as we wound our way and followed yellow lines. And then like a car slipping on ice that finds a bit of traction, we knew she’d found the landmark she was looking for. The car would resume speed and she’d let out another “whoopee!”confirming the adventure was back on.

We never got to a restaurant via the direct route, but we never got lost. We got disoriented and off-course and may have doubled parts of our route, but never lost. We had so many adventures and the journey really was as much fun as the destination. (which says a lot since she also let us put as many sugars in our tea as we wanted and didn’t mind us dropping paper into the pu-pu platter’s sterno flames)

This memory is one of my favorites of her. I’m incredibly lucky because I have so many. When I was little and she didn’t get mad when I wrote my name in crayon on several of the bricks in her fireplace. When I bought my first house and she showed up and scrubbed and cleaned every window and surface in the house with me. And over the most recent 20 years when my family would stay with her in Florida and visit her zoo and her beach– and occasionally she’d sneak them out of the house for an adventure.

She died yesterday. The past couple of years, her dementia really took her over and I haven’t seen her except for one visit. I’m strong in many conditions, but wasn’t enough to be with her when she wasn’t her anymore. I could only catch a glimpse of her when she eating ice cream (she loved sweet treats) or volleying with badminton rackets a foam ball (amazing, the skills that linger).

She wasn’t perfect, in fact she could be quite stubborn and opinionated and some of her family relationships were very damaged. I’m pretty sure I had one of the easiest relationships with her. I don’t know why.

There are so many things about her life, her career, her adventures that I hope to always remember. But I know I will never forget the excitement I felt when we pulled out of the driveway in her Datsun and she let out a “whoopee!” There was an adventure ahead for us. And I know I can never be lost, as long as I see the yellow line.

♥ Ruth Keany Brown ♥

Gram