Monday, January 12, 2009

Babci's example of growing old with grace

Most of my memories of Babci were not of a particularly happy woman. She seemed content and committed to the things she did in life, and she clearly loved us all a great deal, but it seemed like, through everything, there was always this underlying sadness. So I asked my Aunt if she thought Babci was a happy person.

She said she thought yes. Her childhood memories were of a mother who was cheerful and happy. Babci had a very hearty chuckle which, it was true, one heard less and less in her later years. During the final years, my Aunt always found herself trying to get Babci to laugh, to let out that chuckle, because it was such a happy memory. Though Babci may not have told many stories of her childhood, when she did talk about her life as a child she spoke of a time full of fun and joy. Besides carrots and bread, I learned that little Zoshka loved her horses. My aunt told me that, in fact, in the dementia of her final years, sometimes those memories came alive - for example, my aunt sometimes heard Babci making horsey-type noises in her sleep! And when my mother and my aunt were children, Babci would play with them and smile.

But after my grandfather died, the laughs and the smiles became less frequent. She really missed her husband. Sometimes she'd say to my Aunt, "Sometimes I feel like Daddy's here. I talk to him." But over the last two or two-and-a-half years, she it seemed she began to fall into a depression. There was a deep sorrow which was probably enhanced by her heart medications, which left her rather confused. So part of it was in her heart and part of it was from her meds. For example, did she, aided by the meds, start reliving some of what she'd seen in the war years? This must have been very difficult for her.

Her sadness may have increased as her age led her to have to live with limitations. Her desires were never elaborate or luxurious, but as she got older she began to lose some of the simple joys which had always meant so much to her. As her husband and many of her friends, left this life, she increasingly missed the people who had become her close companions. But perhaps even more difficult than that was coming to grips with the fact that her strength was leaving her and her ability to give was diminishing.

She was terrified of becoming a burden to people: she often said she would prefer to die in her sleep early in life, before she became too old and a burden to others. She never became physically dependent on help for her most basic physical functions, so that was a grace for her. But it was difficult for her when the dementia came and she did begin to depend on others. She would often say, "I just can't think clear today. My brain must be tired." She'd get frustrated with herself for forgetting, and scared of the potential consequences of her forgetfulness. She never lost her spunk or her passion, just her ability to put those to good use.

My aunt told me that Babci did manage to keep giving, up to the last day of her life. In her final month, Babci lived in an adult care home. My Aunt sent her there with a box full of pictures, each one labeled with the name of loved ones on the photos. At night, one of the caregiver women would show her the photos to help her remember the important people in her life. During one of those interactions, Babci turned to the woman and asked her, "Do you pray?" The woman said that she'd stopped praying because she would pray once and get no answer, so she decided it didn't work. Babci replied, "That's not how it works. You need to keep praying. Five time pray for it, maybe even more. Keep praying because that'ah how the Lord works." The woman took Babci's words to heart and went home and started to pray repeatedly for a concern, and sure enough God answered. She never had a chance to tell Babci that, but she told my Aunt later on that Babci had truly touched her life by restoring her faith in God.

Everybody at the home was touched by Babci during her lucid moments. During her dementia moments she may have been a burden, but in her lucid moments she shone so beautifully that her new, and final community, fell in love with her. They knew, they could really sense, that there was a beautiful person in that frail short body. That's why they didn't give up on her, even though she was probably so far gone she should have been taken to a more full-care facility, because they could still see the Babci in her.

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