The last time I saw my Grandma Brown alive was in June of this year. Morah and I were back in Honolulu for my ten year high school reunion, and I knew there was a good chance it would be the last time I would get to see her. I’m sad to say that I was right, as she passed away on the morning of November 8th.
The funeral was held on a Monday morning; a simple and beautiful service that I think my grandmother would have enjoyed. Although the circumstances were sad, the Brown family was happy to be reunited for the first time in over ten years. Family and friends came together to remember the life of a woman that had deeply impacted us all.
The rest of the day was spent with family. We ate good food, enjoyed an afternoon at the beach, and rested after an emotionally taxing morning that left us all physically drained. We had dinner together, and afterward bid each other farewell, promising not to let another ten years pass until we see each other again.
Bunny, as everyone called her – so nicknamed because of her “cotton top” of blonde hair – was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a while back and had been in a slow, steady decline. When Morah and I got engaged in 2004, she had trouble remembering who I was. At our wedding in 2006 she was barely ambulatory, and it was clear that although she knew she was at a wedding, she didn’t know that I was her grandson. The past year had been particularly hard on her. She had been able to sit upright when I saw her in June, but she spent her last couple of months in bed.
Watching her body deteriorate wasn’t as painful as watching her mind fail her. Each time we saw her it was clear that she knew she was supposed to recognize us, but didn’t. What hurt the most wasn’t that she had forgotten who I was, but the clearly embarrassed look on her face as she feigned recognition – the child-like hope that she wouldn’t be caught in her lie.
Perhaps the hardest moment for me came back in June. I dreaded seeing her because I had heard about her state from my parents, and I didn’t want my last memory of her to be one so sad. Luckily, Morah was with me, as was a close family friend, Judy. We visited in the early afternoon and she slept most of the time. When she was awake, she didn’t pretend to know who we were, even after her partner, Mike, told her that I was her grandson. As hard as it was to see her like that, I think that made it easier at the same time. I can’t really explain why. Maybe that didn’t actually make it easier; perhaps I just felt like it was because the whole experience wasn’t as bad as I had built it up to be in my mind. Mike and Judy talked the whole time we were there, and grandma slept in her wheelchair for most of the time.
Just before we left, I took her hand, told her that I loved her, and said my good-byes. Morah and Judy did too, and it was then that Bunny had a moment of clarity. She looked up at us, blinked a few times, and then smiled and laughed. Her laugh. The laugh that told me she was still in there. I had tried so hard not to cry, and although I managed not to up until that point, once she laughed, I lost it. Even now I’m crying as I write this. In that brief moment, I got to see my grandmother one last time. I got to thank her for twenty-eight years of happy memories, life lessons, and love.
Today my grandmother’s ashes are housed in a beautiful koa wood box, inurned in a niche in an open air columbarium, forever facing Diamond Head.0 People like this. Be the first!