“Mama C, we are going to be moving you to the emergency room”, I firmly informed my grandmother. In a few short weeks she would have been 102 years old. Sadly for us but joyously for her husband who had been waiting 25 years for her to join him, Mama C would not last the weekend. Immediately upon my pronouncement, she clenched her teeth and grunted sternly, “unh uh!” In the only way God had left her, my grandmother insisted that we obey her wishes to let her die quickly without aid.
Until Thanksgiving of 2011, Mama C had lived her 101 years fiercely independent, loving and giving in her own home. She attributed her longevity to finding happiness each day and to not fretting too much about anything, but fret or not her heart finally began to give out. After recovering enough to return to church and to see many of her friends one last time on Christmas day, Mama C relapsed this past weekend in severe pain.
Quickly declining to the point that she was unable to open her eyes or to speak, my grandmother continued to communicate in sharp consciousness through her pain with grunts and cries. She refused to eat or drink for she had made the determined choice that her time was at end. Knowing her wishes, her physician suggested that the family allow Mama C to remain at home and to quickly pass in relative comfort. But as the hours progressed, it was clear to all that she was increasingly suffering with each new wince of pain.
Hospice was unavailable so our family’s only option to relieve her pain was to bring her back to the ER. Succumbing to our need for comfort, we denied her distinct, direct, grunting wishes and called 911 to deliver her to the mercy of the hospital where doctors confirmed that her remaining time would be numbered in days if not hours. Eased by some additional comfort measures for her journey, her distraught and confused family returned Mama C to her home once again where in the arms of her children she passed away within an hour of returning home.
In the midst of her crisis, while in immense pain and losing even her basic means of communication, Mama C had remained distinctly conscious that she must, as we all must, pass through the mortal arch and feel the pain of human frailties giving way to spiritual strengths. A teacher in her earlier days, she gave her final lesson to her loving family that spiritual rebirth at the end of life, like human birth in its beginnings, is not without pain to accent the joy of transition.
Though we were not prepared to listen at first, Mama C spoke in the simplest of gestures that if one is prepared to endure what must be endured, an unsustainable life can quickly give way to a sustainable one. With reasonable comfort measures to support the dignity of all involved, yet without unreasonably extending what must inevitably occur, life can transition just as a 101 year old sage of life wisely envisioned.
Are all unsustainable systems such? Should the inevitability of irreversibly damaged economies and financial structures be made to linger for years in pain or be allowed to quickly transform to sustainable new forms of life? Does the Western World have the clairvoyance of a 101 year old sage to see clearly a new life waiting on the other side? Can America determinedly with distinct consciousness move toward it? We may not yet be prepared to listen. We may be confused and distraught. Yet the inevitable transition will occur and should occur quickly with relative comfort and dignity of all involved.
I was honored to experience Mama C’s shining examples of love, friendships, joy, renewal, reinvention, perseverance, and patience, and cannot help but wonder if they were surpassed by her last of life’s lessons in her example for her family of a determined transition. In the midst of America’s current crisis, I also wonder if there is a parallel of her transition as an answer, in part, to America’s troubles.