Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Growing old disgracefully

Laa-Laa rocking the faux fur
jacket and curly hair, July 2006.

I was sitting around the kitchen table at work the other day, listening to my fellow teachers waxing lyrical about family stories. Particularly those stories that related to their parents and the process of aging. The History teacher said something which caught my attention (which can sometimes be difficult for History teachers the world over, if you catch my drift). She said: "Why isn't it possible for all people to get old with dignity?"

I recall reading Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom a few years back, detailing sociologist Morrie Schwartz's slow and painful delivery into death's hands as a victim of Lou Gehrig's disease. What caught me the most were the parts in which he talked frankly about the humility this disease impressed upon him in the guise of, for instance, having others wipe your derriere because you could no longer do it yourself.

Little did I know that this process would be played out all too soon with my maternal grandmother, nicknamed Laa-Laa, who succumbed to the vicious ravages of cancer with as much spirit as she could muster. I was horrified by the barbarity of the treatments she was encouraged by the medical fraternity to endure, hoping to eke out just a little more time here on earth. However, her frail body and brittle porcelain skin belied the courage which lay within.

She was a fighter. She threw the notion of growing old gracefully to the wind. Before she lost her beautiful, thick hair to chemotherapy; we marvelled at the fact that she no longer even knew what her true hair colour was. Every Saturday was about a visit to the hairdresser for perming and colouring. A ring adorned every finger. Years of wearing only fashionable shoes had left her with bunions the size of small planets, and even then she was remiss in letting go of them to err on the side of practicality and comfort. Yes, she was a spitfire, my Laa-Laa. The type of old gal a song like Mustang Sally should have been written for.

She attended her own funeral before beginning her descent into the stuff medical nightmare's are made of. Indeed, her very own living funeral (an idea borrowed from Albom's book). For one perfect day tinged with a side-order of sadness, songs were sung; past hurts were made right; favourite foods were eaten with true abandon; hugs were freely handed out and lashings of laughter mixed with tears were shared.

She held on almost a year after that day spent celebrating a life rather uniquely lived, passing peacefully in my parents' home in 2007, surrounded by her husband, her children and children-in-law. Everyday, she is missed.

Here's the maternal great-grandmother, Gaga, lived into her nineties quite sanely (despite her nickname). Now, how the hell did my gran lose almost two decades in the race against time with genes like that on her side? I'll tell you this much, prune juice started looking a lot more appealing as my drink of choice once having done that little sum.

I'm not sure about growing old too disgracefully, especially since I'm not one for the noxious fumes associated with hair dyes. No, I think I'll rather content myself with trying to grow disgracefully old (my husband reckons 120 ought to do just fine, although I still think we're both holding out for some Twilightesque immortality... :-)