It was the day of Grandma's 95th birthday party. The crowd was beginning to gather for a 2 o'clock start.
I was tasked with going to get Grandma. She was sleeping soundly in her room. I tried waking her, only for her to say, "Just let me sleep."
The nurse comes up to me with an embarrassed look on her face. She begins to explain how Grandma had stayed up until 6 a.m. the last two nights visiting with her daughter from California and would be fine after a power nap. I could merely smile as the uncomfortable nurse thought such a revelation would shock me.
Grandma arrived at the party about 2:45; she delighted in being the belle of the ball. My dad struggled with putting together a guest list for the party as many of her friends had already left this Earth.
Nonetheless, a huge smile would break out on her face whenever she would hear stories about long her deceased husband. I read her my latest newspaper column, as she always loved her antics described in print. People vowed to get together again as she celebrated 100.
Eight weeks later, I got a call that Grandma was in the hospital. She had pneumonia and was in intensive care. Her respiratory health was my concern every winter after nearly losing her life with these issues almost 15 years earlier.
In intensive care, she was still struggling to breathe even with mechanical ventilation. A decision was made to install a tracheostomy tube to help her breathe and survive. The tube was so agitating that Grandma had to be sedated.
While this was not a decision I would personally choose for myself at a similar age. I knew with every fiber of my being that this is what Grandma would have wanted to keep living. If we wish to have a society that respects seniors, we need to strive to honor their wishes. Grandma got out of the ICU after nearly two weeks.
I would make multiple trips to see her back in the nursing home. She would still have her good stretches where we would play cards together, and visit. She enjoyed the last column that I could read to her bearing her name about Esther, Lorraine and Betty as examples of the power of friendship in aging adults.
Grandma after her hospital stay was not the same. While her mind had previously been quite sharp, she was getting increasingly weak and disoriented. My last visit consisted of her tough morning causing our card game to fizzle out. I would hug her across her good shoulder for the last time.
Last Friday, she was struggling to breathe. An ambulance was called. A decision was made to send her to a cardiac care unit. She had a heart attack inside the ambulance. I got the phone call at 9:45 p.m. Grandma lived to be 95 years and nearly 4 ½ months.
When our loved ones grow old, we hope they can maintain a quality of life as long as possible and they don't suffer in their final days. While I never had a chance to say a final goodbye, I'm grateful she left this Earth without prolonged pain.
Like many of our family members and ultimately ourselves, she had her share of personal weaknesses; I would dread potential embarrassment when she turned up her highly church-inappropriate language around others.
Her greatest legacy, though, is she would never be compromised in wanting what was best for me. She never believed that I couldn't overcome an obstacle, despite my skepticism.
While her lectures about not enjoying her years in the nursing home could get repetitive, she convinced me that we need to hold our communities to higher standards for seniors than whatever is most convenient.
As I mourn her passing, there is truth in the saying that we never really get over the deaths of those closest to us. We merely get more used to the realities of our new world. Families can often be complicated though they inevitability shape us until the days of death.
I will be forever grateful that the least stoic Swede I ever met I could call my grandmother for 39 years.
Pastor Stew Carlson is the grandson of the late Beuna May Carlson of Lindstrom, Minn. He is also the board chairman for North Shore Area Partners and pastor of Sychar Lutheran Church in Silver Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.