As Is the Beginning, Is the End

fiction about death

Short Story

 

Jeanne Ann Westveer was born in 1935. Jeanne married John Frederick Girard Rooks in 1960. She is the mother of my mother, making her my grandmother. When I’m writing this, my grandma is in the hospital, but she is supposed to go home tomorrow. Jeanne Ann Rooks is dying.

When I was eleven, my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Now, after eight years, she is a shell of the person she used to be. My grandma cannot function on her own. She is completely reliant on others to sustain her. This is of course not at all what Jeanne used to be. My grandma was an amazing pianist and singer. She played at her and my grandpa’s church for years until the disease hit. But, now she cannot.

Because of this, I know it’s time.

My brother and I used to go over to my grandparents’ house quite a bit. They had a lot of land and we would be outside for most of the time we spent there. I remember helping my grandma plant flowers around the outside of the house and getting stung by a bee. I remember my grandpa and grandma and I painting in the kitchen. I did my first oil painting when I was one years old at their house with their help. My grandma loved my love for the arts. We don’t talk about the arts anymore. We don’t talk at all really. I’ll tell her things going on in life and ask her if she’s comfortable.

Because of this, I know it’s time.

Only a few years ago, my grandma could still make words. When my grandpa and her came over dinner once, I helped her to the living room. As she struggled to walk she told me “I hate getting old.” While I think everyone would agree with that opinion for the most part, I think she meant it deeper. My whole life, my grandma was old. What wasn’t old was her mind. Until now that is.

Because of this, I know it’s time.

And I know I shouldn’t be sad about it. Life could only get worse for Jeanne. This is the right time. To want her to stay is selfish of me. After death, she’ll have a much better life. What makes it hard is remembering what she was like before the disease. The last few years I’ve only thought of my grandma as bed-ridden and limited. That’s how everyone saw her. I forgot about who she actually was. I forgot about her sitting at the piano and singing, and I forgot about the hundreds of peanut butter and jam sandwiches she made for me. I forgot about her setting up the Super Nintendo for my brother and I when we came over, or when she would grab me a nickel from the high cupboard so I could get a gumball from their machine.

Now, when I’m sitting at her bedside holding her hand, and seeing her slowly fade away, I know it’s time. But, I don’t want her to go.

Because death isn’t a romanticized experience like films make it out to be. It doesn’t bring families together in some grand fashion that ultimately ends up to be a necessary learning experience for everyone. Death is a final, drawn-out whimper.

Death brings a person’s life full circle, having them return to a state where they are helpless and confused, like a newborn.

Because of this I know it’s time. But, I don’t want her to go.

Not too long ago I had a dream about my grandma. I was sitting at her and my grandpa’s house next to her, while she sat silent in a chair like she has been for the last couple of years. I looked away, and when I did, she asked me some mundane question, almost as if we were mid-conversation. When I looked back she was fully awake, leaning out of her chair, Alzheimer’s free. I was so shocked and in awe, that I was afraid to ask how she did it, as I didn’t want even to mention the disease in fear of bringing it back. So I said, “Grandma, I haven’t seen you in years.” She smiled and we hugged, and my grandma said to me, “it’s been too long.”

 

more by TYLER CLIFTON

photograph by Tiago Camargo

 

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  • Very thought provoking and centering story. Thank you!