Sunday, May 1, 2011
Goodbye, Grandma Paula
Today I'm going to a memorial service for Grandma Paula. Nurse Paula. Paula of Paula and Bob.
Practical. Warm-hearted. Always there to help. Not one to suffer foolish behavior gladly. Did what needed to be done. Adopted many in her lifetime, formally and otherwise.
She was born in Canada, I believe, and later moved to Washington state with her mother. She became a nurse just before WWII. She returned to college just after the war, where she met her future husband Robert, studying on the GI bill. They were "mature" students, both in their early 20s. They married and had two sons, later adopting a foster daughter who came to live with them as a pregnant teen.
We met when I was 6 years old. She was a member of the same church we were. My mom and I had no family in town, and she didn't yet have biological grandkids, so we were matched. We didn't know yet how lucky we were.
At our first meeting, my mom dropped me off at her house. It must have been in the fall, because we made Jack O'Lantern sugar cookies and then took them to a nursing home to distribute. I can't remember how we next met, but before we knew it, we were family.
I remember many dinners at their house over the years. Going to home health visits with Paula. Easter hunts in their yard. Attending the wedding of their younger son, and driving to Idaho so that Paula could help out with the new granddaughter who wouldn't stop crying while her dad was off working in the woods. Getting involved with the Friendship Foundation, hosting and meeting international students, going to the big cultural evenings at the university with them (Korea Night, Japan Night, India Night). Time with Paula's mom Grandma Aiken, who lived in an apartment behind their home and was an amputee. Working on puzzles in their living room. Playing with Paula's antique childhood dolls. Paula introduced me to Harlequin Romances and Miss Marple murder mysteries as a kid. My mother remembers that she had someone to call when her child got sick late and night and she wasn't sure what to do.
Paula taught me to finger knit, to crochet scarves and hats, to sew, and later to compost and make jam. She took me to adopt a kitten on a farm. Paula's husband Bob, who had wanted nothing to do with that adopted grandchild business, and was soon giving horsey rides and bone-crushing hugs, later taught me to drive. Paula and Bob were witnesses at our first marriage on the steps of a historic house in the country. For our second wedding in front of more friends and family, I wore Paula's ivory satin wedding dress. Later, I took our little G1 over to visit, and he knew exactly where to find the toy bin while we had tea.
Grandma Paula had not been feeling well physically for a long time. Since Grandpa Bob died two years ago, life had been even harder. But she had an incredible will, to live and to help people. She was fiercely independent and it was very hard for her to give up driving despite failing eyesight, to slow down. After her most recent hospital stay, she was deemed ready to be discharged home with hospice care. But she was determined to return to rehab and learn to walk again (after a recent hip replacement related to a fall). It went very quickly at the end. She signed a POLST while still in the hospital, and the next day, before she could be moved, she slipped into a coma.
I was glad to see her just before she died. I stroked her hair and talked to her; hearing is the last sense to go. I told her I loved her and thanked her for everything she had done for me and my mother. The hospital room was full, with her son and his wife, and friends from her church. It was peaceful too, dark and warm. She was comfortable, with a morphine drip. Paula's son and a nurse had arranged palm fronds around her feet from a service at the church. Paula's breath stopped, then started, many times. About an hour after I left, it stopped for good.
When I got home, Minou and I cried. I don't pretend to know what happens after death, but I would like to think that she and Bob are reunited somehow after their 60+ years of marriage (a prominent sign in their house said "Marriage is a mutual misunderstanding".) I'm glad that she was comfortable. She will be missed by many. Her love and caring actions will continue to reverberate through the lives she touched and carry outwards.