Any suggestions?

My grandmother is dying.

She has a number of days left most likely. 

One of the issues we’ve been navigating is how best to handle this with our kids.  They are aged 11, 8, and 6.  I am not proud to admit that she’s had a slowly decreasing role in our lives.  She has suffered fairly advanced dementia and has lived in a nursing home for the last several years.

She’s not often conscious, at this point, and this is a blessing.  She’s got a pretty severe respitory infection.  The other clients in the nursing home sometimes do stuff that the kids find disturbing.

We’ve done an o.k. job of talking about it and sharing our feelings.

The real struggle is this: the older two kids really don’t want to see her. 

On some level, there is no point.  She’s hardly ever even awake.  And when she is, she has no clue who she is, where she is, or who we are.

On some other level, though, visiting is the right thing to do.  I’m working really hard at sorting out what people think and say is the right thing to do, because I don’t particularly care if anybody is impressed or not.   I have been visiting her every day or two.  I’m trying to lead by example.

And one of my deals is just sorting out my own junk.  My own issues with aging, and death, and saying goodbye, and putting everything in God’s hands… She was an important figure in my life.  I am sad that she will be gone.

I just don’t know how much pressure we should put on them.  Will they someday think that we should have put more pressure on them to say goodbye?  Will they someday blame us if we do pressure them?  More important than what they will someday think, is the question of what is best for them, what is the right thing to do.  And it’s pretty hard to work that all out right now.

What do you think?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

8 thoughts on “Any suggestions?”

  1. Hi Jeff, Sorry to hear about your grandmother–these are tough times. Regarding your kids,my opinion–I suspect your two older ones are old enough that they can answer what I sense is the key question: Grandma is dying, after she is gone do you think you will wish that you had visited her more/ one last time? They certainly know that it doesn’t really matter to grandma anymore, but they might wish they had said a more formal goodbye. By letting them make the choice I think you defuse the whole issue and increase the chances that whatever they decide it will end up being a good lesson for them.

    — Vance


  2. I’m so sorry Jeff – it just stinks when you have to muck around in grief and regret at the same time. I’m sure you’ll work out whatever feels best to you. I’m respectfully refraining from any assvice because I know how different our parenting styles are – I can’t think that I would have anything valuable to offer you, except my empathy at this time. Hang in there… you already know what it is that you’ll do, you just haven’t realized it yet!


  3. When I was 14 my “grandmother” passed away, and she had slipped into a stage of dementia about a month before she died. I saw her 1 time early on and didn’t want to go back. The grandmother I knew was Gone. Her Body was there but what made her her was lost… When I think of her I still remember the good times but not far behind are the memories of our last visit. I wouldn’t push them.


  4. Thanks, Billy & Dionne. You’re both wise and compassionate and your counsel means a lot to me.
    I guess you’re right about our different parenting styles. It’s interesting, I don’t think I ever noticed that before, though.

    Yeah, you are so right. Youngest was with me yesterday. She opened her eyes. Her gaze was so empty. It broke my heart. I’ve gotten used to the idea that she doesn’t recognize me, or the kids. I’m not looking for that sort of recognition. But it was more than that. She didn’t even seem aware that we were there at all.
    It bummed me out that youngest had to see that.


  5. My grandfather had Alzheimers for 14 years before he died almost 2 years ago. I would go down and see him for my grandmother’s sake because she’s still around, but I still didn’t get there very often. It was miserable watching the decline.

    I think, as an adult, I would feel regret if I hadn’t ever gone to see him, but probably as a kid it would have been okay if I had decided not to. During his decline, I was almost entirely unable to remember the vibrant, warm man who used to remember everybody’s names. I didn’t become able to again until he died–but I had a couple of decades with him at his best before that. Your kids don’t have that much, and it might be hard for them to remember it all in the aftermath? (I don’t know. I’m just thinking “aloud” here.)


  6. Hi there—me again.

    I’m wondering at what point does the soul truly leave the body. Is it always death? Or is it sometimes earlier? What you said, Billy– “The grandmother I knew was gone”. I wonder if someone is in that demented state of mind, who, if anyone, really has control over their body, and whether the grandmother that you knew is still there or long gone.

    Just my thoughts, take them as you will.


  7. Hi Christian-
    Thanks for the thoughts.
    The more studying, reading, and praying that I do, the more convinced I become that the view of the soul leaving the body isn’t quite right.

    (I started wrestling with these ideas well before the book came out, but NT Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” expressed some of the things I’d been thinking about better than I ever could have.)
    I’ve come to believe that we will have a physical existence in heaven, and that we will be resseructed in an improved and healthy body.
    If this is about right, then slowly shutting down is a bit like suffering from a disease that is eventually recovered from. (The recovery, here, is in the resseruction in the “afterlife)

    All that stuff aside, I think you’ve hit on something really important. We ordinarily view as death as a single event, that happens at one point in time.
    The truth is that death happens in stages. I don’t remember exactly the order it went in, or what all the stages are, but some sociologist wrote about how we experience “professional death” as retire, and social death as our circle of friends grows smaller, and a death of independence as we begin to depend on people…

    Thanks for your thoughts.


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