38,325 days…the later years

This is the 7th and final installment of my series on the remarkable life of my late Grandmother Marion. You can check the archives for the previous installments. I hope you enjoy.

When I left off my Grandfather had passed away at the age of 92. At the time, they were living in a really nice Assisted Living community. I feel the need to mention this because Marion was one of the only residents who didn’t need assistance.

They moved out of their tiny, quaint home into this facility on the condition that their house would not be sold while they were alive. With that detail secured, they made the move to a very small apartment in a building that could always be identified by the Ambulance parked out front with the engine running. The transition was difficult for Marion, there was only room for a small amount of her furniture in the apartment but she managed to take the pieces that made her the happiest and the rest went into storage. The place did have its advantages, there were other residents to make friends with, they didn’t have to worry about treacherous stairs and shoveling driveways anymore, and transportation was provided by the town. They were also offered extensive Visiting nursing care…Marion would have none of it. It wasn’t until my Grandfather started to really fail that she accepted the medical assistance. After he passed away, she had little difficulty caring for her apartment and for herself. She did accept the services of the volunteer “companions.” Some she became quite close with, others were unceremoniously shown the door. She wasn’t lonely. She disliked 80% of her neighbors for some reason or other (we never knew and stopped asking) but made a small circle of friends that kept her busy. She lived like this for years with little or no medical care. She watched her soap operas, went to the Senior center and lived for company, especially from my 4 kids, her great-grandchildren, who she absolutely adored.


My parents had retired to NH and only came down to visit Marion and maintain her house in order to resell it someday. I had a large house at the time so it made sense to have holidays at my house. I loved hosting the holidays. I had a big table to seat large groups, many chairs, and sofas to sleep off the inevitable food coma and several rooms so that we could all spread out. One of the big upsides of hosting was not having to take my kids out. They were free to be at home and be as wild or as mellow as they wanted. And they had a great room to get away from the adults. The previous owners had converted the garage into a giant “playroom” and after dinner that’s where you would find them.

One Thanksgiving, when Marion was 97 years old, she got off of the sofa after a brief siesta and went to the playroom to see what her beloved Great-Grandchildren were doing. The room entrance had a 1-inch drop that we were careful to tell people about. She did fine as she crossed over and checked on the kids. After she had watched them be wild and crazy for awhile she turned to exit the room. She failed to remember the step up and she went down. Hard. On her face. She didn’t even get her arms out. I was across the room, I didn’t have time to catch her, I could only watch in slo-mo as she went down. I will never forget the sickening sound as she hit the floor. She was in great pain. We called 911 and kept her still. The paramedics arrived and we all went outside to give them room. As they wheeled her out, her face bloodied, the paramedic leans into me and says, “Sir, your grandmother is 97 and claims that she’s not on any medications? Is that correct?”

“Yes, it is,” I replied. “Unless you count a daily aspirin.”

He continued on in amazement. An hour later she was released, the only injury she sustained was a broken tooth.

Later that year she was moved to a Nursing home after she developed some Gastrointestinal issues and was being hospitalized frequently. She wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon, she had just had surgery and had a Colostomy bag installed. She hated the bag and refused to learn how to care for herself with it. They wouldn’t let her leave until she mastered it but she was too stubborn. So stubborn that she asked to have the surgery reversed so that she could “use the crapper like everyone else”. At age 98 she was deemed healthy enough to do the surgery. She breezed through the surgery, amazed the doctors and moved to another assisted living facility. Incredible.

Previous to her 100th birthday, we called Good Morning America and requested that Al Roker feature her on the show. He did such stories all of the time and we hoped she would get a mention. He never responded. Marion shrugged her shoulders, said “the hell with him, dismissed it and moved on. Unfazed, we still gave her a hell of a party at the home. She shared her “Flag Cake” with everyone as she cheerfully, and without assistance, devoured her slice.

Her 101st, 102nd and 103rd birthdays would find her still alert, pushing her wheelchair with her feet around the entire facility, accusing people of stealing from her. When we visited her, they had to find her for us because she was never in her room.

Her 103rd birthday party was the last birthday my father, who was very ill with Parkinson’s disease, would spend with her. One very profound memory of that day, other than her recalling the name of her class President from her HS class of 1929, was her eating her favorite “Flag” cake without assistance…as we fed my father his because he was unable.

7 months after her 104th birthday, Marion started losing strength and would become bedridden. She was finally slipping mentally as well. To this point, with brief moments of not knowing what decade she was in, she was sharp as could be. Those “lapses” now became the norm. She was still alert, and when we visited her she had moments of clarity. But she was depressed and kept asking for Mel, her late husband. We increased our visitations, knowing the end was near.

5 weeks before her 105th birthday, she stopped taking nutrition. She had shriveled to a mere shadow of her former self and barely spoke. She did little more than writhe around in her bed, moaning. It seemed like she was attempting to communicate but we didn’t know if it was us or if she was dreaming. On April 28th, we were summoned by the nursing staff, they felt Marion would pass that day. My mother and I arrived and we were asked if there was any other family coming. My mother explained that the calls had been made but it would be a couple of days before some of them could make it. “But that’s too late” the nurse stated, “she won’t make it that long.”

My mother, as if in a trance and someone was speaking through her, said “No, she won’t die until May 2nd. The day her husband passed away.” The nurse was in disbelief. “Trust me,” Mom said. “I’m right about this.”

Marion, as predicted, passed away on May 2nd of 2015 just weeks shy of her 105th birthday. Her only medical condition was Scottish Alzheimer’s, a condition in which you forget everything except who you don’t like. I used that joke when I delivered her eulogy. I got a few laughs. I know she would have liked it.

Her funeral was sparsely attended, she outlived all of her friends and most of her family. It was hard to be sad, we instead celebrated her incredible life. If we mourned we only mourned the loss of the values, strength, and integrity that we will never find in any other generation than hers.

God bless, Marion. And Godspeed to you. We’re all better for knowing you.

38,325 days…a life truly lived

Yesterday, May 2nd is a tough day around this house. My mother was uncharacteristically quiet and I had no interest in pushing her to talk about it. I knew why, and wasn’t going to bring it up.

Over the course of several May 2nds for the last 16 years, my mother had lost her father, her mother, and her 2nd husband. My Grandfather, a wonderful man who I have written more than one tribute to passed in 2002. He lived until 92, I miss him terribly but he didn’t owe anyone anything. My Grandmother died in 2015, 12 years to the day that my Grandfather passed. That was no coincidence, despite her semi-conscious state she knew what she was doing. 1 year ago, on May 2nd, my mother lost her second shot at love when her husband of 3 months passed from lung cancer. He lasted 10 days from diagnosis to departure. May 2nd is, safe to say, her least favorite day of the year.But she doesn’t talk about her problems, she bottles them up and shoves them down deep where they can’t be felt.

I felt guilty being in a good mood yesterday knowing she was in such pain. I couldn’t help it. The sun was out, I was on the deck blogging in view of my beloved duck pond. I washed my truck without sucking wind and I was finally starting to feel better. I was grateful for all of the support I have gotten from friends, family and the WP community. As my buddy Bojana pointed out, I have been fortunate enough to have some wonderful people in my life. Especially those that have passed on. Instead of mourning, on March 2nd of this year, I chose to celebrate the memory of my Grandmother.

It is hard to be sad about losing someone who lived almost 105 years. In my estimation she graced God’s green Earth for 38,325 days give or take.

Born in 1910, Marion Francis Barnes lost her parents in a house fire when she was only ten years old. She was raised by her Grandmother, a tough as nails Yankee woman with ties to the Mayflower and as deft with a wooden spoon as a Ninja warrior and his sword. I barely knew her, but I heard the stories. She did an admirable job of raising Marion and her sister Bertha, both finishing High School as strong, independent women, as the Great Depression in 1929 ravaged the country. She wasn’t entirely unscathed by the atmosphere of the times, pictures of her then suggest a very serious, proper woman who valued etiquette and upbringing. If one didn’t know better, she was a snob. In actuality, the purest example of a New England “Blue-blooded” Yankee.

Marion would become a victim of the wiley charms of my future Grandfather, a hard-working young man who didn’t worry about his future because he could build, paint, repair, rebuild and refurbish anything. Another skill, he was not fazed by her Yankee sensibilities and I suspect that he was the first person to ever make her laugh. The unlikely couple married in 1935 and began their life of 65 years together. Family was the main goal, and once the house was built, by him, my Grandmother conceived 3, and lost, 2 babies. One was a miscarriage and one a stillborn.  She became pregnant for the fourth time with my mother just before my grandfather enlisted in the Navy Seabees and went to fight in the Pacific in WW2. He tirelessly wrote her letters. I have them in a box, all of them expressing his love for her, his son Charles and my mother. I’ve read the letters, one thing that stood out was the guilt when he missed penning one letter a day.

Marion was busy doting over my mother. Having lost 2 children already, nothing was going to happen to Charles and my mother. She worried about her husband, feverishly wrote letters to him and friends and patiently waited for him to come home and resume their lives together. They, as one single couple, embodied the Greatest Generation. True to the nature of the said generation, when he came home, he didn’t relax. He didn’t talk or complain about what he saw (he saw a lot as I would later learn) but instead, he started making up for lost time.

My Grandfather returned from active duty in 1947. He spent 2 years working on battleships once the Pacific campaign was over. Charles was 6, my mother was 2. They acted as if they never skipped a beat. They would almost never be seen apart after that. Theirs was s love story for the ages.  Life went on and they were a big, happy family again. But it was not without heartbreak, tragedy and incidents that tested the concrete foundation of their marriage.

Tragedy would strike a mere year later.

To be continued…