*I would like to preface this post with this: My grandmother has been dead for over 10 years… and she would want me to post this… because she would also think it was funny… maybe.
Whenever I am faced with mortality… I am reminded of my Grandma Dru.
Since so many of my family members died when I was young, I have an abnormal zen when it comes to death. I still get sad, but I understand that death is part of life. It is also because grandma Dru talked fairly often about it… in a completely non-chalant manner. I specifically remember a time when I was about ten years old when I looked at my grandma’s glasses, that had been taped together at the bridge for about a year, and asked:
“Hey grandma… your glasses have been taped together for a while. Why don’t you just get some new ones?” In a traditional, nosy, 10 year-old fashion.
To which she replied: “Oh honey, I am going to kick the bucket soon… so I don’t really need new glasses.”
For the record, she didn’t actually die until I was nineteen. That is 9 years of taped together glasses (not to mention telling a nine year old that you are going to kick the bucket… so much for letting me down gently Grams).
Though this lack of new glasses (and therefore no eye exam) does explain a lot about how in her later years… another piece of her car was damaged or missing each time I went over to her house. One day it was a side mirror… a piece of bumper… a smashed headlight.
One day, when I was 16, and therefore driving myself around on my own… I went to my grandmother’s for a visit. When I got there and walked passed her garage… I noticed there was an actual orange road cone (one of the big ones) jammed underneath her car. Upon further investigation… I found that it was actually wedged into the undercarriage of her car and covered with a fair amount of road rash. So upon entering the house, I asked:
“Hey Grandma, couldn’t help but notice the latest construction site fatality stuck underneath your car. How long has the poor old bastard of a road cone been living in the undercarriage of your car?”
Her genuine shock was the best part though: “There is a road cone under my car? So that’s where that scraping noise was coming from.” I have since become a strong advocate for eye testing in the elderly.
Grandma Dru was a huge advocate of travel. Throughout my youth my 75 year old GRANDMOTHER frequently went on cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean… BY HERSELF. So when I was fourteen, shortly after her return from her latest vacation cruise to Mexico… my dad got my sister and I together and said we needed to have a serious chat.
I mean… I can’t say I was surprised that this specific conversation about the mortality of my grandmother was coming. I mean… she was almost 80 and her skin was the color and texture of a saddlebag from spending waaaaaay too much time in the California sun. Skin cancer was inevitable… even for the most Czech skin on the planet.
So I was surprised when the conversation went a different direction:
My dad solemnly said…“So while grandma was on her latest Mexican cruise, she passed out from drinking too much (which at her weight was about half a margarita). And the doctor examining her found a lump in her breast.”
Now call me crazy… but it seems odd to me… in my later life… that a doctor examining a woman found in a bar would need to examine her breasts. No less a woman who is clearly out of her prime. But then again… this is Mexico and anything goes.
My father then continued: “So since she returned from vacation we have taken her to several doctors and it has been determined that the breast cancer has spread to her liver. Unfortunately, she probably only has six months to a year to live. But she doesn’t really want to talk about it… and she doesn’t want anyone to know… so we are just going to wait a while and see how it goes.” Which is a totally normal coping mechanism, right?
Another thing the Bernard folks are really good at is not talking about their feelings. So even though she was sick… we didn’t really talk about it. We kept on living our lives… seeing each other every once in a while… and on all holidays because this is a good excuse for communal drinking. I remember being sad after the initial conversation, but sadness doesn’t last long when you are all expected to ignore it.
However, my Grandma definitely made her feelings known… just with actions more than words. About six months after her diagnosis I went over to her house to find her DNR (do not recessitate) order taped to the front of her refrigerator door. The white envelope with giant red DNR letters seemed to scream out, “I ain’t going to stop living… but I sure as hell ain’t going to stop myself from dying either!” Geez… thanks for letting me down easy Grandma.
Fast forward to Christmas break of my sophomore year of college. I am 19 years old and resting peacefully on the sofa in Colorado, enjoying a break from the horrid rainy D.C. winter. My sister had gone to visit my dad and grandma for the afternoon, and returned in the early evening to my Mom’s house in quite the flurry. She then told me some long, drawn out version of this reality:
“So Dad and I heard the garage door open and we heard grandma pull in the garage, but after about five minutes we noticed that grandma never came in the house. So we went into the garage to see what was the matter. Turns out she was still sitting in the car… because she slipped on some ice when getting out of her car to go to shipwrecks for a drink (at 4:00 in the afternoon). She told us she didn’t think she could get out of the car by herself because she thinks she broke her leg. So we put her in a chair and carried her into the house and put her in bed. I don’t really think she broke her leg though… I mean… she wasn’t even crying. Anyway… you are going to see Dad tomorrow right? Well… can you be there early in the morning so that you can help take her to the doctor?”
She was right. I was going to see them tomorrow, so I might as well take Grandma to the doctor to see what is up.
So I get to my dad’s house the next morning to see that everything Allie has said is pretty much true. So we put Dru back in the chair, then in the car, and drive to the oncologist where they take some Xrays. The Xrays don’t take long too come back, and her oncologist pops back in to share with us the results.
So she holds up the Xray in front of the light so we can all see it… and it is really easy to see what is broken. So the doctor says: “So as you can see, the Pelvis is almost shaped like a heart. Typical breaks happen in one spot along the pelvic wall. But Dru here has managed to break her Pelvis in two spots… both in the front and the back… so that her Pelvis is actually free floating in two pieces.”
Holy shit. This is the only thought that ran through my head.
You are telling me that my grandmother managed to fall on some ice, get back in her car, and drive a manual shift transmission three miles down a windy road with a broken pelvis? And she didn’t even cry. She didn’t cry or even yelp when we moved her in and out of the car today.
Now that is hardcore.
My Grandmother’s oncologist, God love her… was really down to earth and real about it. She said, “Dru, this is a quality of life issue for you. We could do surgery, and you would probably live through it. But you will probably never be able to walk without a walker again. Not to mention that driving a car would probably be out (which, after the road cone homicide three years back would probably be safer for the general public anyway). I think you should think about it for a day or two and let me know what you want to do.”
And even though my grandma said she would think about it… I knew before we left the office that she had already made up her mind. Her DNR on the fridge was also pretty clear on how she felt about it. So we drove home in relative silence… and put grandma back in bed.
And in true Grandma Dru style… she then stayed at home in bed and drank nothing but Vodka for two weeks until she died.
Now that… is going out like a boss.
At least we got to say goodbye. It was fairly stoic… with no crying. She had lived life just like she wanted… and she died just like she wanted: uncomplicated… and with a bit of a buzz.
And she was epic… even in her post life. While she initially wanted a simple end, she was far from a simple woman.
She didn’t want a funeral (she hadn’t even told half of her friends that she was sick), and she just wanted to be cremated in a cardboard box with no ceremony. However, she did want her ashes spread in two very specific places.
So one beautiful California day… my dad and sister spread half her ashes on a beach in Carmel, CA.
Then two nights later… after waaaaay too much wine… the rest of her ashes were snuck and dumped in the middle of night… with barking dogs and roving security lights… onto the lawn of a mansion where her house once stood in the Arcadia suburb of L.A.
Now that’s what I call claiming your territory. You got a fancy family name plate on your mailbox that is at the corner of your lawn to tell people it’s your property? How nice. I dumped my dead grandma in your yard. Which used to be her yard. Winning.
While writing this initial post I had to call my dad to verify I couple of timeline questions. When I told him that I was writing this blog based on my grandmother in the context of her life and of her death, he not surprisingly felt like he had quite a bit to share with me. But he told me that as I have gotten older, I have started to look like Grandma Dru (despite that I have been taller than her since the fourth grade). Moreover… he said that she was the strongest person he had ever known, and that in my life, he has seen that I value my individuality and strength just like she did. For those of you who really know me, you know that this is a pretty huge win… since my father… quite like my grandmother… is not one to compliment freely.
This post represents 1/100th of my actual grandmother. There are a million things I don’t know about her. I’ve heard rumors of lots of hard times in her life. And while she wasn’t the most open book, she sure wouldn’t let you forget that she grew up in the depression. And while I have forgotten many of the stories I heard from her or about her… maybe I internalized more of her strength and gumption than I can recall.
Maybe who we turn out to be is genetic, or maybe life is entirely learned (it is most likely somewhere in between)… but I do owe much of my strength, independence, and outright stubbornness to a woman named Druscilla. May she rest… in vodka-loving peace.