Last week my grandma, Avó Maria, passed away. She was just shy of her 96th birthday. The gift of Alzheimer’s is also wrapped up in the challenge of it. On the one hand, seeing someone you love lose their mind can be heart wrenching and distressing. I had to come to grips with the fact that Avó might not recognize me or be able to engage in a conversation with me at any given time when I visited her. I was angry at her for choosing this way to fade out of life at the spirit level. I had to face a lot of my issues around Death and my control issues with Life. I put those in capital letters because I know that Death is a part of Life and both are great teachers for those willing to learn from them and grow while they are here on the Earth. I know I sometimes turn away from them out of fear but I also know the importance of facing them. Grief gives that opportunity and I took it. The gift of Alzheimer’s is that it gave me time to let go in stages and grieve fully before my grandma’s death. I got the chance to really look at my attitudes around death, dying, and life to come to terms with them. But I also got a chance to say goodbye to someone I love with all my heart. I got a chance to say the things I had to say. I consciously valued the last opportunities to touch her, massage her skin, and love her up while I could still be with her in the flesh.
I wrote this back in April 2014 on my blog (jenniferengracio.wordpress.com):
I went to visit my grandma the other day at her care home. She is turning 96 this year and has pretty advanced Alzheimer’s. Although she is not able to carry on a conversation that makes sense (to me), she looked into my eyes and recognition came over her. She knew my spirit and I could feel the delight rising in her. I spent an hour massaging her arms, legs and hands while she relaxed and looked out the window at the trees and the spring sunshine. At one point, she gave me a leg that I’d already massaged and said, “Faz. Faz.” which in Portuguese means “Do it. Do it.” I laughed and gave her what she wanted. I barely said a word to her the whole hour I was there. We did this somatic and spirit dance that was intimate and loving; we said more in that hour of not speaking than in one hour of talking. And I thought, “What a gift to just be able to BE together.” It was a relief to not feel like I had to chatter away. All of my earthly titles, degrees and achievements didn’t matter one iota. All that mattered was two humans connecting. Sometimes when I struggle with the predominant worldview we live in of achievements and titles, I think about what will matter to me when I am readying to die and reflecting back on my life. I doubt my university degree will be on my mind.
Although it seemed cruel to me at the beginning, I now see the wisdom that came out of walking alongside my grandma on her Alzheimer’s journey. Since my grandma’s passing, I’ve been reflecting on how long almost a century is in human years but how it is really such a short time in the large scheme of things. We really only have a blink of an eye’s worth of time in each lifetime to make positive impact. How many of us hold back what we want to say to friends, loved ones, and the world? Or then how many of us hold back our dreams? How many of us are living to please others? How many of us are so wrapped up in the lives of others that we forget that our job is to immerse ourselves in our own lives and healing?
Avó’s death was a reminder of how precious Life is. And it also drove home the fact that our bodies are of the Earth- that there is a sacred connection with this planet that we were birthed from that can only be honoured while we are in human form. I’ve felt tremendous surges of gratitude for being able to taste a peach, make love, walk barefoot on the grass, and feel the wind on my skin or the warmth of the sun on my body. I can’t experience those wonderful things in spirit form. I’ve made a renewed commitment to really living my life fully with aliveness. I thank my Avó for helping me to remember the preciousness of Life and for all the blessings she brought into my life’s journey while we were here together. May you cross speedily into the light from which you came. I look forward to continuing my relationship with you as an ancestor in the Spirit world!