DIE AT HOME: A FIELD GUIDE
80% of Americans Wanna Die at Home
When I was three I used to toddle up our low shag-carpeted stairs to watch “The Andy Williams Show” with Grandma in her room. Grandma was confined to a hospital bed. Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that worsens over time, had robbed her of the ability to walk and even move or talk much.
My mother was always so sweet with her. There was the tray of home cooking with a small vase of flowers, refreshing bed baths, favorite nightgowns, and the steel bedpan Mom kept near a radiator so it wouldn’t be cold.
Mom had worked as a nurse. She had skills. Devotion to her family was unwavering.
My mother raised two little girls and cared for my bedridden Grandma at home for ten years. Ten years.
One day Mom strained her back so badly that she ended up in the hospital for a week. The doctor warned Mom, “If you continue to lift your mother-in-law by yourself, you’ll be paralyzed.”
I wasn’t good for much, I played with blocks. My sister was in school. My father worked away during the week. He couldn’t help care for his mother — an assumption modern men would do well to interrogate.
Grandma needed 24/7 care. Mom’s back needed months to recover. My folks tried to hire home aids but their skills had limits. Even if they could find enough help, intensive in-home care was costly. These events precipitated my folks’ difficult decision to move Grandma to the nearest, decent infirmary.
Every Sunday until she died, we visited Grandma in the brick building that felt like a prison and smelled of sliced turkey smothered in gravy, radiator heat, and urine. We brought her home-cooked roasts, potatoes, pies — and Grandma wolfed them down. She loved Mom’s cooking. The drive home felt dark and heavy like a rainy day, no matter the weather outside. No one spoke much. Mom stared out the passenger side.
After Grandma crossed over, Mom would get quiet every so often, swallow hard, and murmur “Grandma Baum…”