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Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Timely Death

In the news we often here the term "an untimely death". In the rugby community that has been true with the recent deaths of Matt Comstock of my Metropolis Rugby Club at the age of 47. A couple of weeks back, Milwaukee Harlequins player Philippe "Fiji"Leka died as a result of injuries incurred playing rugby.

My paternal Grandmother, Harriet Adams, died yesterday at the age of 93. She was a remarkable woman who had a very, very profound impact in my life. She instilled in me, a great love of animals as well as a desire to travel to places beyond my native Minnesota. She helped my insatiable desire to read by providing me with a plethora of books from her house in Richfield was an oasis of calm during some trying times when I was a kid, during the time when my mom and dad were going through their divorce. Some of my fondest memories were of going through old National Geographic magazines in her attic.

In a world filled with people who have nothing but complaints about how messed up their childhoods might have been, my grandmother would tell anybody who would listen that she had a wonderful childhood in Pepin, Wisconsin. She had a great relationship with her mother, dad and her older brother Leon.  She used tell me and my brother and sisters stories about her idyllic childhood growing up on the banks of the Mississippi river and Lake Pepin. It was a childhood filled with animals, playing in the woods, swimming, pranks such as tipping over cows or outhouses.  She told us tales of when her Swedish grandmother married her German grandfather, and how at the turn of the century in the upper midwest, that was considered a "mixed marriage."

My Grandmother went to school to be a hair dresser in Minneapolis, but met and married my grandfather instead. During the Second World War, my grandfather was away helping to build air bases in Alaska and Hawaii.Together they ended up running "Adams Doggie Shop", and raised my dad and my Aunt Kay with discipline and hardy work ethic that was very common of people who lived through the Great Depression. Back then, when you owned a pet shop or boarded dogs and cats, you did not get many days off. It was hard work, but my grandparents saved and invested well so that they left the pet shop business back in 1971, so that they could retire and have some free time.

She had two guilty pleasures: Sweets and travel. As a kid, I remember her taking me and my siblings either to the soda fountain at Snyder's Drug Store, or an ice cream sundae at Bridgeman's(Alas, both places are now closed down) When she retired, she spent the better part of the next 20 years globe trotting to places that, at the time, were unimaginable for a women in her golden years: Siberia, Mongolia, the Amazon, China, Patagonia, Australia, grandmother had a huge map of the world in her basement by the bar that had red pins of all of the places she had been to over the years. The only continent she never made it to was Antarctica-it was not for lack of wanting...she wanted to go the Antarctic, but could find nobody in her peer group who shared her passion to rough it at that level.

My grandfather died in 1978. My grandmother had no desire, nor inclination to remarry. She was a fiercely independent woman who wanted to do things her way, when and how she wanted them. She continued to be independent and sharp as a tack well into her 90th year. Not a day went by without devouring the Minneapolis Star Tribune and doing the crossword puzzles...Three and a half year's ago  she had a bad fall and head injury. It was an injury that would put my grandmother on a 3 year journey to the depths of dementia. This very proud woman eventually needed somebody to live with her 24/7. As the dementia progressed, it was obvious that it was bothering her that she was no longer in control of her life. In the past year, she started to have more issues with chronic, but severe back pain.

  When I saw her last week, the once proud and lively eyes were cloudy-Her face grimacing in pain. Her once carrot-red hair now white. Her freckled face now a ghostly white. My daughter and I both talked in the car ride back home of how tough it was seeing grandma like this.

Yesterday, my dad called me to tell me to come over to her house. She had just died. She had been awake that morning, was out in her easy chair, had a hard time getting comfortable and asked dad to bring her back to her bed. Dad noticed that she was starting to work harder to breath and stayed with her, holding her hand until she breathed no more. My son Ian, his fiancee` Andrea and my grandson Duncan went over to her house. Ian and I both went into my grandmother's room and looked at the now lifeless body of a woman who had been such a big part of our lives.  To be honest, I have not been able to cry yet. This was a woman who was so racked with pain and discomfort, it was actually a relief to see her suffering no more. In her case, it was a Timely Death.

A big part of my life is now gone. You don't always see it happen where somebody can die at home, in their own bed, with a loved one holding their hand. I don't think grandma could have scripted it any better.

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