We think of dying as something sad — a path paved only with despair. But my grandmother Ida taught me otherwise. One day, at age 78, she awoke with difficulty swallowing. My mother took her to the doctor, who fed a scope down her throat and into her stomach. There it was: a tumor. The doctor diagnosed Ida’s stomach cancer, telling my mother she had but five months remaining.
When they arrived home that day, my grandmother turned to my mom and said, “I don’t want to die in a hospital; I don’t want surgery… I don’t even want an X-ray. I’m ready to go.” Well Ida had it her way, and died with great panache.
That strong woman got on the phone and called all her friends and relatives to announce the news. She invited everyone to come visit. And over the next few months, everyone came. My grandmother adored the company. She told funny stories and laughed with everyone around her. They brought her gifts like it was her birthday party — only instead, it was her dying party. Ida put on her gifts, hamming it up in the funny t-shits and hats everyone knew she’d appreciate. She always had a love for socializing, and the flow of people coming to see her seemed to make Ida giddy with delight. This was her big moment, and she shined as belle of the ball.
Put simply, she had the time of her life.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course there was sadness and a bitter end, watching death take over my grandmother. But with the help of her hospice, she suffered as little as possible. The deep dreams induced by drugs slowly became one long endless sleep…
The last time Ida and I spoke to each other was over the phone. As I sat in my apartment in New York City, in the thrust of beginning my shiny new life, she lay in Florida — withered away by cancer but ready to let go of life with the right attitude. Her very last words to me were with full conviction and no remorse: “I had a great life. And now it’s your turn to live yours.” It was so positive, generous and inspiring.
Sometimes people are truly ready to go, and want to make the best of it for everyone. Ida is now scattered among the flora on the hill at Seven Ponds in Michigan.