Volume XVII, Issue 39 # September 24 - September 30, 2009

Bay Reflections

Lessons in Life and Death

Wisdom from a loved and lost grandmother

by Diana Beechener

Edna Deuchler was not the type of granny who cuddled you and called you cutesy names. A survivor of the Great Depression and a nurse for terminally ill children, she would never show her love in such insipid ways. I knew my grandmother loved me because she wouldn’t hear of my parents calling for a babysitter when she was just across the street. I knew she loved me because she collected six copies of Bay Weekly every week and distributed them to friends and neighbors.

Grandma taught that crying doesn’t solve anything, especially death. Better to learn a lesson and carry on. On Sunday, September 13, she died as she lived — on her own terms doing what she wanted to do. In her death, she left me with two more lessons.

Lesson 1

Tragedy doesn’t come at the expense of comedy.

The day she died, I was busy trying to educate my boyfriend Jack in film history. After much nagging and wrestling for the remote, I prevailed and screened Citizen Kane. As we settled in he grumped, “I’d do anything to get out of this!”

About halfway through the movie, I heard my cell phone ring. It was my mother, and she had just found my grandmother. She said she was “pretty sure” that my grandmother was dead and asked if Jack and I could come to the house. I assumed she wanted Jack to accompany me to make sure I was okay.

Never assume.

When we got to my grandmother’s bedroom, my mother said, “Oh good! You’re here Jack. She still feels warm to me. Can you check for a pulse?”

My fireman boyfriend with paramedic training was needed to confirm the death. Poor Jack released my hand and gingerly picked up my grandmother’s wrist. Nothing. He felt her neck. Still nothing. Finally, he picked up grandma’s reading glasses and held them in front of her mouth. Three strikes.

In the middle of my tears it occurred to me that I’d automatically become one of Jack’s most memorable girlfriends. How many girls are going to ask him to confirm the death of a loved one? So standing over my grandmother’s corpse, I switched between snotty sobs and inappropriate giggles.

The police were called, but apparently they didn’t understand that grandmother was dead. Sirens blaring, they skidded to a stop in front of the house and ran in. Because her doctor was not on call on Sunday, the police had to keep us from the body until the medical examiner could be reached and formally decline an autopsy.

In the meantime, my mother, amazing in her strength, chatted with the officers about their day and cases. I, amazing in my weakness, was leaking out of every hole in my face. My father was voted to call the family and notify everyone.

The problem with this: Because everyone knows my prankster dad, they assumed he was kidding. I kept hearing my father repeat over and over: No. No, really. No she’s passed. Why would I joke about that?

Monday night, my mother and I took a walk to clear our heads. We started laughing about my poor boyfriend, who after four months of putting up with me and my family was forced to grope a dead woman searching for signs of life.

“Well,” said Mom. “If you ever hear from him again, you know you can never start a fight or complain.”

“True,” I said. “But he did get out of watching Citizen Kane.”


Lesson 2

Keep your friends close but your tweezers closer.

My grandmother was not supposed to climb stairs, as her heart valves were clogged and exertion was taxing to her.

Grandma waited until her day-nurse left before climbing up the stairs. Her goal: her tweezers.

To a Deuchler woman, the only thing more infuriating than being bedridden was a hairy chin. So she risked her life to get to her tweezers. It was a gamble she lost.

She made it up the stairs, to her vanity and turned on the light. She must have felt faint and laid across her old bed, tweezers by her side.

That’s how we found her. And thanks to my mother, when the paramedics arrived they found a deceased 91-year-old woman with a smooth chin.

The final lesson my grandmother taught me: Vanity will get you in the end, so keep your tweezers close.