Posted 30 July 2012 - 07:29 PM
My grandmother recently passed away at the age of 89 and 1/2 years. Although I wanted to record her on video before she died (not specifically for this purpose) and ask her many questions about her life, she did not like videos being taken of her. I only have a few short clips of her. However, I had many conversations with her over the years about many, many topics. These topics include anti-aging technologies, what she attributed her long life to, what people should do to avoid dying young, etc. I would like to give an account of these conversations here, despite the fact it is not a video interview.
My grandmother, lets call her Mrs. B for short, grew up dirt poor. She was the daughter of an impoverished shearcropper in South Carolina. As a young child she went without many of the luxuries most people have today. It was rare for her to get the opportunity to have huge meals or sugary candies. Even when she grew old enough to work (picking cotton) it would take her many hours of hard physical labor to earn enough money for a single "snicker bar", as she would call it.
She married my grandfather, a young minister belonging to a Christian denomination, while still a young woman. Soon afterwards, she gave birth to a series of four children. The last of the series was my father.
During this time period, she went through all sorts of hardships as my grandfather worked extremely hard to build churches. He often received very little compensation. While he was the pastor of one particular church, he did not even have the money to purchase a single shirt that did not have holes in it. A widowed woman, whose husband had recently died, noticed how my grandfather did not have a decent dress shirt. After church one morning, she offered my grandmother a few brand new shirts (for my grandfather to wear) that her husband had not lived long enough to even try on. My grandmother was extremely grateful.
My grandmother stayed vigorous and active well into her 60's and early 70's. I remember, as a young teenager, often going fishing (my grandmother's only serious hobby outside of church work) with her at a local lake. Even though she was in her late 60's or early 70's, she could outwalk me every single time. When I would be exhausted and did not feel like walking one more step -- in an effort to find a better spot where the fish would bite -- she would be racing ahead of me!
During the years of her seventh decade of life, my grandmother had a few falls. One of these accidents, that took place on a rainy Sunday morning as she attempted to get out of her car to cross the church parking lot, fractured her hip. Instead of immediately agreeing for an ambulance to be called, she continually insisted to be allowed to finish her Sunday School lesson. However, a friend of hers who happened to be a trusted nurse convinced her otherwise.
As a strong willed woman she refused to let the hip fracture take away her mobility. Immediately returning home from the hospital, she pushed to regain her ability to walk. She told me, "I have to be able to walk again. I have to get better." When according to the doctor's orders she was only supposed to be using a walker, she would be hobbling around her home with a cane. After becoming comfortable with the cane, she started making her way around the house without it. The doctor was tremendously impressed with her recovery. Although she regained her mobility, she did lose just a little of the spring in her step.
Over the years to come, my grandmother would have a couple of additional fractures, and multiple falls. Most of the injuries she obtained were minor, but a few were more severe - such as a broken hand. Despite these incidents, she continued doing almost everything herself including driving, shopping, going to the doctor, and going to church. Eventually in her late 80's her body started to deteriorate at an increasing rate. She ended up having to have her esophogus stretched (dialated) multiple times so she could swallow without choking. Also, her immune system started to weaken along with her kidneys.
Sadly, her skin (that had for a long time remained relatively youthful for a woman of her age) started to display serious signs of aging. A minor bump into a corner of a desk or a chair could put bruises on her skin. This disturbed her greatly, because she had been a beautiful woman in her youth. Her wrinkled skin with multiple discolored areas made her feel ugly. However, her family members did not care one bit what she looked like, because she was the matriarch of our family that we dearly loved.
Over the years I had many conversations with my grandmother, but in the last few months of her life I had the opportunity to talk with her extensively. Thankfully, despite her failing body, her mind stayed sharp as a tack. She loved scrabble intensely, and we would frequently play multiple games (while drinking sweatened ice tea) in her dining room.
When I tried to tell her about how there were drugs coming out that could reverse the human aging process, she found it somewhat interesting, but realized that they would probably be too late for her. When it came to her relatively long lifespan (long for the average person) she attributed it, first and foremost, to God, her savior. She repeatedly stated that it was God that gave her the strength to keep going, and answered her prayers for healing during the periods of illness in her life. Secondly, she attributed her long life to a church member, who she referred to as her "blood brother", that donated blood for her when she was having surgury many decades ago. His donation saved her life. Third, she attributed her lifespan to clean living. In her life she had only smoked a very few cigarettes (in her early teenage years before getting saved) and never drinking alcohol.
My grandmother also took a number of supplements and vitamins. However, they were pretty basic, low dose, and cheap brands that may have had low bioavailability. She would usually take a multivitamin, a B12 pill, vitamin C, and a vitamin E gel cap. The "hard" pills she would grind up in a small pill grinding device. She would then mix the powder with apple sauce. The "E" gelcap would be pierced by a small ice pick or a prong of a fork, and she would squirt the contents into her mouth. When asked about the vitamins she took, she sincerely thought they were contributing factors to her long life -- especially vitamin E. She seemed to think vitamin E was the most important.
Due to my grandmother's swallowing problems, she most likely, unknowingly, was on a form of caloric restriction. The older she grew the smaller in portion and caloric content her meals would be. Every morning she would get up and drink a Carnation instant breakfast and perhaps a piece of toast. Without fail, this would be followed by a cup of coffee. Near the end of her life, later meals might be a can of watered down soup or beef baby food sauted in a pan. Occasionally she would try to consume meat, but while doing so she would have to be very careful. If she did not chew the food extremely well (until it was almost total mush) she could choke trying to swallow it.
The food she missed the most near her death was fresh fried sunfish (Bream, Redbreast, and Bluegill). Even in her 60's and 70's she consumed it regularly, but over time she had to become more and more careful when trying to consume it. Only one tiny bone (that you or myself would not even feel) could trigger a choking attack.
I often asked my grandmother if her aging process could be reversed and she could be a young woman again, what she would want to do with her life. Obviously, she would respond by saying she WILL be a young woman again when she makes it to heaven. However, when I pressed on the issue she admitted she would like to be young again. In fact, she once said, "I just wish I could be as strong as I was in my 60's. Back then I could do anything I wanted to do." When I asked what she would want to do with her life if she was rejuvinated, she stated that she would like to go to school to be a teacher. She wanted to be a teacher as a young person, but with four children and the responsibilities of a pastors wife it had been an impossibility.
Another thing my grandmother loved was music. When she was a young woman (before getting saved) she would sing country songs, live on the air, at a local radio station. As an old woman she wondered what would have happened if she had continued signing on the radio, instead of stopping when she broke up with the boyfriend who was giving her a ride there in his vehicle. However, she told me that if she was made young again she would be interested in being a Christian singer. Also, she wanted to be able to be free from arthritis, so she could once again play the guitar.
When it came to advise for people who want to live a long time, she would say to love God with all your heart and avoid sinful activities. She would say that people who smoke and drink excessively are bound to have illnesses. Also, she would tell my father and myself (who are both overweight) that we should go to the doctor more often and take his advise on various issues. She also stressed to me that exercise is very important. In her final years, even though she managed to hobble back and fourth to the store and other places, she could not exercise for very long at a time. She would spend hours a day sipping coffee at her dining room window, watching people coming and going up and down the street. One day, she told me that she wished she was strong enough to exercise more. She looked very sad while telling me that she would try to take a walk more often, but she thought it was dangerous -- due to her potentially having another fall.
There are a few things my grandmother told me about life I will always remember.
1) "Life does not mean anything unless you have someone to love." Although she loved God and her children, grandchildren, and great grand children, she tremendously missed her husband that preceeded her in death.
2) "When you get old there is no more fun in life -- all of the fun is over. So enjoy life when you are young." Although she still had some small bits of fun in her life, near the end almost every activity was a major chore. She missed being able to go out shopping and look in a multitude of stores (even when she was only window shopping), being able to go fishing, being able to drive well at night so she could attend evening services, and being able to do simple things (like shop for groceries) without being totally exhausted afterwards.
3) "One of the worst things about getting old is not only getting sick yourself, but watching all of your friends and relatives die." My grandmother lived long enough to see many of her friends and relatives pass away. This saddened her, but the knowledge that they were in heaven allowed her to withstand the grief of their passing.
At the age of 89 and a half my grandmother was trying to sweep the back steps to her home, and had a severe fall. She first hit her head on the side of her brick home, and then collapsed onto the concrete tile beneath her. Once she got her senses together (which was apparently only a few moments) she screamed for my brother. Amazingly, a miracle took place, because he was able to hear her with his door shut, and despite the fact he was listening to music with ear phones. He managed to slow the bleeding coming from a wound on the back of her head, and call an abulance.
For a month and a half she was in and out of the hospital. Although the doctor's claimed that there were no internal injuries and the bleeding on her brain had stopped, my grandmother claimed it felt like something was "broken inside" of her body. Family members from across the Southeastern United States came to help take turns caring for her. Although it started to look like she would recover (one day she hopped up to run and answer the phone like she had as a woman a decade younger) a massive heart attack suddenly took her life.
Despite how much we miss her, a few facts provide comfort. First, she claimed that she never wanted to have her drivers license taken away. This never happened. She was a licensed driver until the day she died. Secondly, she did not have to watch any of her children die before she did. If she had lived much longer, due to the health problems her children endure, this would have been a possibility. Third, if she was going to die anywhere, she had made it clear she wanted it to be at her home. She got her wish, because the doctor claims that even though they were able to get a faint, irregular heart beat at the hospital, he thinks from the moment she collapsed in her bedroom that she was instantly gone.
Most importantly, my grandmother frequently and passionately talked about heaven. It was a place she tremendously wanted to go. Although she fought with every ounce of her being to live as long as possible (such as astoundingly walking around the critical care unit to prove to the doctor she was mobile in order to go home sooner) we know she is where she had dreamed of being. She is now with her savior, and is experiencing a new adventure we cannot fathom. I firmly believe she now knows all the secrets to unrival the aging process, knows facts about the universe that would astound everyone here on Earth, and is in a young body free of disease and pain. Most importantly, she is with the people in her life she loved, that preceeded her in death.
Actually, from her perspective, she never died. Because her body was not "her." It was only an old, worn out garment that was ready to be discarded. What was really "her", her soul or spirit, lives on in a paradise beyond measure.
Her legacy, example, teachings, and mindset makes me want to strive to live as long as I possibly can. Also, the memory of what she endured makes me deeply desire for the human aging process to be reversed, IMMEDIATELY. Even though I firmly believe that I will go to heaven when I die, I want to live for many hundreds of years, or longer. I want to have countless interesting stories to tell my grandmother when I one day meet her in heaven.
I am sure she will have many for me as well.