My grandmother died last week. I was quite close to her. I was her first grandchild and thus a testbed for grandparenting. I have to say, she was an incredible person. A mathematician who worked on one of the first few computers ever built, she worked for the military during World War II. She raised three kids and was the matriarch for a large extended family.
But that is not exactly how I remember her. I remember her as the person that really introduced me to art and music. Taking me to both the MFA and Boston Symphony, she spoiled me with an informal education in the arts. (It is all the time I spent as a kid in Boston Symphony Hall that has made me so picky about the acoustics of the halls in which I hear classical music. Sorry, Kennedy Center, but you just can’t compete to the warmth and richness of the sound in Symphony Hall.) Later in life, she studied art history at Wellesley College and was a docent at its Davis Museum.
Always proper in an unstuffy way, my grandmother taught me about decorum through action. She had a palpable strength transmitted through her dignity and unwavering confidence. And in her last years, it was that strength that suffer so. Her dignity and confidence ebbed as her health receded.
Watching her final years made me resolute to find a way to control the way in which I die. I have a vision in which, knowing I have lived beyond my sell-by date, that go out for a great meal, say good by to loved ones, and, under doctor supervision, pass on without pain.
Dignity in living and dignity in dying.