Wealthie Shepard was born, raised, and raised her family in McClure, Ohio, but she is spending the end of her life here with us and with her daughter Mary in Saline. We moved her up here, which was torturous for everyone (Wealthie especially) a few years ago. Since that time she has gone from being occasionally confused about who we are, to being usually confused, to not knowing anyone, to her current state. She was frantic at first about being in assisted living then a nursing home, but after a while she lost track of where she was and almost seemed to enjoy her surroundings. The nursing home in Saline became McClure for her, her room was her home, and everyone there was a friend or relative coming to see her.
It didn’t last, of course, and over the past 8 months, maybe a year, even this faded view of Grandma has disappeared. Now, by all accounts, she is in the last days or even hours of her life. She’s getting services from hospice in a different wing of the same nursing home. It’s a little nicer, but not as nice as her homes throughout the years. People who work at the nursing home keep coming down to see her in her new room. They liked the woman they got to know over the past few years. She was nice, and fun, and caring, but not as much as she had been for the 90-some years before. And sometimes she was content or even happy, but not nearly as much as she had been before her husband Donald “Shep” Shepard died in the late ’90s.
Now she isn’t happy or content or fun or caring or even nice. All those parts have been taken away by what we think is Alzheimer’s disease. All that’s left is a 93 year-old body, and now even that is about to go. We’re all not sure how to feel. The body, with tiny fragments of Wealthie Shepard inside, is clearly uncomfortable and just wants peace. But we’ve been so busy watching the rapid un-development of our Grandma, Great Grandma, or mother that we haven’t really grieved yet. It’s been literally the opposite of watching a baby develop, and similar in that you don’t really recognize the changes in the person until they’re about to leave you.
Wealthie is the last of her generation for us. We lost Grandpa Shepard about 10 years ago. Before that, we lost Mildred Orwig-Wagner, my Dad’s mother — in much the same way as Wealthie — to suspected Alzheimer’s. Dale Orwig died before my generation was even thought of.
So while we’ve all been so focused on the beginning of life in recent years, suddenly I’m studying up on the end of life, trying to make sense of it all.