Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
When my grandmother was 90 and some change she went to live in a nursing home. She did not want to move into a nursing home and she insisted that she was fine on her own but there were signs that told my aunts and uncles that perhaps it was for the best. She was an adventurous woman in my opinion, though I don’t think she would admit that. She lived a humble life with my grandfather, was a typical wife for her time, gave birth to 12 children who lived and raised them in a small house in Dayton, Ohio.
It doesn’t sound adventurous, I suppose but she fit the bill to me, raising all those children, keeping bees and an ample garden, cooking for all of us when we descended on that small ranch style house at birthdays and holidays. She took it in stride, or at least it appeared that way.
When my grandfather died she decided to learn to drive. She was in her 80’s by then and though a number of people tried to convince her otherwise, she decided to do it anyway. I can’t say whether she did a good job with that learning to drive in your 80’s thing but she tried and that’s kind of a big deal.
Trying is hard. New things are scary. It was her adventure and she took it in both hands and set her bifocals squarely on her goal.
Her independent spirit shined in that time, when most people are settling in and pulling back. She was moving forward, taking charge of her own ship (or car, as it were.) But when she reached her 90’s she began to forget the kettle was on the stove or the bread was in the oven. She lost track of her teeth and her glasses. She was leaving things too long or not long enough. So, she went to live in the nursing home, unwilling but resigned to accept the inevitable.
In the winter one year after making her home there I went to visit her. I brought my husband and my daughter, who was only a couple of years old. As my daughter toddled around my grandmother’s small dorm like room we talked about her new life. I asked how she liked the joint and she shrugged and said in her scraggly voice, “Ah, it’s okay.” I asked what she did with her time, her eyes were too weak for reading, she didn’t care for television, she had a hard time getting around and liked to keep to herself. “I feed the ducks” she told me and pointed out the window. She had a plastic baggie with breadcrumbs end pieces for the most part- on her nightstand. I nodded, not knowing what to say. We lived far apart, it was hard to know where our common ground was at that time in our lives.
Not long after, I got a call that my grandmother was in the hospital. She’d been out feeding the ducks around the lake at the nursing facility and she slipped and fell on the ice, breaking a few of her cervical vertebrae. The doctors were not sure she would survive the procedure to put a “halo” in place to stabilize her enough for the surgery that would take place a few days later. She did.
They were then not sure she would survive the surgery to repair the vertebrae. She did.
Next she would have to endure weeks of sitting in bed, the “halo” bolted into her clavicle to keep everything together long enough for the bone to grow. It wasn’t the halo or the surgery that got her.
It was being immobilized.
She could not get out of bed and she wasted away. For the first time in her life she had nothing to do and it was the end of her. Day after day she sat in that bed and each day it was as though another part of her drifted off into the ether. Her children all came to visit, to try to cheer her up or keep her occupied or say goodbye as time wore on.
When the last of her 12 children came from far off to visit she finally slipped away in the night to her final destination, beyond this world leaving behind the ducks, the nursing home, the garden, the beekeeping, the life she’d built with time and care. She left a legacy with her long life and lengthy family tree reaching out into the wide world, a kind of trail of breadcrumbs that fed us all on cold winter days.