Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. ~Dylan Thomas
“What are we going to do about Bunnie?” This question came at the end of a nice lunch recently, right after my grandmother left the room in obvious confusion. At almost eighty-nine, she’s just not herself anymore. The questioner? My great-aunt, her sister, who is ninety-five. One of life’s ironies is that amongst all her siblings, my grandmother, the baby of the family, is the only one to ever have had any memory issues. All but one of the other five children have lived into their nineties. While their bodies may have failed them eventually, their minds never did.
The decline we’ve seen in my grandmother over the last year is drastic and truly disturbing. She’s always been such a vibrant woman. Beautiful and smart. Now, she’s anxious, often asking the same questions over and over again. This year, she’s misplaced all her tax forms so my parents are working to get her an extension until they can get duplicates. She’s just recently been forced to stop driving because of her eyesight. Fortunately, my mother lives right across the street and can keep tabs on her, but this is a strain as well. It’s draining to try to calmly answer the same questions or explain the same procedures day after day. There’s also guilt; we know it’s not something she can control, but this doesn’t eliminate the frustration.
Then there are the harder questions to answer. Like the one my aunt asked. What are we going to do? My grandmother is surprisingly still very social. She plays bridge several times a week and is active in other community and church activities. I worry that if we push toward an assisted living center she’ll lose out on these connections, connections that were hard built after her move to my hometown a few years ago.
The Dylan Thomas quote above always struck me, even as a high school student who thought little about death or aging. I know that the common interpretation is that the lines are an exhort against dying young, against suicide. But as I read that old age should burn and rage at close of day, I am struck by how much my grandmother is not able to rage against the dying of the light. I’m afraid that in the end, that lack of rage, the seeming acceptance of the fading is what will lead to the light that is my grandmother being extinguished forever. And, while I know that moment is inevitable for all of us, this slow decline is achingly hard to bear.