A young single mom nurses her sick grandmother devotedly, but when she passes away, all she gets is an old couch.
For Deborah Marks, giving her terminally ill grandmother all the help and support she could was not a duty, it was a pleasure. Her grandmother, Tessa, had been there for her throughout her childhood, in a way her cold-hearted, aloof mother never had.
Now that Tessa was in the final stages of her life, Deborah wanted to be there for her, despite the many difficulties her life as a single mother of two entailed. Her mother, Martha, was as indifferent a daughter as she had been a mother, so the comfort of Tessa’s last days lay in Deborah’s hands.
So when Tessa begged to be allowed to die at home, it was Deborah who asked for six months of unpaid leave from her job and moved into her grandmother’s house with her two children.
Meanwhile, Martha had booked herself a three-month world cruise and saw no reason to cancel it. Over the next four months, Deborah nursed Tessa tenderly, caring for her as if she were one of her babies.
As our grandparents and parents are there for us in our first moments, we should also be there for them in their last days.
When Tessa’s pain lessened, she and Deborah would spend quiet hours talking, and the older woman would reminisce about her life. Deborah would hold her thin gnarled hands and kiss them.
“I want you to know how much I love you, granny,” she whispered every day. “You’ll always be in my heart.” Tessa’s eyes would close slowly under the effect of the pain medication and she’d fall asleep smiling.
One evening, the sleep didn’t end. Tessa’s last sight, her last sweet smile, was for Deborah. She sank into endless sleep with her granddaughter’s hand pressed to her cheek.
Deborah wept, cradling Tessa’s frail body in her arms, but she knew her tears were for herself alone — Tessa was at peace, free of all pain.
Martha, even though she had returned from her cruise just days before, wasn’t there. She’d told Deborah that the smell of sick people made her nauseous — and she’d said it loudly enough that Tessa heard.
Deborah picked up her phone and called Martha. “Mom, gran’s gone. If you want to come to say goodbye…”
But Martha was not a sentimental woman. “I’ll see her at the service, won’t I?” she said crisply. “Now we need to make the funeral arrangements and get the death certificate so we can get the estate into probable…”
Deborah was dazed. “The estate?” she asked. “I don’t understand…”
“Don’t be silly, Deborah,” said Martha. “The money, the house — the house should be worth quite a bit! And all those jewels she inherited from her grandmother…”
“How can you think of that at a time like this?” asked Deborah in tears.
“Because I’m a practical woman, Deborah!” said Martha. “Not a sentimental ninny like you and my mother!” And faster than Deborah could have believed possible, Martha organized the funeral, contacted the lawyer, and set a date for the reading of the will.
Tessa’s will was very simple. She left the house to Martha, including its contents with a single exception: the old peach brocade couch that was in her parlor was for Deborah.
Martha walked out of the lawyer’s office with a smile on her face. “Oh Deborah,” she said. “If you want that mangy couch you’d better come and get it by the end of the week. I’m putting the house on the market.”
Deborah phoned a friend who owned a large truck to come help her take the couch home. It was a huge, heavy, and unwieldy piece of furniture, and it was more than a little tatty, but Deborah cherished it.
It would remind her of her grandmother every day, so Deborah placed it in her sitting room. She had started to clean it, lifting the big heavy cushions when she felt something under the fabric.
Deborah turned the cushion over and saw a big zipper. She opened it and found a large black velvet bag. Inside the bag were jewelry boxes and an envelope with her name on it.
Deborah opened the envelope and read her grandmother’s last message: “My dearest Debbie, I want you to know how much I’ve loved you, what a treasure and a blessing you’ve been in my life.
“I wanted to pass on to you the jewels my grandmother gave me, but I know my daughter all too well. Martha would find a way to cheat you, so I’m giving them to you this way, so you can enjoy them and she will never know.
“Remember I love you, my dearest, and remember me, and one day pass on my legacy to your own granddaughter.”
Inside the boxes was a glittering array of priceless jewels, but Deborah saw them all distorted by the rainbow of her tears. As for Martha, she spent weeks turning Tessa’s house upside down looking for the jewels and found nothing.
What can we learn from this story?
As our grandparents and parents are there for us in our first moments, we should also be there for them in their last days. Deborah gave back to Tessa all the love and care she’d received as a child.
The selfish end up losing what they scheme for. Martha’s greed and coldness lost her what she most wanted: her mother’s valuable jewels.