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That’s why, when we heard her breathing change at 5am on that Sunday morning, we called the emergency ACCT team. Following protocol, they called out the duty doctor, who was not from my grandmother’s local practice. My mother, the most gentle soul you can imagine, stood in the doorway and hissed: “Over my dead body. I’m not going through all this to send her straight back there.” And I got worked up, partly because it was too early to have her stretchered out under a dust sheet – she was still warm, for goodness’ sake, and whatever happened to sitting with the body in the front room? We wanted time and we wanted choice – of undertakers, of how this death was managed, of how we conducted ourselves in the minutes and hours immediately following it. It may not sound like much unless you have ever sat with someone you cared about and watched as the life struggled out of them.He arrived soon after 6am, but did not issue a death certificate. – and partly because I knew my uncle, her only son, wanted to see her one final time. In some ways, we were lucky: the policewoman was both gentle and empathetic and held off calling the undertaker to take Grandma to the morgue until about 9.30am, by which time my uncle had arrived and we had got ourselves together. But when you have, this loss of control and lack of emotional space is the very last thing you need.

Every December, my parents' house comes alive with her handiwork: little glittering paper stars that hang like magic from the ceiling; elaborate ornaments that dangle from windows; and one of my father's greatest personal treasures, a ceramic train town that goes around the foot of the family Christmas tree. When Young Matthew was asked to draw his favorite food, he took a brown crayon and made little fluffy swirls and labeled them "Granny's Fried Shrimp."As I drove through the dark Pennsylvania mountains to see Granny last weekend, I kept thinking of these things, and they brought me immense happiness.

But they also brought me an almost unbearable sense of loss.

When my grandfather — Pop — nuzzles his forehead against hers and says, "It's me; it's your sweetie," does she comprehend?

When I am with Granny, I feel this unbearable yearning to hear her talk again.

It is like some irresistible force in my chest, jerking me forward, compelling me to hug her, because that is the one thing that still feels like Granny. When he looks at her, you can read in his eyes and his small but invincible smile the visions he must have of her after 67 years of marriage: the girl he dated, the partner he married, the mother who bore his children, the Granny to his Pop."It's hard, climbing these hills in front of this," I heard him admit to Granny, though his smile didn't fade. When I was small, Granny and Pop lived in a big house by a lake that we called The Camp.

It had a slogan: "The fun never stops at Granny and Pop's!

These chronicled several life-threatening conditions, including pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lung tissue, which is a progressive disease), COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, another chronic lung condition), and heart problems.

At first it wasn’t clear whether her health would continue its rapid deterioration or plateau, so there was a good deal of trying to get systems in place to enable her to continue living by herself, in her own home in Addingham, West Yorkshire, as independently as possible.

She's 88 years old and less than 5 feet tall, so everyone in my family has to almost double over to get to her.

Granny once worked wonders with her hands, and she loved Christmas more than anybody I know.

The most brutal question we can't answer is this: Does she recognize us?

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