_____Suddenly, in the middle of the third volume, Proust has decided to break the narrative into chapters and provide a synopsis at the start of each chapter: "My grandmother's illness -- Bergotte's illness -- The Duc and the doctor -- My grandmother's decline -- Her death." Well, it's not like In Search of Lost Time is one of those books for which you want to avoid "spoilers."
Grandmother's fatal illness, which we learn is uremia, brings the narrator's thoughts on illness and death to the forefront.
We make a point of telling ourselves that death can come at any moment, but when we do so we think of that moment as something vague and distant, not as something that can have anything to do with the day that has already begun or might mean that death -- or the first signs of its partial possession of us, after which it will never loosen its hold again -- will occur this very afternoon, the almost inevitable afternoon, with its hourly activities prescribed in advance.Nevertheless, the account of the grandmother's last days is leavened with humor, some of it embodied in "the famous Professor E---," a physician whom the narrator encounters on the street and whom he asks to help his grandmother. He tells the narrator, "that is unthinkable. I'm dining with the minister of commerce." And he's far more concerned that the tailcoat he has to wear "has no buttonhole for my decorations," than with the state of the narrator's grandmother. Nevertheless, he does see her, and delivers the bad news that "this seems a hopeless case to me."
The narrator sees his grandmother slumped in the carriage as they ride home, "slithering into the abyss," but he's nevertheless aware of other things, such as the fact that they pass Legrandin on the street, who "doffed his hat to us, and stopped with a surprised look on his face." Aware "how touchy he was," the narrator is concerned that his grandmother failed to acknowledge his greeting, but she "raised her hand in a gesture that seemed to convey, 'What does it matter? It's of no importance whatsoever.'"
His mother is "stricken with a paroxysm of despair" when they arrive home, but she can't bear to look at her mother's face, contorted by the stroke. "All this time, there was one person who could not avert hers from what could be glimpsed of my grandmother's altered features, at which her daughter dared not look, someone whose eyes were fixed on them dumbfoundedly, indiscreetly, and with an ominous stare: this was Françoise." And Françoise, as usual, becomes the mainstay of the family through this ordeal.
Cottard is called in, and prescribes morphine for her pain, but it raises her albumin count, so he is forced to stop it. The narrator comments that "this unprepossessing, commonplace man assumed something of the impressiveness of a general who, though unexceptional in all other respects, is a gifted strategist."
The effect of the disease on his grandmother shocks the narrator, who nevertheless has the strength to observe it:
And still the element of humor rises through the narrative, as when the family summons a specialist because the grandmother seems to have contracted an upper respiratory problem: "a relative ... assured us that if we brought in the specialist X the trouble would be over in a matter of days. This is the sort of thing society people say about their doctors, and we believe them, just as Françoise believed newspaper advertisements." But the grandmother refuses treatment so "we, in our embarrassment at having called out this doctor for nothing, deferred to his desire to examine our respective noses, although there was nothing wrong with them." And as a result, everyone in the family comes down with "catarrh."her face, eroded, diminished, terrifyingly expressive, seemed like the rough, purplish, ruddy, desperate face of some fierce guardian of a tomb in a primitive, almost prehistoric sculpture. But the work was not yet completed. Later, the sculpture would have to be smashed, then lowered into the tomb that had been so painfully guarded by those harshly contracted features.