The burial of my grandmother was today.
Sometimes, I’ve been really intense and emotional. And other times I’ve been casual and status quo. There are all these cliches I’m living first hand: The way this knowledge sneaks up on you. The way you can be in denial of knowledge that is so basic. The way you can prepare emotionally, the way you can know it’s coming, and yet somehow, it’s still such a shock.
I’ve been reflecting tonight on the lie we tell, the lie that is so easy to believe.
The lie is that there is one kind of death. That it happens all at once. That as long as our hearts beat, we are alive, and that once they stop beatiing, we are dead.
The most recent death I experienced was the one this morning. There was this casket. It was so perfect for my grandmother. It was this ugly shade of pinkish-purple that she had just loved. It was suspended over the whole it would soon be lowered into. This is going to sound creepy. Maybe it’s just my own wierd perspective. But I experienced a death here. It was the death of my irrational hope that this was all some mistake. That maybe she was alive after all. Because even if she was, when buried under tons of grass, it wouldn’t do her any good.
Twelve hours before, the death preceeding this one was the death at the memorial service. Normally we don’t talk about death, as a society. Here, we came together and admitted it outright. This was the death of denial for me. The death of pretending by not-talking about it.
Thirty hours before this I had recieved a call. She had died at about 1:30 AM. I was at the nursing home by 2 Am. I spent an hour or so there, with my brother, my dad, and my grandmother’s body. This is the death that we get so focused on, at the expense of all the others. We sat in the room. Together. It was wonderful and horrible and Godly and eerie. Her skin was so soft but cold. Touching her, there was just something missing beneath it. I don’t know if when we touch each other normally we just don’t consciously process the tiny movements of blood beneath the skin, subtley moving muscles and what not, or if perhaps there is something more supernatural going on… either way, I just new. Her body had stopped working. And if those couple times I touched her weren’t proof enough, there were eyes.
They were open (I guess the movie trick where you pull down the eye lids is a Hollywood fiction.) and they were empty.
I was confronted with the death of her physical machinery, then: the end of the biological processes which kept her connected to her body.
But a few nights before, I’d experienced the death of my hopes that she’d get better. The first midnight call that she was dying. It’s perfect for her that she confounded everybody’s expectations, that time. She lived nearly a week beyond that night.
And a few weeks before that, there was yet another death, when we made the decision to implement hospice care and manage her pain but not fight the symptoms and prolong her suffering.
And there were all these little deaths, even before that. The death of her recognition of us. The death of her wakefullness. The death of her muscle mobility, robbed by Parkinson’s disease. The death of her memories, robbed by dementia.
Before that, the death of her time living with family, when we moved her to the nursing home. Before that, the death of her ability to move freely about the city when she gave up her license… prior to that the death of her independence, when she moved in with my parents, the death of her regular contributions to the family when she was no longer able to cook her weekly meal for the whole family…
She started dying over thirty years ago, when her husband died. I never really new him, except by her fond and loving memories, and a few pictures. She is with him now. Her remains are next to his. But that’s so unimportant: what is important is that all she is, all she ever was, the very best of her, is in a world beyond this one, with the very best of him.
Someday, I’ll be with them. It will be good to be with them both.