Saturday, April 30, 2005

I Hardly Knew Ye.

[Please feel free to ignore this post. I just need to write. We will return to our regularly scheduled program, probably by Monday.]

My grandmother passed away on Friday.

I usually avoid answering my cell phone while I'm at work. And I usually ignore calls from my parents (I'm a bad son that way), figuring they'll leave a message if it's important. But after my recent trip home, I knew that calls from home would have to be pretty important, and were not to be ignored.

My mother, her voice slightly breaking, told me that my mother had passed away at approximately 11:10 AM HST. That was about half an hour before I got the call.

I was never that close to my grandmother. Unlike my parents, she couldn't speak English at all, and was possibly way too late in life to learn it by the time she arrived on American soil. I arrived in the States at age 2, so my Chinese skills were poor to begin with, but rapidly deteriorated with growing up in an English-speaking world. Thus, communication with her was always difficult, and it was thus difficult to create a true intimate bond with her.

But she leaves behind so much that I can't help totally respecting her despite the lack of a close bond.

My grandmother is survived by 11 children (the twelfth, her third child, died about seven or eight years ago of lung cancer). She gave birth twelve times. In a third world country, no less. I can't imagine childbirth to be a pleasant process in the old country... and she went through it twelve times.

When you have that many kids, generations end up blurring. My oldest cousin -- Terri, daughter of my Uncle Fred -- is pushing 40. My youngest uncle -- Randy -- is about 42. Currently, my "generation" of cousins ranges from Terri, pushing 40, to Howard, approximately 6. Randy hasn't reproduced yet, but when he does, this generation gap will continue to grow. (My cousin Colin, 11, only recently came to realize that I'm 31 years old. "You're thirty-one?" he asked in an all-too-incredulous "My God you're old!" tone. I would have playfully hit him, but his brother, 22, and sister, 16, were in the way. Damn, I felt old.)

My grandmother is clearly a strong, strong woman. You need to be if you're going to live a third world country torn apart by war. With twelve offspring and their extended family. And especially if you need to work on removing twelve children -- and their families -- from said war-ravaged country. Somehow we did it, as did she, and made a new life in a whole new place, with most of her family around her. (My grandmother long survived her husband, who passed away when I was very very young. I visited his grave when I was back home the other week.)

My grandmother endured a lot in her lifetime.

My grandmother suffered from diabetes. For as long as I can remember, she had to inject herself periodically. I never understood what she was doing; I just knew that I hated needles so I gave her considerable credit for sticking herself. We used to play with her used syringes (needles extracted), filling them with water and shooting lame squirts of water at each other. Eventually she lost a few fights to diabetes, including losing her right leg below the knee.

The last ten years of her life were spent in a nursing home, probably another big adjustment she didn't want to have to make. The apartment she lived in for most of my memory was on the second floor of a house with no elevator; it started becoming next to impossible for her to nagivate either of two sets of steps required to get to her house. In said nursing home, she had a semi-private room which she shared with one to two other women. She had meals and mealtimes set by the staff, as well as entertainment/playtime. When I visited her a few years back, the place honestly reminded me of kindergarten -- food (complete with applesauce) at a set time, and activity time, which included guest dancers to clap along to, or a mini-bowling game consisting of tossing a pillow toward a set of plastic pins). Oh, and because of her advanced age, and lack of a right leg, she had to be escorted (read: carried) to the restroom. I can't imagine what kind of loss of dignity this represents, but I suppose it needs to be done.

My grandmother also suffered at least one stroke.

When my brother and I were kids, my family lived very close to my grandmother. We attended an elementary school literally across the street from our house, and after school we would walk over to grandma's house to hang out while waiting for the parents to get off of work. I don't remember that Grandma actually did anything specifically with us to keep us entertained or anything; I think she was just there to be an adult presence for us while we had free run of the place, mostly just watching television (later graduating to popping in one of my uncle Randy's many many many MANY pirated videotapes). We stopped going there when we were old enough; daily trips to Grandma's house were replaced with weekly dinners with the extended family, and afterschools found us visiting friends' houses or hanging out at the library.

When I was with her the other week, I'm pretty sure she knew her time was coming. And I think she was honestly scared by the prospect. Her eyes were still alive, but I'm not sure what was behind them. She tried to speak, but no one could understand what she eventually articulated. She showed some sparks of recognition, but they were few and far between. Truth be told, I think she started getting somewhat annoyed by the stream of visitors, including her own children, who kept treating her like a child by asking her things like "Can you hear me? Tell me what you need. Do you recognize me? Hmm? Do you? Do you recognize me? Who am I? Hmm? Who am I?"

I will not go back for the funeral. Although my boss has indicated that I should do what I need to so as to avoid regretting anything later, including take still more time off to go back home yet again, I will probably decline his offer. (I feel like taking a week off, coming back for a week, then taking off yet again is a little extreme). I saw my grandmother when she was still alive, and I think that's more important than attending the service after her death.

I keep telling myself it's all a part of the cycle: Death is the one thing we all have in common. From the moment we're born, we all march steadily toward our deaths. (Some just get there faster than others). Death makes us aware of our own mortality.

But I still haven't been able to stop crying during the waking hours of the past day.

[We will return to our regular hilarity and obnoxiousness soon. In fact, I've already got a slew of posts saved up in "Draft" form, ready for final edits and publication. In some strange and rather dirty symbolic way, this post, like my grandmother's body, will end up "buried" beneath newer, fresher things. But she won't be forgotten.]


Jon said...

I'm sorry for your loss. This was a wonderful tribute- makes me think of my grandmother who died a few years ago. Be well. *hugs*

anne said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss. Grandparents are always sorely missed.

Albert L Berriz said...

Cool blog. Check out free cognition, I think you'll enjoy it.

Joel said...

You have my sympathy. I think you should've gone to the service. Years from now, you might understand why.

Dennis! said...

Hmm. Don't look now, but I think I was just spammed in my comments. On a post about my grandmother's very very very recent passing, no less.

Matthew said...

I'm very sorry about your grandmother's passing, Dennis.

Hopefully your family will help each other get through the grief, and her loss, and your friends will be there for you.

Once again, I'm very sorry about the news.

Take care.

Steve said...

I'm sorry to hear the news about your grandmonther, Dennis. I'll be thinking of you.

p.p. said...

Dennis, so very sorry to hear about your g'ma's passing. I hope you're well.

kat said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Reading your post reminded me of my own grandmother, and how much I miss her.

Dennis! said...

Thanks for your kind words, everyone. They mean a lot to me.

ericorbit said...

I'm sorry. *hug* (no spam)

Drew said...

I'm sorry, Dennis. I'm sure your grandmother would be touched by this post, though.

Hang in there.