html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Yes, <i>that</i> self-centered.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Yes, that self-centered.

I don't want to go and see his deterioration and I'll hate the facilities which will smell wrong and wrong, and I don't want to fly there, and I want my fun weekends, and he'll be so grateful, which will make me so sad because it will remind me how little I truly do, and I'll have to confront mortality and life's bad paths, and I will have to be sweet when people say banalities. I don't want to.

But a weekend visiting my deteriorating grandfather now will save me entire depths of self-loathing and regret in the foreseeable future. I am so not brave, but we know what to do, right?


Blogger Bill Harshaw said...

No, you aren't.

12:52 PM  
Blogger SEK said...

Measures against crippling regret are the glue that holds society together. Without them, we'd all be beasts.

Apropos experience:

In the second semester of my freshman year, my grandmother was hospitalized. My wealthy, unemployed aunt couldn't be bothered to fly to Brooklyn and take care of her, so I fly up instead. I went from an 18-year-old kid living alone in Baton Rouge to being an 18-year-old kid living alone in his grandmother's Brooklyn apartment. (Where I'd spent a lot of time as a child, but never alone.) As her friends hadn't returned from Florida yet -- Can you tell I'm a Jew? -- I had the building pretty much to myself. I'd wake up every morning, trudge down to Kingsbrook Jew, and spend time with my grandmother; eat lunch at one of the local delis (no easy feat, as I was vegan at the time); spend the afternoon watching grandma nap, wake up, mumble and nap; then retire to an empty Brooklyn tenement building just as night fell. I don't doubt the two months I lived there were formative, but I barely remember them. (Didn't even remember them being two months until I looked at some documents attached to my undergrad transcript.) What I do remember is my grandmother's gratitude -- how unspeakably happy she was when I arrived or returned from lunch -- and long after she stopped mistaking me for my father and forgot the both of us, remembering the time I spent with her comforted me. Guilt, after all, never expires.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Bill, thanks. That came so fast and was so absolute. It brought tears to my eyes. I never expect to be forgiven and then it comes like a clap of thunder and relief.

Oh SEK. You did right by an old lonely lady. That means you're good inside.

1:26 PM  
Blogger SEK said...

I should add, because I didn't: obviously, the situations aren't commensurate, so, of course, I second Bill's "No, you aren't."

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stopped visiting my grandparents long before they died. I didn't manage to make it to either one's funeral.

And, I don't feel bad about it at all.


1:31 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Counterindicators are also useful.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous polly said...

The Swedish film "We the Living" is out here in the UK at the moment, so everyone is telling everyone else to look at his commercials on YouTube. This link,, from 1.35 onwards is a sort of an answer to your question.

Rotten situation, you have all my sympathy. I had this last year with an aunt.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan, I don't need to reference breakfast for my experience. After reading your latest post, I was reminded that I hadn't called my aunt in 36 hours to find out about my grandfather. He's in an ICU in Orange County; thinking about this situation breaks my heart and makes me nearly tear up for the first time since my wedding.

I found out that he's off the ventilator (I almost typed 'elevator' -- that's funny!) Small mercies and all of that.

I saw him on Monday and Tuesday; he's not doing well. I am part of the Western medical-industrial complex; I think it does good things, but it can be so cold. (Cliche alert!) I feel the same don'ts and I fear the same regrets. I don't know what to say to a dying man.

So. Thanks for reminding me to call my aunt and to plan to drive up tomorrow. You be/are brave this weekend and I will, too. -K.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Generic said...

1) It's worth considering how callow the elderly were to their elderly of their own generation.
2) Methinks think the Eskimos were misguided, but perhaps more honest, in their practice of leaving the elderly to die on the ice floe.
3) I would gladly accept familial abandonment in the twilight, in exchange for a lifelong freedom from this guilt regarding this issue.

And those are the three ways that I lie to myself.

I agree with SEK. The social order is fragile. Regret is key.

Exp: Once I walking down a side street in Santa Maria, CA when I came across a soiled old lady in nothing but her bathrobe wailing for help. Her wheelchair had tipped over by the side of the road and it wasn't at all clear where she had come from. She was senile and scared, so she wasn't able to give me any information. I must have wheeled her around that neighborhood for about 45 minutes before I found the convalescent center. The worker who took her back said, "She always does this." Her tone was neither apologetic nor alarmed. This was in 1995, before cell phones were in common use. These days I would have called and waited for the police.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't know what to say to a dying man." - K

You say good bye.

Some of the aged have already made peace with the end and some have not. But in my own experiences, they are far more worried about how we feel, then they are about themselves. We are, after all, generally their children or younger. Saying goodbye is the needful thing to let them know it's OK for them to leave.

So Meg, if you keep your eyes on your grandfather, and think only of him, perhaps you can put away the stuff you can't change. You are strong enough to be sweet when people say banalities, because they are looking for a measure of comfort too. You are strong enough to overcome your own interests, because this IS one of them.

The flip side of crippling regret is paying interest forward to the day when we too will look up at our families who have come at the end so that we don't have to go alone.

For my own grandmother, I was the one who got my mom there from accross the country. My uncle wouldn't engage, and my aunt-in-law, didn't think there was anything to worry about. So I said my goodbyes, and turned over the watch to my mom, as she wished. I harrangued my Uncle and his wife both, but they were sure that it wasn't time, even though they lived not 5 miles away. Regardless if it was nana waiting for my mom to get there, or if that was just the right time, she left very soon after because she was done.

You don't have to be so brave M, your strength is your astoundingly big heart. Giving that away helps not only you, but everyone around you.


4:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Yeah. I'll go soon. It isn't rush-to-his-side time yet, but perhaps it is even better to go a little before that? April.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous YK said...

The elderly members of my family tend to be much more active in choosing how they want to be cared for. Like my grandmother... she's quite close with her children, but they control each other and can be very unkind. (It doesn't help that there's money involved.) My own parents are the opposite: they want to do everything themselves, and they dread the day when they will become dependent on anyone else. They (and I) don't know how to manage that kind of relationship. It makes for good, complicated drama, though.

5:00 PM  
Blogger susan said...

About six years ago, as my grandfather lay dying and unaware of our presence, his ex-wife, his four children, and two of his six grandchildren sat in his room, together in the same place for the first time in nobody could recall how long. There weren't too many happy memories of him to share, but we found some, and laughed together, and gave each other strength. His kids were able to find some closure, which was perhaps most important of all.

I had been reluctant to go, but I wanted to support my dad, who was grieving in spite of all the hurt this man had caused him in his youth. And in the end I was glad I went because, as is so often the case, those who will be left behind after someone dies are the ones for whom you really need to be there.

I'm sure that you too will take something away from the visit that you don't expect, even as you give your love and support to your grandfather and the others who will be there with you.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Spungen said...

Oh SEK. You did right by an old lonely lady. That means you're good inside.

And you spoke only well of her, which was probably quite a challenge, as I'll bet she wasn't always pleasant and grateful. I'll bet there were some rather bad exchanges, on which you (being forgiving and positive) chose not to focus.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go if he's still able to care; stop going as soon as he can't anymore.

At some point, people stop being people and turn into bags of meat. Nobody wants to be remembered like that, and if you go visit at that point, trust me, it's how you'll remember him.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

If he's still in OK mental shape now, you may well have a good time.

I got to visit my grandmother about a year before she died, when I happened to be on that side of the country. And she was... an intelligent, educated woman with heaps of knowledge about stuff I was unaware of, including things about my dad (of course).

It was fascinating and actually fun to visit with her.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Noel said...

I think the death issue has been quite well covered. The only thing I'll add is this: In my limited experience of death one of the hardest things to get past is the brave face that everyone puts on, which stops you talking about the important stuff. If you can get past that things will be easier, but Gramps has to be accepting for it to work.

Those Swedish commercials: everyone is so white they look they are all wearing powder. Also, the decor is really old fashioned even though the appliances look contemporary. Anyone know if this is an accurate reflection of Sweden?

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My only suggestion is that when you go, out of obligation, and get stuck in the weird smelling rooms and the banal conversations and staring down the face of our own mortality, that you also offer something to counter it all -- something real, an experience, feeling, creation. You know so well how that can change the mood and bring a smile to an otherwise dreary (or irritating!) situation.

And a note: I saw the very first shoots of flowers growing up out of the finally-thawing ground today on my way to the train! No pretty petals yet, but they're on their way. Even though it's still cold in the morning, it has that damp-alive smell that only comes in Spring.


8:55 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Yeah. I'll go soon. It isn't rush-to-his-side time yet, but perhaps it is even better to go a little before that? April.

Yes, it probably would be better to go before it becomes a now-or-never issue. He would appreciate your presence more.

9:11 PM  

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