Posts Tagged 'grandmother'

Deadman’s A-Z Guide to Living: Inertia

Observing the mistakes and silliness of others is a perfectly useful way to learn how to live the well-lived life.

For instance, my mother’s mother, may her soul rest in peace, was a tremendously loving and caring grandmother, but I probably learned at least as much about life from her flaws as from her positive attributes. In particular, I was able to see the damage my Bobba wrought (to herself as well as others) as she bitterly held onto grudges and regrets as if they alone could sustain her, and often retaliated to perceived insults with petty nastiness.

I realized such behavior had to be terribly unsatisfying, and ultimately unproductive, and believe I have embraced a much healthier way to deal with people and events that disappoint me (I forgive easily. I focus on the positives. I take my share of the blame. I think before responding, and try to consider the long-term implications of my actions).

Alas, I’m beginning to realize that a fair amount of my A-Z Guide to Living will also end up serving as a cautionary tale, full of advice which I believe to be critically important but am not following for whatever reason.

Give charity generously, unlike me.

Avoid distractions, unlike me.

Overcome your fears, unlike me.

And now, for my latest lesson, I want you to fight inertia, unlike me.

In physics, inertia is the resistance of any object to a change in its state of motion. When you throw in the additional effects of friction and gravity one encounters here on Earth, inertia basically means that things have a tendency to be still and tethered to the ground.

Or specifically: My ass has a tendency to be tethered to the couch, watching TV.

My college roommate and I used to comment all the time about how our lives were basically ruled by inertia. Recognizing we were powerless to stop it, we embraced its presence, bowing to the ever-looming God of Inertia and offering it regular sacrifices, which of course meant continuing to sit on our asses and watch TV.

It’s no surprise that the root for inertia comes from the Latin iners, meaning lazy.

Unfortunately, with the passing years, inertia tends to exert an even more powerful hold. Energy levels deplete as responsibilities build, so sitting on your ass during those precious moments of free time almost always seems the most appealing option. Indeed, nowadays when I find myself stymied by inertia, it often takes a tremendous amount of unexpected force – such as the passing odor of freshly baked M&M/fluff cookies – to get my ass to move.

I probably don’t need to tell you the problems that will develop as you let inertia work its voodoo, but like those scary stop-smoking commercials, I’m going to anyway: Atrophied muscles, weight gain, poor vision, loss of brainpower, diminished creativity, decreased sex drive, general ennui, a disturbing accumulation of knowledge of lame reality TV shows.

And inertia will increasingly sneak its way into other parts of your life, as well. It will keep you in unhealthy relationships and unfulfilling jobs. It will make the prospect of change seem like the most frightening thing in the world. Its primary goal is to turn your life into one big rut.

Seriously, you must fight inertia with all of your might.

Go to the gym. Play a sport. Find a fun new hobby, like say, blogging. Make love to your wife. Cook dinner. Meet up with friends (but not my college roommate, especially if there is a couch involved). Always be moving. Always be changing.

Yes, it is tiring to battle the God of Inertia, but the most appropriate place to sit your ass down is the coffin, not the couch.

I won’t join you in your fight, of course … but if they make it into a reality TV show, I’ll likely watch.

Crying over a stranger …

It’s amazing the ways a life can touch another.

Leroy Sievers was a respected and accomplished journalist, covering wars and conflicts all over the globe for CBS News and Nightline, winning a bunch of Emmys and a couple of Peabodys in the process, and yet I think it’s fair to say that none of his work likely had as much of an impact as did his very public battle with cancer.

I found his My Cancer Blog on NPR about the time I started this blog, doing research for a book idea I was considering. His site was a refreshing, funny, candid, brave, detailed look at the day-to-day reality of living with cancer and it kept me coming back regularly.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize Sievers on the street, and less than two months ago had never even heard of his name, yet I totally broke down when I logged on today and read that Sievers finally lost his 2 1/2 year fight.

It’s eerie now to go back and read some of his last posts, watching his messages became shorter and shorter, filled with cryptic references like ‘one last secret wave’ and ‘long and sleepless nights’, and then reading about his decision to bring in a hospital bed and, finally, a hospice team.

His last post was about ‘a boy and his dog,’ a heartbreaking reference to the stuffed animal keeping him comfort as his condition worsened.

It reminded me of watching my grandmother during her final days, sleeping fitfully and dreaming about who knows what – pleasant and pain-free days hopefully – as she snuggled a small throw pillow tightly to her chest, just as an infant holds a blanket. I guess if we live long enough, we leave this world not much differently than as we enter it.

I wasn’t the only one moved by Sievers’ blog. It clearly resonated with his thousands of loyal readers, all of whom seemingly have felt cancer’s sting in one way or another and many of whom revealed their own emotional stories in the comments sections.

These people were all strangers, and yet they came to the site each day, to send prayers to Leroy, to commiserate with him over his struggles and to discuss their own battles, to celebrate the victories, small and big ones alike, and to mourn the losses, hardly any of them small ones.

Mostly, they came to the site to provide a much-needed source of support and advice for each other. In other words, Leroy’s blog became this massive community, and it is quite easy to tell from comments left after the news hit that his readers took on his fight as their own, and that none of them will soon forget him or the lessons his life – and death – provided.

And that is truly an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Positively Posthumous …

My mom’s mom was far from the best person in the world (This is not the grandmother I discussed a couple weeks ago). She held grudges and often spoke ill of others, including family. She was racist. She belittled and insulted my grandfather, only becoming the dutiful, loving wife after he had a massive stroke and lacked the capacity to resist her will. Coulda-beens and shoulda-beens, what-ifs and if-onlys tormented her soul, and she let that bitterness infect the way she interacted with the world.

I knew all this well, and yet when the time came to give my grandmother’s eulogy, I merely skirted these negative qualities, passing it off with a line like, ‘My grandmother in some ways taught me as much or more about how not to live as how to live.” The rest of the speech focused on her sense of humor, her vitality, and what is still – for me – the most relevant and core aspect of her life, the enormous love and support she showed me and the rest of her grandchildren.

I felt somewhat uncomfortable portraying my grandmother in such a positive light, when I knew the story was a much more complicated one. But speaking of the dead, when the full truth may not be all that heart-warming, is a tricky and delicate issue.

For instance, I took offense to many of the obituaries for Senator Jesse Helms, which glibly tried to explain away his strict segregationist philosophies (not to mention a number of his other hateful beliefs) by declaring them typical for other Southern white men of his generation. Unbelievably, some of the stories almost seemed to praise Helms for sticking to his guns while most of his colleagues eventually became more enlightened.

But it’s not just the way we gloss over the flaws of the dead that betrays the truth; we also tend to exaggerate their strengths as well. A recent example: Heath Ledger. I know he was a pretty talented actor, and from what I’ve read, a very decent fellow.

But being sad about troubled young actors and mourning the lost promise isn’t enough for our celebrity-crazed culture; we need to lionize them in the process.

So it’s no surprise that reviews for the new Batman movie and Ledger’s performance in it as the Joker have bordered on the hyperventilatingly positive (The AP called it an ‘epic that will leave you staggering.’ An Arizona paper called it ‘tantamount … to Michaelangelo’s David’).

I saw the movie this past weekend, and it was a decent B- at best, nowhere near as good as the fabulous Batman Begins. The plot was convoluted, the pace dragged and the climax disappointed. I have to wonder if critics in their reviews of the movie as a whole weren’t somehow influenced by Ledger’s premature death.

Now, Ledger did give a great, entertaining performance, about as nuanced and layered as you could expect for what is, in essence, a one-note (i.e. ‘fucked-up crazy’) cartoon clown villain.  But is it worthy of the multiple calls for a posthumous Oscar nomination? Too early to say for sure, but my guess is there will probably end up being at least five more impressive supporting actor performances before the year ends. Plus, I’m not sure if there’s ever been an Oscar nomination for an acting role in a comic book movie.

Posthumously giving an award nomination to a guy who probably wouldn’t have received it had he been alive certainly isn’t the worst crime in the world. It’s actually a nice gesture. But it isn’t exactly the truth either.

Fade, Fade With the Dying of the Light …

(Continued from Part 1)

… I told my dad after my grandmother died that I believe we will one day in the not-too-distant future view the way we currently handle death and dying as barbaric. Tip-toeing around the subject – by removing machines or using copious amounts of morphine as a way to hasten death – seemed quite silly to me when the issue was as important as watching a loved one suffer unnecessarily.

He disagreed, stating that we need to let nature run its course, which came as little surprise to me since he’s a pretty religious man. In Judaism, as in most major religions, life is sacred and suicide is viewed as immoral (and in some doctrines, just cause for an unpleasant afterlife). Life and death decisions are to be made by god and no one else … which of course, is utterly asinine since we intervene all the time in such decisions, especially when it comes to modern medicine (Are we not playing god when we cure polio, perform open-heart surgery, implant an artificial organ, etc?). Indeed, it’s often technology and our own ‘intervention’ that keeps some people alive past the point when bodies often break down, and yet we dare deny those people the right to use that same technology to end a life they may consider too painful to endure.

The motivation for this subject came the other night when my brother and I discussed the possibility that his 16-year-old dog Lucky had a brain tumor. If Lucky’s test results came back positive for cancer, then the decision to eventually put that sweet, lovable black beagle/cocker to sleep would in some ways be no decision at all: There is no way he would let that dog suffer in pain during the last days of his long, happy life.

And it strikes me as quite ridiculous that society accepts and even approves of the idea of easing a suffering animal’s pain by giving them a dignified death, and yet generally views euthanasia (which literally translates into ‘good death’) or assisted suicide for terminally sick human beings as a crime.

Of course, I am aware this issue can lead to some slippery slopes, as decisions could end up being made rashly, or for the wrong reasons, either by the patient or the family or the doctors. However, Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which was passed 10 years ago and allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminal patients, has shown that adequate safeguards can be put in place to limit these concerns.

Oregon’s law wouldn’t have applied to my grandmother anyway as her end came with little warning, and – though it didn’t seem so at the time – happened fairly quickly.

I honestly have no idea what my grandmother would have done had she had the opportunity or ability to end her life even more quickly.

She was a fighter, so maybe she still would have chosen to rage against the dying of the light. Maybe with her entire family surrounding and supporting her, she found some meaning or comfort in those final days, in that final struggle. I can only hope so …

Go Gentle Into That Good Night …

95-plus years old, maybe 58 inches tall, maybe 80 pounds big. A colon that had stopped working. A silenced voice that could no longer tell her gathered family she loved them. Lips that were dried and cracked. A sunken face grimacing with each wheezing, irregular, hard-earned breath.

This is the opponent Death chose to take on in February 2007. But if He expected a quick battle, then He hadn’t been paying attention.

My grandmother did not fear death, had even intimated to my parents at times that she was more than ready for it, but she couldn’t help but fight back … at least for a while. Fighting back and staying strong was what she had done her whole life – like when she overcame rheumatic fever as a small baby living in impoverished Russia (when neighbors were telling her parents to ‘get rid’ of her in the river), like when she traveled the long journey to America at the age of nine with only her siblings, like when she was widowed and not yet 50, like when she first got colon cancer in her early 80s, like when she lost most of her sight to macular degeneration.

My grandmother couldn’t help but fight back, and god bless her indomitable spirit, but part of me wondered why all the obvious suffering was necessary. As hard as it was to do, we knew when it was time to let her go. We tried to make it as quick as possible. We took away the machinery and most of the wires. The nurses plied her with morphine whenever pain creased her face. But still she fought … and suffered. Of course she fought. That’s what living things do when Death approaches, and brave fighters like my grandmother do it stronger and longer than most.

But when the fight is so unfair, when all know Death is the certain winner, and the end is a matter of days or even hours, isn’t there a better way …?

(To be continued tomorrow)


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