August 12th, 2009


the grief report, with political digression

I have had opportunity to notice, in the last several months, that grief comes in different layers, sort of strata if you will, and that as dhole can tell you from a different perspective, the layers don't really settle into flat, perfectly even planes that can be lifted out neat and whole.

On one front: I find that we are much more comfortable speaking of what Grandpa would have liked, what would please him, what would honor his memory. We did so all along, but now it can be casual, conversational, unfraught. And that seems like a really good step to me, that good things that remind us of Grandpa aren't making us swallow hard every time.

And I'm feeling like I can deal with the world a bit more again after Uncle Rudy's death, so that's good. Useful like. I am nowhere near done with this. That should be obvious to anyone who has ever lost anyone. But the idea of calling the plumber, for example, does not seem like more than I can handle. I am no longer in one foot in front of the other mode for the time being, and that's good.

On the other hand, there was a photo on the front page of the Strib today where a protester was holding up a sign reading, "I will not discuss my end-of-life options with anyone." And I looked at it and had this wave of rage, and I said aloud, "You selfish, worthless piece of shit." Which is maybe not the most proportional response a person has ever had to the newspaper.

See, one of the gifts my grandpa gave us on his way out was that we knew his wishes. We knew his priorities, we knew what he wanted and under what circumstances. We had all the pain of losing him. He made sure we didn't have to add the pain of uncertainty about his wishes to that. Because he discussed all that with us. And the idea that this is a matter for aligning oneself with one political party or another is just such filthy garbage, and so likely to bring pain to people just when they can't deal with more pain.

You don't have to like the President's health care ideas; you don't have to prefer them to what we have now. Heaven knows my grandfather probably wouldn't have. But to try to convince people that discussing end-of-life care is the same thing as suicide or euthanasia is WRONG. When you discuss your end-of-life options with your loved ones and your doctors, one of the things you can tell them is, "I want you to keep me twitching for as long as possible. If you can force air in and out of my lungs, do it. By any means necessary, up until the very end. Absolutely to the limits of medical science." And then, if that's what you want, the people who love you will know. And you can talk about how important it is to you to be clear-headed vs. pain-free, if that's a tradeoff you find yourself having to make, and you can go through all of the other very personal, no-single-right-answer sort of questions.

Look. Many people want to check the box reading, "No end for me, thanks, I'll just keep going robust and healthy indefinitely," on the end-of-life checklist. It turns out that is not an option you can responsibly expect to have, and it is not an option you can responsibly expect your friends and family to have on your behalf. President Obama didn't make you mortal. You came that way. And one of the many gifts my grandfather gave us was facing that with peace and dignity and love and humor. Argue about how things should be funded and by whom and under what circumstance; that's fine. But don't try to act as though there are only hard decisions to make at the end of a person's life if one political side in one debate in one country wins out, because that is not the world we live in.

I would believe all that even if the grief wasn't fresh. I just wouldn't necessarily want to track down that one particular person from the Strib photo and take them by the shoulders and shake them until their teeth rattled. (Oh, Ms. Alcott, you have so much to answer for regarding rattling teeth.)

The other thing--now that I have brought up one of the most controversial political issues of the day, wheee--is that I am feeling extremely conflict-averse. Even invited levels of discussion that have remained totally civil are making me nervous right now. I recognize that this is irrational, and I don't want to refrain from conversation or only converse as long as everyone sings the Gilbert and Sullivan song about how I am right and you are right and all is right as right can be. But for a variety of reasons most of which are not mine to go into and most of which are not about me directly, I'm feeling pretty shaky about it right now.

Another thing is that I have decided that there are limits to my reading of my grandpa's books. Specifically, if I read several books in a series and am not finding anything to like in that series, I don't have to read all the rest. I don't have to do this at all--I didn't promise Grandpa or anyone else. But I want to, bit by bit, and some of the books are good, and others are interesting in different ways. I just need to set some limits for myself on this, and that's one of them, and I think that's okay.