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A Depressing Intercession: Read at Your Own Risk

April 9, 2013

Dear Reader,

I’m sorry to break into the management posts, but I find myself having a hard time finishing the next one.  Please be aware that this post comes at a very odd moment and may reveal far more about me than anyone should know.  Still, it’s what’s happening.

I found out yesterday that my grandfather passed away.  I wrote about him briefly last Veteran’s Day.

The thing is, I’ve never been particularly close with any of my family, and his passing was foretold for the past several months as coming “any day now.”  He suffered from a bad case of Parkinson’s Disease, and towards the end had lost all mobility – including the ability to speak.  During his lucid times, though, when the medication was working and he wasn’t too tired, he was still the old card shark he always was, indicating that he still had a quick and clever mind.  To be trapped in that way – a working mind inside a paralyzed body – seems nightmarish, so his death is probably a great relief to both him and my grandmother.

I’m not in a place financially to buy two plane tickets to Florida on short notice, nor do I really feel that missing more school would be good for my students, so when I was speaking to my mother receiving the news, I was simultaneously feeling grief while also wondering how to – or even if I should – broach the question of whether I was expected at the funeral.  Luckily, my mother, who knows me well, broached the topic herself, telling me that my uncle, who lives further away, couldn’t find a single plane ticket to Florida right now because it’s so many schools’ Spring Break.  She followed that up by letting me know that the funeral would be held on Monday, and that it wouldn’t be practical for me to come, since I’d have to make the two-day drive and miss so much school.

I don’t know how I feel about being so – honestly – selfish.  Or realistic.  I’m not sure.  That’s the problem I suppose with living so much in my head; everything’s getting a lot of analysis whether it should or not.

That bit of horror was followed by my mother’s suggestion that I call my grandmother, which I knew I should.  She suggested I call today, so I did.  It was the most uncomfortable conversation I’ve ever had.  My grandmother didn’t recognize who I was at first, but as she’s not suffering any senility, I suspect it’s just fatigue and grief.  It took about four minutes to get her to figure out who I was, and after that, I didn’t really know what to say.  I generated what I could – my condolences, we’ll miss him, he’s in a better place, he was an inspiration – all of them true, but cliché and superficial-feeling, and she agreed with each, but the conversation itself was so filled with silences and grief on her end that I simply didn’t know what to say or do.

I know my strengths and weaknesses.  Consoling a grieving widow of any age is so far out of my experience that, basically, I froze.  I wish I could do more – feel more – and thus be prompted with the right things to say, but my overt formality about so many things to anyone who’s not in my closest sphere of friends – the teacher/professor armor that I put on to do my job on a daily basis – has greatly atrophied that part of my personality, it seems.  I deal with problems by thinking my way out of them, not feeling, so coming up against something like this leaves me at a loss.

I don’t know.  Perhaps I’m just over-thinking it.  I respected my grandfather, but realistically he wasn’t much of a presence in my life; I saw him maybe once a year, and less since I became an adult.  I suppose that’s the nature of things, but everywhere I’ve lived it’s seemed to others that family was super-important, and that’s just not something I’ve grown up feeling.  My wife is my family; if I lost her, I know I’d feel devastated.  My students, too, are part of a surrogate family, though less-so since I started teaching adults.  That’s always been enough.  When I learned that one of my former students who I’d taught for two years had died when his brain tumor – which he’d “successfully” beaten – suddenly returned, I felt far more grief.  He was one of mine.  Somehow, this feels different.

Regardless, I apologize for such a depressing post, but I write what I know and what I’m thinking about, and this is it.  I hope this has cleared my head enough to get back to my regular schedule for tomorrow.  We’ll see.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2013 3:20 pm

    There’s a big social pressure and expectation towards how “one should feel” about family members. I’ve always felt it was an extremely disingenuous and hypocritical thing, given that NOBODY knows who you are and what happened between you and your family (or didn’t happen for that matter). nobody has a right to tell you how you should feel about family. The ‘family dream’ we see in movies, and the act that so many people are trying to keep up, doesn’t change the fact that many people have awful childhood experiences and broken family ties. nobody knows that better than people who work with children and teenagers (it’s partly a reason why I gave up teaching). we cannot choose our family – our family isn’t always the best thing for us. and it isn’t our fault. I’ve learned to accept that and I’ve been the better for it.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “Mary and Max”; it’s an interesting but sombre watch. it ends on the following line: “God gave us our relatives; thank God we can choose our friends”. I am grateful for that and like you, my family consist of two people really. so, I’m not going to express my condolences here to you – much rather, I want to say don’t feel bad about the way you are feeling. don’t feel bad for being at a loss for words. life isn’t a family sitcom. you’re doing your best and that’s all anyone can ask of you.
    also – death is overrated, if you ask me. 🙂 I wish people used their kind words while people were still alive and showed care and empathy for each other every day. I dislike holiday reunions for similar reasons.

    Anyway, family feelings are complex beasts. hope you feel better soon. 🙂

  2. April 9, 2013 6:10 pm

    “I deal with problems by thinking my way out of them, not feeling, so coming up against something like this leaves me at a loss.”

    For what it’s worth, I’m very much the same way and understand at least some of what you’re going through. Hope you feel better.

  3. Eccentrica permalink
    April 9, 2013 10:53 pm

    You can’t manufacture closeness or familiarity nor can you whip it out of the cupboard at the socially expected times. All successful adult relationships are reciprocal, even those between family members. If you and your Grandfather weren’t close, then you weren’t close and death changes nothing in that respect. You’ve done your familial duty to the best of your abilities and extended your Grandmother the respect of a conversation.

    In the midst of grief for a lost loved one, the grieving respect and appreciate the effort of the attempt to comfort. I speak from experience having lost my mother to cancer in my mid twenties. Nothing others can say will relieve the grief, but some small measure of comfort is taken from conversation and human contact.

    You’ve nothing to feel guilty about.

  4. April 10, 2013 9:02 am

    Grief is a difficult topic for most of us. My Grandmother died after nearly a decade of increasing degeneration from Alzheimer’s disease. We did not have the closest of relationships, she was far too conservative and nearly anti-intellectual for that to happen, but it was still a relationship fraught with societal expectations. I didn’t feel anything other than relief for the rest of the family, who had become caretakers thanks to our excellent health care system, when she finally died. In large part because this was coming for so long I’d made my peace years before it occurred, from the sound of it you may have done the same – consciously or otherwise. Medical miracles do occur but not so often that they are worthy of the least expectation.

    Our popular culture expectation, at lest in the US, is that we should be falling over ourselves in anguish because a blood relation has died. If the death is not a surprise and the relationship wasn’t that close, why? Movies and television, especially, have been very effective at indoctrinating us to that accepted position. It requires an act of will to be different (and not different-just-like-everyone-else market hype) and follow your actual self.

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