Saturday, August 26, 2006

My grandmother died this morning – the last of the generation. Her body was kept alive by the ‘miracle’ of modern medicine far too long after her spirit had left her. She was worn-out and miserable; I am so very glad she now has peace.

My husband and I have shared the life and death of six of our respective grandparents now; it’s hard to believe Nana was the last. As the oldest child of young parents, we are fortunate to still have our parents with us, but as they approach 70, we find ourselves squarely in that dreaded ‘sandwich’ generation. The ‘rents are all in relatively good health, but the oft-touted ’70 is the new 50’ is really not accurate, any more than our own fast-approaching 50 is the new 30. Those are mind games people play to avoid their own mortality.
Will we live longer than our ancestors? Probably, although with 80+ being the norm for our grandparents, genetics are already on our side. And at whatever age ‘old’ now is, we still will face health issues and physical restrictions that hamper our efforts to be forever young. The number of years is not the issue; the quality of those years is, so we struggle to maintain our health and fitness, living in the moment.

Both of my grandmothers spent the last eight years of their lives widowed, ill, lonely and miserable. Anna had the added burden of Alzheimer’s, so I can only hope the mental anguish was dimmed as her mind slipped away. But our caring visits were never enough for either of them. The pain and frustration that caused our families are immeasurable, and I dread facing that again with our parents. And we have resolved never to put our children in that position.

Death is a part of life; none of us will escape it. Religious platitudes may help some people cope, but we have grown beyond such delusions. Loss of a loved one is never easy. It leaves a hole in the heart that never quite heals. But dear ones live on in our memories, and that is immortality enough for anyone.

I do not fear death. Rather, there are days I would welcome the release from the unending struggles of life. I know society frowns on such thoughts, labels them ‘mental illness,’ so I generally keep that to myself. Death is simply the next stage of the period we call life – not an end, but a new beginning, in whatever form that may be.

Nana spent the last years of her life mourning her husband, refusing to honor his life by continuing hers. That seems to be an accepted, almost revered, response to death. Far too many people are defined by their loss rather than by their existence, their aliveness. As much as I miss my grandparents and other dear ones whose bodies have died, I will not tarnish their memories by wallowing in my sorrow. I will honor them by continuing the struggle of life – even when the days are almost too much to bear – and by remembering their impact on those of us who remain.

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