the spirit is weak and the flesh also is weak

My grandmother finally died!

Bless her heart. It has been a long, long time coming and I am very relieved that it is over. People are living too long these days. Both my grandmother and my grandfather had just awful, hideous final years. Final years that would have mortified and appalled them had they had the presence of mind to somehow be aware of what was happening. Diapers, wandering the institutional halls of the nursing home in a daze, grabbing nurses and yelling for help (“where are my children?? I need to get out of this place!” NIGHTMARE), shitting everywhere, forgetting their own names, waking up every day in a terror, and not to mention just hemorrhaging money, all the huge amount of money saved up over a lifetime of hard, hard work. ALL gone. Completely gone–nothing to leave their children, which was the only reason they worked so hard in the first place. And this went on for years, because they take such good care of them in these institutions (see above re: money). If there is anything I have learned from watching my family go through this ordeal, it is KEEP YOUR PARENTS IN YOUR OWN HOUSE, if you are at all able. You hire a full-time day nurse and it’s about the same amount of money (which is to say, an unbelievable shit-ton amount that most of us will never have), if you take the nighttimes. And it’s awful for awhile, with the diapers and the screaming and the terror and them getting out of bed at night and wandering around sobbing; your heart will break into a thousand pieces over and over again, and you’ll know that neither you nor your parents ever wanted you to see them like this. But when they’re in your house, you can do what hospice calls “looking for opportunities to die.” If they get a kidney infection, you can give them morphine instead of antibiotics. You can let life run its course, instead of warding death off at every turn. I don’t understand it. The body needs to die. People need to die. What are we doing, by keeping alive a 90 year old woman who has no consciousness left and is in miserable pain? Making sure she eats? Treating every illness she gets? She’s fucking dying, which is right and good, why are we drawing it out for eight years? I know why the institution does it, it’s because they make $10,000 a month for every month they successfully continue keeping her alive. I’m sorry but it’s true. It’s a nightmare literally no one would want to experience and yet it’s swiftly becoming the norm for old people in our country. It is bizarre and terrible.

Anyway, my grandmother. She’s been a big character in my life. I spent a lot of my youth defining myself against her. She was everything I wished not to be. Mean, thoughtless, racist, obsessed with appearances and money and what other people thought of her. And yet as I’ve grown up I’ve found a lot of sympathy for her. First of all, just her being a woman, growing up a woman in the 20s and 30s. How maybe she deep down didn’t WANT to have children, but that wasn’t an option. How limited her options were. How it’s maybe unfair to expect her to be all these great things when her life was so circumscribed. The way my grandpa would get mad if his dinner plate wasn’t precisely warmed to his liking, that sort of thing. She had a rough American childhood in that special “born in the early 20s” kind of a way. And then World War II happens. Who knows why she was the way she was. She grew up at a time when women weren’t really expected to be smart or do anything but be good homemakers, which she was. She was an incredible homemaker. Her home was beautiful and comfortable and she was an amazing cook, and she took pride in those things. She was as good a wife and mother as she was able to be, which is to say, not great, but she was at least present, she took care of the bare bones, and, as my mom always points out, she was FUN. Which is true. For all her extensive flaws, and for how difficult she was to be around (one of my mom’s clearest memories is of regularly climbing out her bedroom window and sitting on the roof of the house to get away from her mother’s ceaselessly hectoring voice), she could be very fun.


– when she flew me by myself to visit her and then informed me that she had done this because she wanted me to go on a date with this random son of one of her friends, and it was really humiliating and awful and when I came back from the date after only a couple hours she was scandalized that the date hadn’t lasted longer and she yelled “YOU WEREN’T CUTE!!” at me in a rage

– her getting down on the ground and pretending to be in labor while acting out “Birth of a Nation” in charades

– the time we were both drunk and I went to hug her and knocked her over and we both lay on the ground laughing

– watching her make literally hundreds of sand tart cookies every christmas

– the smell of her kitchen

– the time during one of her long prayers before dinner when she said “Dear Baby Jesus, please protect us from all the mercenaries and Santa Clauses of this season”

– the time she was raging about Jews and my cousin Mavis pointed out that the woman who’d been her closest friend for over 60 years was Jewish and my grandma furiously proclaimed “Beverly is NOT MY FRIEND”

– I’d grown up hearing this harrowing anecdote from my mom about how one day when she got home from school it turned out my grandmother had BURNED her special stuffed animal because it didn’t match the new bed cover in my mom’s room. But then at one point I spilled a 2 liter of 7-Up on my own precious teddy bear and my grandmother insisted on cleaning him and I was so, so scared she would burn him, and I hovered around anxiously, but then instead she just lovingly washed and dried him and gave him back to me

– how she got drunk on margaritas secretly smuggled into my college graduation in a nalgene water bottle. It was 9 a.m.

– at the graduation party we threw at Rip City afterward, she shoved Katy out of the way so she could get to the bucket of fried chicken first, which she then ate with her hands. It was awesome

– how one day she revealed that she had never learned how to pump gas, and that this was a matter of principle and she thought women who pumped their own gas had no self respect

– playing cards with her and how insanely competitive she was, like actually taking our quarters from us when we were like 7 years old. She was very good at cards.

– She was legendary for being great to have around if somebody was sick or dying or something. A soft and helpful side came out in her that was legitimately comforting and useful.

– Her taking us to Mexico to buy herself jewelry and then smuggling way more than the allowable number of bottles of tequila back over the border, hidden in the spare tire compartment, an important skill she taught my mom and aunt at an early age

– the way she would imperiously chink the ice in her empty glass at my grandpa when she was ready for another drink

– how much she loved food and eating, in spite of being so obsessed with appearing ladylike. Truly one of her most endearing features. She was like almost all Id, she was just pure Id covered with an unusually thin veneer of pseudo-ladylikeness. She was actually hardly ladylike at all–she was often pretty gross and appetite-driven–which as I got older I realized was kind of amazing and scary

– she was a total baby and an asshole, but she could every once in awhile suddenly decide to be a really good sport. I have a nice memory of her playing along really sincerely when we hid easter eggs for her to find.

– the letter she wrote me when I got married. After all these years of feeling not a lot of human emotion from her, she softened in her old age. She was too frail to come to our wedding and she just couldn’t believe it–she’d been at every major life event of every child and grandchild up to that point. She sent us an enormous check, and this really shockingly beautiful letter about life and helping each other.

– how funny she was about her castoff clothing. Whenever you visited her, she had a pile of clothes she was getting rid of. She called it her “bone pile.” You could take whatever you wanted out of it. But then half the time, once she saw you wearing it, she’d take it back. “I changed my mind.”

– how she was surprisingly attentive to certain kinds of things. You never felt like she really knew anything about you, or paid any attention to you, but then she’d be SO GREAT about certain kinds of stuff. My grandfather was always such a dick about me being a vegetarian, but my grandmother–the one actually doing all the cooking–never was. From the get-go, when I was just a tiny child, she let me make that decision, and she’d fucking cook special food just for me, and ask me if I liked it or if I wanted anything else. She was definitely one of those old-school women who mostly showed love through feeding you. She was not judgmental about food. Like for example, even though she constantly told you you looked fat, she actually never made snarky comments about you eating too much, which you’d really expect from her.

– her constantly telling me I looked fat

– the time when in front of everyone she begged my mom to get breast implants. “Honey, I’ll pay for it!!”

– the time her hairdresser wrote her an actual handwritten letter saying that he couldn’t cut her hair anymore because she stressed him out so much that it was affecting his career and life

– the time my cousins, my brother, and I poured water and bags of gummi bears (on purpose) over the balcony of my grandparents’ beach condo and into the open top of a convertible parked below, and the guy who owned the convertible saw us and came storming up to our door and yelled at us in front of the whole family, and my grandmother REFUSED TO BELIEVE him, and stood up for us, even though we had indeed done this terrible thing. We came clean, and apologized to him, and my grandmother was mortified. This is a weird story without a clear moral, but I just remember being touched that her first response was to defend us no matter what.

Anyway, she’s gone now. My mom was saying how weird it feels that now she and her sister are the oldest ones. “It’s our turn now.” She meant that it’s now their turn to wither away and die, which is true. She said it makes her sad but it’s also kind of funny, which I think is appropriate.

I’m gonna catch a zero o’clock flight to Texas on Friday and see my whole family for two seconds. I think it will be just like my grandpa’s funeral, with a bunch of genuinely ancient people struggling into the church with the crummy pastor who I hate, and us doing the receiving line afterward, and everyone coming over to my aunt’s house for sandwiches and shrimp, and all the cousins getting drunk on the roof together as the sun sets. I only hope I don’t have a total mental breakdown on the flight back home like I did after that one. I just got really upset thinking about how I don’t have the resources to take care of my parents once they get feeble and insane. Maybe it will be better this time, since I’m going into it better prepared to gird myself against such thoughts? We’ll see! On the 5 hour flight back from my grandpa’s funeral I just stared dry-eyed at the seat in front of me for the entire flight. I didn’t sleep, read, or look out the window. I could tell my seatmate was afraid. Then I cried for 2 hours. The next day I had to teach “Intro To the Twentieth Century” which I think is very funny (powerpoint mostly showing slides of atom bombs)

This is another opportunity to feel totally inadequate and helpless in front of my cousin Mavis, for whom the term “powerhouse” is not even nearly strong enough as a descriptor. Mavis fucking takes charge, and somehow always knows what to do. She is utterly, sublimely competent, in areas that I feel totally unable to deal with. Like at my grandpa’s funeral, she was simultaneously on the phone ordering all these frozen dinners to be delivered to my aunt/her mom’s house, because she knew her mom would be so busy and addled and it would be nice not to have to cook; organizing the post-funeral buffet lunch; putting all the cousins into teams and giving us tasks (none of which I was able to fulfill without asking her for help at some point); processing her grief in thoughtful and honest conversations; offering elderly people drinks and helping them to their chairs; and all the while successfully continuing to parent her own small children throughout. Meanwhile I was like “Mavis, I can’t find any spoons”

She was just there, visiting her mom for Thanksgiving, and they went to see my grandma in the home. My aunt said Mavis just took charge in such a rad way–writing down what the hospice nurse was saying, informing the nurses of all these intricate things we needed to be done or explicitly not done; keeping track of medications. My aunt was so relieved. Even though she’s been in charge of that stuff for years at this point she still can’t really do it; then Mavis swoops in for 24 hours and just takes care of everything. How does she know how to do all that stuff?? Tracking down paperwork and shit. She’s awesome. She is one year older than me but I feel like a little kid around her. And I’m sure she thinks I’m strange but she is always very loving and accepting. She’s also hilarious and fun. I truly love and admire her so much. It’s weird she is a Republican. I think most people are Republicans just because they’ve never really thought about it before, which is depressing, but oh well. Same with Christians. Same with most stuff, probably.

Anyway now I feel sort of at loose ends. I guess I should get to work but I kind of just want to go for a walk.


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