The Unswung Bat

Tuesday, August 05, 2008
From this valley they say you are going

My grandmother died on Saturday. I heard this Monday when I went home to meet mom on her return from a trip to Anchorage to be with the family. It was good--and unusual--that almost the whole immediate family lived there, especially considering how much they all moved around and have no roots in the area other than those they quickly fabricated. When they have no history, my maternal family will quickly stubborn one into existence.

This powerful bullheadedness is, as you might detect, a bit of a family emblem. Mom said that grandma died as she wanted to. She wanted only her immediate family there, none of her grandchildren, both to prevent us from having the memory of her dying and to draw in the most familiar people in her life while she waited. Mom also said she eventually wasn't even afraid. Though she still had bad stretches where she couldn't breathe and panicked, she was telling everyone that it was natural, what was happening to her.

So grandma had the death she wanted. She was the only person who still called me "Ani" (pronounce it "Onny"), a nickname my mom called me by when I was very young. Grandma always called me that--more the older I got, I swear. I don't remember the exact last time I said goodbye to her, and I'm glad for that. If I did, it would stand falsely as a summary of our connection. I'm left with a long and gappy memory of her. She was as stern and unbending a figure as I have ever known--more so, much more, than any other family member I can think of. But she wouldn't say anything against a view of yours she did not share. I know she was very kind and intelligent, perceptive and different, and worried. I miss my grandmother, and the question of when I, personally, lost her troubles me.

Her ability to find her good death leaves as strong an impression on me as the fatalistic sprit underlying all her wise deciding. She chose what was dearest and steadiest in her life to die beside, which is the first thought to almost bring tears to my eyes since the news began to hit. But she didn't choose to save her life when she could have. I'm unsatisfied we'll ever explain that habit well--is it unrequited curiosity that pulls you to die, fear and rationalization, disenchantment, disappointment, loneliness, weakness, shame, a complicated enjoyment of the object of your guilt, a simple act of mental avoidance? I don't know whether she reached any conclusion or was covered by an iron shield during the worst of it. I know my grandfather, who was exhausted, awoke magically ten minutes before she died, and she became calm when he came in to be with her.

If we have such control over the things we know about, if we can sweep away, more or less, the obstacles we'd hate to encounter even in the face of death, then why does it seem so right for everyone to do everything too late?



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