Just a few weeks ago my grandmother died, at age 83. I want to take tonight to write about what I remember of her, and what role she played in my life. I also wish to discuss the very topic of death, and even describe my psychological reaction to the funeral and the event itself.
I have two sets of grandparents, my mother’s parents, and my father’s parents. I have no step-fathers, or step-mothers. My mother’s parents I hardly know. I’ve met them probably a total of three times. As for my father’s parents, they live in the same city we do, so I see them both very frequently, at least once a week. The grandmother who died was my father’s mother.
It’s difficult to remember very early memories of my grandmother. The earliest I can remember is the old St. James “mansion” as they called it. Grandpa had acquired an Atari, and I was upstairs playing River Raid with him. I have a faint recollection of going down the stairs of the large home, and she’s in the kitchen, with big bun hair, cooking. I was very young at this time, maybe 5 years old, which makes this around 20 years ago back in the late 1980s.
The next earliest recollection I have is when I’m older, maybe 10, and I spent the night over at my grandparents house because early in the morning I was going to go trout fishing with grandpa. When I woke up, at around 5 am, I remember wiping the sleep from my eyes and slowly making my way into the kitchen, where I saw my grandma drinking coffee. I was greeted with a smile, and she asked me, “So what would you like for breakfast?” I walked up to her and she pulled out the chair. I was so little that I had to climb up into the chair, and she scooted me to the table. She was always smiling, and she then went around the counter and once again asked me what I wanted to have for breakfast. It was a rather strange question. I was not used to being asked. At home, sometimes I could request varous things from mom before school, and she would make them, but only very simple foods, like toast, cereal, and sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich. I asked her something to the effect, “I can have anything?” And she said, “Anything.” I said, “I can have pancakes, or eggs, or biscuits, and orange juice?” She made all of the above, and also made sausage and bacon. I couldn’t believe it. My earliest impressions of my grandmother are pure kindness, and giving me the best food I could ever ask for.
As I grew older, my picture of grandma becomes a lot more clear. My entire family is a very devout Christian group, and every Sunday after church we all used to go to my grandparents house, and grandma would cook up a large dinner for the entire family. She would always make very “hearty” foods. It’s still the kind of food I prefer, probably because I was raised eating it. She would make roasts, turkey, potatos, carrots, green beans, corn, mashed potatos, greens, garden salads, biscuits, dinner rolls, cakes, all sorts of pies, etc. She knew how to cook. When you would go into the kitchen, there were cook-books everywhere. That’s what my grandma did – she took care of the house, and cooked. Apparently in the early days before I was around, when my father was a child, she had to work to help pay the bills, but that was way before my time. The grandma I knew loved to shop, take care of the house and the family, and cook good food.
I’ve always had a problem related to my blood sugar, and if I don’t eat, I get very bad headaches. Oftentimes I hate vacations and traveling because if my eating schedule is thrown off, I’m bound to get migraine headaches, which oftentimes lead to me lying on the ground in extreme pain, and even vomiting. The headaches are really quite unbearable. Sometimes before these dinners, Dad sometimes would have a long-winded sermon, and if he’d go too long, I’d start to have that “feeling” come over me that I need to eat, or my headache was going to set in. I can always feel it coming on. Normally nobody eats until the prayer is said, and everybody has sat down with their plates fixed. But grandma knew how things were for me, and I’d sneak into the kitchen, and she’d let me hang around. She would always slip me dinner rolls, chunks of roast beef or turkey, and other things. She’d smile and kneel down to me and say, “I won’t tell anyone.” It sounds like a small thing, but if you’ve had headaches like I get, it was no small thing.
When I was young, grandma noticed I loved rolls and mashed potatos with gravy. I remember her taking me aside and showing me a techinque where you pile up a mound of mashed potatos, then use the scooper to make a “bowl” for the gravy to be poured into. To this day I cherish the technique, and find it to be an ingenius method in the art of eating mashed potatos.
I can remember before we were leaving, grandma would always call me in the other room, and I’d go into the kitchen, wondering what she wanted. In the room she’d have a zip-lock bag filled with dinner rolls and she’d kneel down smiling saying, “You like these, don’t ya?”
Other memories are of her always offering me something to eat. If I would have lived with my grandparents, I would have been the most obsese child you had ever seen. I was constantly crammed with cakes, pies, ice-cream, and candies. I was always filled to the brim, and she was continually edging me on to eat more.
Later my grandmother was injured in a car accident, leaving her unable to walk and confined to a wheel-chair. This had all kinds of adverse effects, and over a ten year period her health deterioriated, basically because she could not move, and had a hard time getting proper exercise. During this period she tried to stay as active as she could, but it was very difficult to do the things she used to do, now that she was in a wheel-chair. Eventually she had problems with her lungs filling with fluid, and this is what ended up killing her. She went to the hospital unable to breathe, and she died.
The last seven or eight years I remember very vividly, because I was old enough to understand everything going on, and it is also very recent. I would always go visit my grandparents at some random day of the week, and I would sit with my grandmother in the living room, and talk, and watch television. I tried to go around once per week.
She liked to watch the cooking channels mostly, the news, TBN, and animal planet. She liked Paula Deen. She would say, “She’s just like us, isn’t she?” She was a lot like Paula Deen. Sometimes she’d watch the news, and then sometimes she’d say, “Ugh, I can’t watch this. It just frustrates me, doesn’t it you?” She would then normally turn it to Animal Planet, and watch various shows about the animal cops, and details into animal shelters. She really admired what those people do. She also loved the show with the Meer-cats.
When we would talk, I would try to inquire about her past, and hear about her childhood family. Normally this was hard to do, because she got side-tracked so easily. Sometimes it was the dogs barking, or it was time for some TV show to come on, or it was time for her to take her medication. It’s a shame that she died, and I never got to hear much of her stories about her life, childhood, and what life was like for her growing up.
One thing I must mention, if you are to know anything about my grandmother, is her devout belief in Christianity, and her love of the Lord. Almost every time I would sit down with her, she would get her Bible out of her drawer by her chair, and would read me scriptures, and explain them to me.
She always read out of the New Testament, and normally read the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes she’d talk about loving people, sometimes about the power of God and how he’ll deliver you from any problem, and sometimes she’d speak of being wary of various snares that a life of sin will bring on you, but overall, she mostly talked about love, and how good God was, and how God had brought her out of every trouble she’d ever faced. She frequently talked about the “power of the tongue”, and how our words and thoughts shape where we go in life. She always told me to, “Speak life, speak life!” In other words, always encourage others, and build them up, and keep my mind on good things. Watch my critical words towards others, because it hurts them. She’d frequently talk about troubles coming in life, and that, “God will not put more on you than you’re able to bear, and will make a way of escape.” She also talked about faith, and believing God for miracles. She frequently told me about when she was having heart troubles, and dizzy spells, a long long time ago. The doctor told her she had serious problems, and she would not live a long life. Later she went to a revival church service, was prayed for, and she felt the power of God come on her, and from that moment on, she never had trouble with her heart. I believe her story – the rest of the family all confirm it as true.
I have a collection of birthday cards from her stored on my shelf. She never forgot my birthday. Not once. She’d always get me a card, and it’d have money tucked inside. Every one of them has a note written by her saying something to the effect, “I love you.”, “Remember, Granny will always love you.” There was always a footnote in there as well, saying, “Remember the Lord.” Which means, basically, live a good life, and don’t get caught up in a life of sin. Remember Jesus, and his teachings. Have respect for God, and for people.
It was very sad to see her go. At the funeral, when I looked at her dead body in the casket, I remember thinking, “There’s not many people like her in my life. There’s not many people like her in this world.” In my dealings with business, I’m so accustomed to greed, and immorality. People all seeking what’s best for them, and no thought of how things tie in the big picture. It is a loss for the whole world for a woman like her to die, not just my family – everybody.
I remember my grandparents policy when strangers would come over to their house. When all of us grandchildren would come inside, we were always greeted with hugs and smiles. I remember one time one of my friends came over to their house because he was visiting my house at the time. When he came inside my grandparents greeted him and said, “Oh, come over here. Everybody gets a hug around here.” That’s the kind of person my grandmother was.
I was not there in the hospital when she died, but from the accounts I’ve heard, grandma clenched my aunt’s hand, and said her last words, smiling, “I will see you again”.
I didn’t cry at the funeral. I haven’t cried in a long time. I guess over the past eight years or so I’ve devoted myself mainly to studying philosophy and thinking on life’s most important questions. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about death, and read a lot of great thinkers thoughts on the subject. One philosopher said, “The subject of philosophy is to learn how to die well.”
Years ago, when I was studying these sorts of things, I can remember thinking about such topics. I remember I came to the conclusion that there will come a time when all things will be taken away from me, no matter how much I love the thing in question. Most people, when they meditate, picture a world where they have all things, and are surrounded by love. I did the opposite. In my mind, I imagined my parents funeral. My two brother’s funeral. My friend Greg’s funeral. I imagined looking at myself in the mirror and I’m old, and my entire generation as well as all my friends have died off, leaving only me. I stared all these things in the face, and acknowledged that if I live long enough, I will see these things come to past. I vividly pictured all of these events. My goal was to be able to confront these events, and be left unaffected and still be happy, needing nothing — if such a state is possible for a person.
Most things in life we desire, we’ll never be able to have. I imagined all the books I want to read, and I acknowledged that I’ll run out of time before they are all read and fully understood. I don’t have a special someone in my life, but I have already created a vivid picture of her in my mind, and already have acknowledged her being ripped away from me, either by a disease, or by sudden death, etc., and have already made peace with it.
I’ve pictured the Earth, and watched the Sun implode and suck everything the human race has worked for into a black hole. I’ve watched the universe die out in the heat death, and the various galaxies collide and throw everything out of balance.
Ultimate and universal futility. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge these truths is living a lie. You can try to ignore these things, but when you’re in the funeral home, looking over the dead body of one of the few people in this world who truly loves you, you’ll see that this is an inevitable fact of life. As far as this life goes, you own nothing. You possess nothing. Everything is temporary, and all will be taken away from you.
The other day, when the girl I’m in love with said she had no interest in me, I was in the same situation as this. The unattainable goal. There’s some deep canyon, with two high precipices, and I’m on one, and she’s on the other, and there’s absolutely no way I can ever get to where she is. Nothing I can do. Nothing I can say. Nothing I can change. An inevitable fact that I will never have her, even temporarily.
The universal formula is this: There’s something you do not want to happen, some way you want the world to be, or some goal you wish you could achieve, and for whatever reason, there’s nothing you can do about it.
If that situation is not enough, there is more. The more you learn, the more you’ll see how much you’re missing, and as you understand this situation, you will see there is nothing you can do about it. There’s so many neat things to do, and you’ll never have time to do them all, or even worse, you may not have the means available to do the things you wish to do. So many places to see, and so much to do, and you’ll never get to fully explore everything.
I was telling Greg the other day that a large part of what it means to make a decision is deciding what it is you’re going to give up. The more knowledgeable you are, the more you’ll notice all that you’re giving up with each decision you make. But then again, if you don’t make a decision, you get nothing at all. What a situation to be stuck in. You’re told you can have this bread-crumb, or that bread-crumb, and are forced to nibble away when you can see a whole table of food in front of you.
When you choose a particular girl to marry, that’s your choice, and all the other women, and the possible lives with them, are not experienced. When you specialize in some field, you miss out on all the other subjects being studied. When you choose to live in one area, you miss out on all that’s going on in the rest of the world.
We’re forced by powers well beyond our control, to live a limited existence, and to miss out on near everything which is out there.
To be human primarily seems to be the ability to make a decision, and choose where we go, but this very thing seems to be one of the most awful things there is. I don’t see why there’s so many philosophers who value “freedom”. It seems with us, we’re either free to choose something harmful and painful, and hurt ourselves, or we’re free to choose something good for us, but we’ll have to miss out on all the rest (and the things we have to leave behind constitute most things). The good things are good, but woe to the man who considers how much he’s missing out on. The more knowledgeable you become, the more you’ll find out you’re missing.
For example, at first you may realize you’re living in a rural area, and think you’re missing out on all the good things going on in the city. Then you find out how many big cities there are. Then you find out how many countries there are, and various cultures. Then you find out that you’re living on a small planet, whirling around just one of billions and billions of stars in a galaxy. Then you find out your galaxy is just one of billions and billions of other galaxies. Then you hear in string theory that multiple dimensions are connected by these “brains”, and there’s possibly multiple dimensions all connected together, all filled with universes and life of all sorts. Possible energy and matter of types inexplicable and currently totally unknown. The more you learn, the more you find out you’re missing and do not know.
The other day I picked up a magazine and saw all these neat video games. I thought, “Man, I’d love to play a lot of these.” Then I thought, “But I don’t have time!” But why don’t I have time? Because I want to build up this business and do scientific research. I had to choose one thing, and give up all kinds of other things in return. And even when it comes to research, I can only study a few things, out of all the billions of subjects to study.
When I did this thought experiment, I learned that the most valuable thing you can do in this life is to lose your self. Trying to put it simply, and practically, I suppose by losing the “self” I mean living to make everyone’s lives better, and to find your pleasures in the contemplation of the world around you, even when those things have no bearing to your “life” at all.
The less you think about yourself, your plans, your goals, etc., the better off you will be. That’s not to say you don’t have goals and do things. It’s a subtle state of mind and way you live and view things. It’d be an entire entry in itself to explain it. In short, you don’t think of things in relation to “you”, it’s always about the things themselves and how all the things tie together into one. Einstein seemed to believe something similar, and tried to explain it in his book, “The World As I See It”,
“But there is a third state of religious experience […], even though it is rarely found in a pure form, and which I will call cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to explain this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.
The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the
sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.”
With a view like this, there is no heaven, no glorified bodies, and no life beyond. To keep exisiting in this same mode of existence is the “prison” we hope to get out of. The prison of decisions, of seeing things from a perspective, of not being everywhere at once. The prison of time, and change. I suppose in a sense, it’s wanting to be one with God, though God in this sense is not anything like a “person”. It’s more like Spinoza’s conception of God.
It’s admirable to try to make every moment count. I try to do this myself a lot of the time. When I think about my grandma though, and her death, I think now she is out of the prison. I think she’s been united with God, and exists in a much more peaceful state than what we can even explain. I don’t really pray these days, because the only motive I can think of why I would pray is because of fear, but if I was to pray to God, I would pray that I once again be reunited with all things, and be at peace.