Friday, March 12, 2010

If it's peace you find in dying well then let the time be near

I'd like to preface this entry by saying no, Mom, you don't need to worry about me. I'm not thisclose to being committed to the hospital or needing you to come over and hide all the sharp objects and unplug the oven. I promise, and I nevah break a promise.

I've been thinking about death a lot lately. I haven't been thinking about offing myself or thinking overly morbid thoughts like, "Dead people are lucky because they can't hurt anymore." I've just been thinking about death and dying and the overall process of it all.

Medically speaking, dying is serious business. The human body has a lot to accomplish before it shuts down for good, and post-death it's messier. Emotionally speaking, death is exhausting. When my grandpa died, I was five years old. I vividly remember my mom telling me that Grandpa would be in a casket and it would look like he was asleep, but that he wasn't asleep, he was dead. I said, "Okay, but if he's not asleep, what is he?" My mom paused again and said, "He's dead." Her eyes were red and her nose was running. I still didn't understand what dead was, but it sure as hell made my mom sad. I remember her bawling and unable to speak when we picked out my grandpa's tombstone. I remember how cold that room felt, and that I could see my breath while I watched my mom cry.

I remember running around Modell Funeral Home playing 'airplane' with my cousins and my sister, and thinking it was pretty awesome that we could be as loud as we wanted and Grandpa wouldn't wake up. I remember being yelled at for not being sad.

When my dad's mom died, I was in 6th grade, and I hated myself for not being able to cry. I remember being told she had died, and not really feeling anything. I had begged and pleaded with God on my knees the night before, and I remember my dad coming home and telling us that it "didn't look good." My grandma was strong. She was 81 and still lived on her own. She identified the men who robbed her. She smoked everyday and still washed her clothes by hand. She was strong as hell, and if someone like her could die, there was no hope for the rest of us.

And then, there was my Nina, my big, fat, Italian grandma who ruled her roost and heaven help anyone who tried to tell her otherwise. Nina was my mom's stepmom, and was my grandma. She wanted to be called Nona, or Nonna, but as a small child I couldn't say it correctly, so she was Nina. In the end, I think she preferred Nina over Nona. Almost anyone can become a Nona, but no one else had a Nina.

My Nina passed away 5 months before we got married. I was devastated. Since the day Graham slipped the engagement ring on my finger, I had dreamed of taking one precious photo with my grandmother. I wasn't stupid; I knew she was running out of time. She still gave the strongest hugs I've ever experienced, but she was constantly getting weaker. She couldn't walk without holding on hard to someone's arm. She couldn't do stairs at all. She couldn't really see by the end of her life. But she still had so much life. She was fiery, like me. I definitely get my strong will from her. She was right, dammit, and don't anyone say otherwise, because that was just asking for trouble. My favorite memories of Nina involve my mom saying, "Anna, stop yelling," begging her to lower her voice, followed by a booming, darn-near-glass-shattering, "I'M NOT YELLING! THIS IS MY VOICE! WHAT'S WRONG WITH MY VOICE! Santo Dio, Mary! NO ONE HERE IS YELLING!"

The day she died, I didn't cry. My mom fell into my arms at the hospital. My sister burst into tears. My mom lost it. For so many years we'd all heard that "this was it" and that Nina would be dying, and my mom was always saying, "I think I need to get ready," but she came out of the hospital so many times that we never actually believed that this time would actually be it, and that she wouldn't be coming home. I cried after her funeral. I cried with Graham and cried for myself. I cried for the picture I'd never get to take and the frame I foolishly purchased for it. I cried for believing she'd make it to the wedding, even at 84 and completely unable to walk and care for herself. I cried for myself, angry at everyone who dared to need me that week. I was hurting and grieving too. I wanted time to cry and say goodbye. Why did everyone need me right at that time? I was so happy a few months later, but I remember looking around the church and feeling a tug at my heart. She wasn't there, and she should have been.

The thing is, at the end of her life, Nina begged for death. She was so sick and miserable and I started to get pissed at God for not taking her. She did come home from the hospital, but there were days when I looked at her and prayed for God to take her. She loved her family and her life and all her children and grandchildren, but I didn't understand why God let her linger. I don't know if I'll ever understand it, but aside from the grief and the sadness I felt, I was also relieved. Finally she was at peace and she didn't hurt anymore. And I missed her, and still miss her, but it's wistful. I don't hate God because she's gone. I'm happy she's finally as she should be, and as I remember her from when I was small.

The more I think about death, the more I realize I'm unafraid of it. Honestly, I think dying has to be one of the most peaceful actions in the entire universe. The order in which people die isn't at all fair or clear, but I think the very act gets a bad rep.

Personally, whenever it's time for me to die, I'll be okay with it. It's not "not living" that scares me. My bigger fear is not getting the use out of this body that I hope for. I want to see India and experience different cultures. I want to jump out of a plane. I want to get a tattoo. I want to get to heaven and meet Jesus and have him say, "A little banged up, but all in all still in pretty good condition." (Ideally I'm getting to heaven, but given some of the crap I've dished out I'm not so sure sometimes. Sometimes I think about the song lyric, "I swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell," and think that if I had to choose between nothing at all and going to hell, I'd take nada. I burn easily.)

And because I'm a worrier about things, my bigger concern is for my family. Mom and Dad don't handle death well, and that leaves a lot of mess for Gina to deal with. I've never experienced a close family member passing in Graham's family, so I don't really know how they handle it. I know it sucks all around, that's for sure. My concern is for Graham--he's got to be taken care of. And my close friends. I want everyone to have some closure. If I've lived my life right, people will be pissed off that I'm gone, but also glad to have known me.


I've always been contemplative, and after my mom's dad passed I used to swing in the backyard on a swingset that wouldn't be allowed out of Toys R Us and stare up at the sky. I wanted to see heaven. I wanted to see my grandpa staring back at me. I'd squint past the moon and ask nicely for God to show me heaven. Even when I said please, he never delivered. Wonder what that's all about...::shrug::

As far as an afterlife goes, I want to be a ghost. I want to run all around the world and just be a snarky, funny ghost. On the other hand, I'm not a wallflower. I need to participate, and it'd drive me nuts to have to sit on the sidelines and watch my friends travel and have fun and go to ball games. If I can't have fun, then no one else should be able to, either!

All in all, I can't control the future and if given the choice I wouldn't want to know what happens and how it all goes down. I hate surprises, but if I knew that death was gonna come knocking tomorrow, I'd be torn. Do I say my goodbyes or have one last hurrah? Do I share the news or just let everyone be surprised?

Like I said at the start of this post, I don't ever break a promise. I've made a promise to myself that I'll never have to look at myself and know that death is coming and THEN start living. I'll run out of time and hate myself for it. I don't do a good job of it, but I do try to actively live as though each day was going to be the last. It drives Graham nuts, but it helps me sleep at night. Like I said to my mom in high school, "If I'm supposed to live each day like it's my last, I don't wanna spend my last day doing laundry." She rolled her eyes, my sister laughed, and I went out the door for some ice cream.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not going to sit around and be scared of death. I'm going to be scared of spiders and bats and rabid dogs, but not dying. It's an active verb, after all.

1 comment:

  1. This is easily among the most beautiful things I've ever read.

    Also, please PLEASE let's haunt travelers together. Think of the Unsolved Mystery episodes we would star in! We would be the ghosts who don't stay put, who are hard to track, because we don't haunt places, we haunt experiences.


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