Color is necessary in life. I know that to be true. It helps you determine right from wrong, good from evil, light from darkness. It helps to make sense of those things that seem so mysterious at first. It gives us a sense of vibrancy and joy, a will to live.
I don’t know how healthy it is to think about death, most people might not even consider it normal. But as humans we are born into a curse of curiosity. Lately, I find myself thinking more about dying than I do about living. I wonder what it will feel like, when it will happen, or more importantly, will I be ready. Sometimes I use to find myself wondering what my life would be like if I lost someone close to me. I never once hoped for tragic things to happen but I did wonder how I would feel and what would change about my life if any of them were taken from me.
I am in no way a sadist, I feel my morbid curiosity about death is justified because I know at some point someone important to me may die and I want to be ready. Of course I know that one can never be ready for the death of their loved one. Even when you know it’s inevitable that it will happen, you can never really be prepared. You know that it could happen at any moment but somehow there are always things you end up wishing you had said or done.
My maternal grandmother is eighty-nine years old and it seems that she may be living her last chapter. I know her to be productive and strong-willed; that is the woman I use to see, the woman who played a large role in my upbringing. Now, all I see is fragility, doubt and a gray cloud. I try to visit her every Thursday and on one of my last visits she began speaking Finnish, which was her first language instead of English and had mistaken me for my mother.
Her confusion of course comes with age. Her aches and pains are caused by the years of hard work and a body that can no longer sustain youth. She seems to be growing shorter and thinner with every week that passes between our visits. Her Finnish accent is thicker and more muddled and her conversations play on a loop, repeating herself constantly. When I change the topic of conversation her eyes glass over and she shrugs, leading me to believe she has no interest in learning anything new and even if she did I have my doubts that she would retain it.
I am who I am in large part because of this woman. Not only genetically but she toilet-trained me, helped me learn how to walk, calmed me when I was upset, disciplined me, kissed my “owies”, reinforced hygiene, she encouraged my imagination, told me to be adventurous, taught me how to grow beautiful gardens, how to harvest and preserve what I grew in those gardens, she told me to work hard, she told me to stay humble, that I am no better or no less than anyone else and she taught me how to love unconditionally.
My grandma is so very far from that woman I remember from my childhood. She has lived a very full life. Full of hardships, sadness, heartbreak and disappointments; and her life has also been productive and full of joy, adventures, laughter and love. She has survived two marriages, she has raised seven children, she has thirteen grandchildren, fourteen great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
She was never a career driven woman but she has been dedicated to taking care of people her entire life. She was the oldest of her siblings and she has outlived most of them. She raised seven children of her own and when I was a child she took care of me and my brothers, we didn’t go to daycare we were with her. Now that her children are also getting older and struggling with some severe health issues of their own I can sense that burden weighing down upon her.
Although she would never say it outloud, I think watching her children age plays a large role in her desire to give up. She is the type of woman who feels a sense of responsibility to take care of the people around her and because she is growing tired she has very little fight left in her, and a part of her is terrified that she may outlive one or more of her children.
My grandma is a straightforward unemotional woman. She is very private and has never been the type to air her dirty laundry; that would be unsightly. If any one of you told her I wrote a public article about her she would most definitely muster the energy to beat me senseless.
In our society there is no time to dedicate to the elderly and in general people certainly don’t have the tolerance. They are often seen as paranoid and senile or they are incorrectly labeled with dementia when they simply get slightly confused. An engine is not designed to run for ninety years without a tune up or a rebuild and neither is the human body.
People are not to be thrown away, especially when they still have something to say. Respect your elders, learn from them, take care of them, love them. Because like it or not you will grow old too. How would you feel if your life was treated as though it has meant absolutely nothing? The things you’ve accomplished, the things you’ve seen or said or done, your choices, the people you’ve surrounded yourself with, the children you’ve raised, the path you’ve walked; all of it is the quintessence of your being.
That means something and it is up to you to ensure that it means something to someone else. Lead by example. Take care of your grandparents or parents, teach the children in your life to live respectfully, take care of your own.
Grandma is a dying age group; she is of The Great Generation. She has lived through a lot and seen even more and it is my honor to know her and an even greater honor to have been loved by her.
Those of us who will be lucky enough to live a long and prosperous life will reach a point where we become old and frail and we will be too tired and unsure of our place in the world. We will lose the ability and the will to thrive because youth will have abandoned us. If we have raised families or secured life-long friends and there is at least one witness to our lives, just one someone to sit with us and to hold our hands at the end then we will have lived for the right reasons.