"How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"
-James T. Kirk, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
6 days ago my grandmother, Ann Tussing, died. It's been a little...
odd, I suppose, for lack of better term. I've never had a grandparent
die on me before, though I have lost an uncle, two great-grandmothers,
and more friends than I can count over the years. Death doesn't really
bug me, it's been a part of life I've been keenly aware of since a very
young age. And over the last week, whenever anyone has asked me how I'm
doing with all this, I really feel... well, maybe a little guilty? But
I've always been honest with my answer. I'm relieved. Relieved, and
glad that her (pointless, sucky) struggle with severe dementia is over.
Relieved that all the mistakes that led her- and by selfish extension,
me- to this point can no longer be compounded. I miss my grandmother,
absolutely. But if I'm being honest, I've been missing her for nearly a
decade. That wasn't my grandmother, it was just what was left behind
when her mind started dying years ago.
All that being said, I admit I was pretty pissed off when I was told that my grandfather didn't want any
sort of funeral to be had for her. "She didn't want one" he said, even
though I've seen no evidence that this is correct (especially given
that she's been essentially incapable of any sort of decision making for
years). And even if it was, funerals aren't really for the deceased,
they're for everyone who knew and cared about them. I'm pissed off and
upset with him- I know I'm not the only one- but what can I do? She was
his wife, he gets the final say. He doesn't want a public funeral?
Fine. His choice.
then again, this is MY blog. My space to talk about whatever I want,
and to be as self indulgent in public as I could possibly want. And as
this entire website is a testament to my self indulgence, today I want
to talk just a little bit about my grandmother. My blog. My choice.
my grandmother in one word: .... tenacious. She was a stubborn old
broad. I don't mean that in a bad way, either. It was just a fact of
life, going against her was simply ill-advised. My dad had no problem
yelling at his father-in-law, but he went out of his way to please his
mother-in-law. I have to wonder how much of my earliest (and least remember-able) years were seriously impacted by her. Over the last few
years, I've begun realizing how much like my mother I am, but I think my
stubborn idealism might actually be my grandmother's fault. She wasn't
prim and proper, exactly, but she was definitely very... I don't know.
She got things done, and she got them done right. Before she got sick,
her kitchen was always impeccable. But again, not because she was
obsessive or neurotic. She did it because that was the way it was to be
done, I guess is how I'd describe it.
believe me, as a kid, I was a total "Grandma's boy". If we had dinner
with them, I was always sitting right next to her. A few days ago, my
Aunt Patti (who's not really my aunt, but is really my godmother)
described it to me: "She could always see in you what your mom and dad
wouldn't, or sometimes couldn't see. All of the questions and the
prodding, she'd find a way to focus that, always."
don't know if that's true or bullshit nostalgia (love you, Aunt
Patti!), but one thing I'm certain of, I must have been an insufferable
child. I've met a few kids who I realized that was me! Oh god!
because I was definitely a kid who questioned everything. It wasn't
until probably Jr. High that I realized no one else wanted answers for
everything; that explaining everything wasn't needed for, like, 95% of
the world. Not everyone grows up to be analyst,
which, as a kid who instinctively analyzed everything, took some time
to kick in. So if Aunt Patti is right, even more props have to go to my
grandmother. Because as an adult, trust me, I find kids like me
infuriating. "God damn it kid, how many times do I have to explain this
to you?! Jesus did not look like Ted Nugent, okay?"*
grandmother wasn't perfect, by any means. I mean, she suffered from
the same deplorable lack of taste that affects most Americans in the South and Midwest. She collected dolls, and some of them were nice, but
a whole hell of a lot of them were Precious Moments dolls, which.... ugh.
Maybe it's a generational thing, I don't know. Also, her lack of
understanding about the fundamental importance of Spider-Man in our
culture is something I'll never understand, but hey, I can lay the same
complaint out on my parents. :)
fact is, I loved my grandmother. And she knew that, even after the
dementia started to kick in back when I was in high school. Throughout
this whole ten year ordeal, where things just kept going from bad to
worse, there were some dark, incredibly fucked up times. I'm not going
to go into most of them here, because, again, frankly, that wasn't my grandmother, at least, not in a way that counts to me. But I do have one recent misadventure/horrible event I want to share.
year I went with my grandparents to a doctor's appointment for her.
That's putting it gently, I basically showed up unannounced, just so
that the rest of the family could have an honest account of things, but
my grandfather seemed okay with it. Weeks before, my grandmother had
broken several bones after a fall, and the visit was a checkup to see
how she was healing. Afterwards, my grandfather needed to head to the
bathroom, so I waited with Gramma outside the doctor’s office for 15
we waited, her confused and in a wheelchair, me vaguely annoyed and how
long he was taking and reading old Sgt. Fury comics, she started
crying. She couldn't remember why she was at the doctor, or why she was
in a couple casts, or much of anything else, but she knew SOMETHING WAS
WRONG. "Justin," she asked through her tears, "what is wrong with me?"
She could barely get the words out. She knew. She knew that she
wasn't right, that something was wrong with her, but she couldn't figure
out what it was. That's what the disease had robbed her of. Reason.
Memory. Stolen from her, just because.
could have told her that. I could have told her that her brain was
dying, for no real reason other than life sucks a lot some times, and
she'd gotten shafted. I could have told her that human beings are just
not built to last, and unfortunately, no one was going to be able to
make her better. And the truth is, that within 5 minutes, she wouldn't
have remembered what I said; maybe she'd be humming along, happy as a
clam, on her way back home.
I didn't tell her any of that. I lied. I don't even know why I did
it, it's not like lying to her accomplished anything more than telling
the truth would have. But I said to her, "I don't know, Gramma. But I
really hope the doctor can help make you better." The joint doctor
couldn't do a damn thing for her memory, but I lied anyway. Maybe she
took comfort from what I said. And maybe she didn't. And ten minutes
later it didn't matter, because she couldn't remember she'd even been
to the doctor.
nothing happy about the end of her life's story, except that it has
ended. My grandmother (pre-dementia) would have been horrified to see
what her house ended up looking like. Barely any of her was left, at
the end. So when I say that I'm relieved that she's gone, let me add
that if anything was left of her in the end, I think she'd be relieved
anyone dies, other people always tell you that "Well, at least they're
in a better place." As a general rule, this infuriates me. My own
religious views are complicated to say the least, but for pretty much my
entire life, I've been on the record as saying that I hope there isn't
some sort of bullshit afterlife. I think it cheapens the importance of
life; the fact that you only get a brief moment and then you're gone-
that's what makes life so precious. I know my grandmother would
disagree with me (devout Christian, and if we're being honest, I ask too
many questions to be "devout" anything), but there it is: I hope that
when I die, they put me in the ground and that's it. Game over.
here's the thing, whenever anybody says "She's in a better place now"
about my grandmother, I'm okay with it. Because, you know what? She
is. Afterlife or no afterlife, at least she's not trapped anymore.
She's not stuck in a body that's losing everything that she was, piece
by piece, and for that? I rejoice. It's not nice. It's not happy.
But at least her suffering is over now.
why am I writing all of this? Because I may be okay with her death,
but I'm not okay with ignoring it. Because I do miss and love my
grandmother, even if she is dead. Because sharing memories is what's
important, in my opinion. I loved my grandmother, and I always wanted
what was best for her. And the sad truth was, this was what was best.
It fucking sucks, and I'm not ashamed to say that I got a little teary
eyed writing this a couple times. But I wanted to be honest about my
feelings, so there you have it. Later on in Star Trek 2, Dr. McCoy says
of (a currently dead) Mr. Spock: "He's not really dead, as long as we
remember him." So, if the internet really is forever, then even after
I'm dead (Ten bucks says I die wrestling a lion!), she'll never really
be gone. That's probably bullshit optimism on my part, but hey, you
Anyway. I just wanted to talk about my Gramma for a little bit, now that she's gone. I promise, next post will be about Who Framed Roger Rabbit,
or mouse utopias, or space travel, or some other cool shit in the next
few days. Maybe I'll even find time to talk about comic books at some
point, because clearly I don't do that enough. But sometimes you need
to get serious for a moment, you know? Anyway, thanks for reading, and
I'll try to be a little less depressing next time.
No disrespect to Ted Nugent intended. I don't think the two of us have
much in common politically, but honestly, I have to respect a rock and
roll icon who still murders his own dinner, you know? That's pretty
hardcore. Also, any friend of Anthony Bourdain is a friend of mine.
I'm just sayin', Jesus grew up in the Middle East, you know? He
probably was a couple shades darker than you, that's all I mean.