Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Memento Mori

My Grammy's sister-in-law, the woman I called Aunt Mickey, passed away at about 4:30 yesterday afternoon. We had visited her in the hospital on the 14th, and I'd been meaning to call about checking in on her, but there was always something to do, so I never got around to it. The nurse called my Grammy to say that Aunt Mickey was in bad shape, and then called again before Grammy could even leave for the hospital to tell her that Mickey was gone.

We don't know if there will be a service yet. She's being cremated and her family lives out in Texas. She was 94 years old and refused the surgery that would have prolonged her life, so this wasn't really unexpected, but the speed with which she went was surprising.

I'm sad that she's gone, but I think 94 years, that's a good run, right? And then I think of Neil Gaiman, "You get what anyone gets - you get a lifetime."

I feel sad for my Grammy. In the past forty years, she's seen her huge extended family dwindle away to nothing. I have an unusual last name and if you google it now, it seems all that you get are obits.

In the Farewell to Arms, Hemingway says, "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." Grammy says that he's not going to let this get her down, but she been so strong for so long that I worry about how much more of this she can bear.

The other person about whom I have concerns is Lily. She gave her little stuffed Tigger to Mickey "So you can be happy after I leave." She doesn't think much about Mickey and would probably not bring her up unprompted, but when she was talking about sleeping over at Grammy's, she thought that they would need three beds, because she was under the impression that Mickey lived with Grammy. I don't want her thinking that a hospital is a place where people go to die.

I'm torn. On one hand, as an atheist, there are certain things I can't say to comfort her. But my father has already indoctrinated her with the idea of heaven where Jesus is up there playing with her dead hamster. I don't want to have an exchange where I say, "Lily, I have some sad news. Aunt Mickey has died." "Is she up in heaven with Jesus?" And then what? "No, she's just dead"? "This is the really real world and there ain't no coming back"?

So I'm tempted to just not bring up the topic. But then I think of A Minor Variation by Billy Joel, with its line, "No way to win when you've already been forgotten." I think of Roy Batty "All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain." I believe the best way to honor the dead is to remember them. I liked Aunt Mickey a lot, and it just seems a betrayal of that to forget about her just to make my life a little easier.

I'll remember her here for a little bit while I consider what to do.

Mickey was those people who reach equilibrium early, and looked much the same at 60 as she did at 90.

They would visit my grandparents right up until their various medical issues prevented it, and I was always knew when they were in town by the KEN - MIC vanity plates on the car parked outside the house.

I always loved looking at the black and white pictures of my Grammy and Pop and Kenny and Mickey from the 50s and 60s, looking young and slim and healthy, with all the Mad Men area accoutrements littering the photos, the fancy standing ashtrays and Kenny's thick rocket scientist glasses, the same ones he'd wear 50 years later.

I think, as a compromise, I will hang these few words here, and when Lily is old enough, she can return to them and remember.

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