I can only recall visiting my paternal grandmother three times, and only her specifically on the latter two visits, when I was 16 and 32. The first visit I was three or four, and although I have a few glimpses; even some of those I think were more manufactured than real. For example my memory of walking down the street with some of my teenage aunts and uncles, and a car pulling up and offering us candy, and one of my uncles getting in. I would have heard about that since if it was real.

So it’s with a kind of detached sadness that I learn of her death yesterday, on her 91st birthday. My great uncle died earlier in the week at 96, but life brought me closer to him, and so I cry more. Or honestly at this point, at all. Sometimes it takes time. When I heard of the death of a friend from highschool, it took two weeks to register. And then hearing “Two Suns in the Sunset” while washing the dishes, I bawled.

It seems sacrilegious to bring atheism into a discussion of my Roman Catholic Grandmother, but if psalms could be recited in memory of my other grandmother (an atheist) then I hope I can be forgiven for bringing my own perspective.

One of the biggest headshakes I think I get from theists surrounds facing death. As Mark Twain said

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it

Whether one believes in an afterlife or not, it’s clear we have limited resources on this planet. Probably we could sustain more, but if we all lived forever, we’d quickly run out of room. The only way for someone else to experience life is for one of us to die.

My step-father often talked about an Inuit custom (at least supposed, I don’t know if it’s true). When a new baby was born, if there wasn’t enough food for a new mouth, the oldest member of the family would take a long walk and never come back. My step-father had a heart attack in the house, and made it outside to start his favorite walk. It was also late January. In fact, it was the same day in 1981 that Steve Podborski won his third straight downhill (skiing) race. Strange things register in your brain when you’re in a state of shock.

We are alive because we were lucky enough to be born. And although I wish to take full advantage of the opportunity, it would be selfish of me to not want someone else to have the opportunity. We miss and mourn those who die, but that is mirrored by rejoice in those who are born.

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4 Responses to Grandma

  1. Ed Seedhouse says:

    “Two suns in the sunset” eh? Do you openly admit your Floyd addiction? If so welcome to the club.

  2. nowhereman says:

    good post. death is inevitable. i know i will not live forever and to be honest i don’t think i would really want to. the best i can do is squeeze the most i can out of this fleeting little life of mine and perhaps help others do the same in the process.

  3. DavidM says:

    You might appreciate this RC quote, in honor of your RC grandma:

    Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi: “10. …the question arises: do we really want this—to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable. This is precisely the point made, for example, by Saint Ambrose, one of the Church Fathers, in the funeral discourse for his deceased brother Satyrus: “Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin … began to experience the burden of wretchedness in unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing”[6]. A little earlier, Ambrose had said: “Death is, then, no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind’s salvation”[7].

    11. Whatever precisely Saint Ambrose may have meant by these words, it is true that to eliminate death or to postpone it more or less indefinitely would place the earth and humanity in an impossible situation, and even for the individual would bring no benefit. Obviously there is a contradiction in our attitude, which points to an inner contradiction in our very existence. On the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do not want us to die. Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view. So what do we really want?…”

    Feel free to keep reading if you’re interested. Just search for “Spe salvi.”

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