my grandmother has lived too long. it's sad, really, because she wasn't a happy person and never had a happy life. now she's outlived not only just about everyone she used to know, she's even outlived her house. and yet, she's terrified to die.
but how do you explain to an old person that from where you happen to sit, death doesn't look like such a bad thing? why rage against the dying of the light when it's inevitable? why "fight" the Grim Reaper, tooth and claw? why allow needles and pokes and proddings, icky medicines, dehumanizing treatments? why be so afraid to die that as a culture we encourage people to try ANYTHING - rather than simply pass gracefully into that good night that comes eventually to us all?
my grandmother is miserable. she's been miserable for years, of course, but ever since she turned 88, it's been worse. you see, my great-grandfather died when he was 87 and my grandmother never imagined for a minute she might live to be older than him. i imagine she's awakened every morning with the same sense of disappointment I'd wake up with i was overdue with one of my babies.... that feeling of .. "oh, shit, i'm still pregnant." in my grandmother's case, i imagine its more a sense of "oh, shit... i'm still alive."
but she's so scared to die.
one christmas, in the middle of one of her histrionic attacks to which she is prone, i asked her what the worst thing was she thought could happen to her. she looked at me in disbelief and said, i could die. and i said... well.... wouldn't that put you in a better place than this?
and that's when i realized why she's so scared, why she's so frightened. for all my grandmother's rosaries, for all her masses and prayers to jesus and the saints... she's not sure. she's not Sure of what happens after we die, and that's what scares her so much she's clinging to a dried out shell of a life with both hands and all the teeth she's got left. she doesn't really believe. because if she Believed, the way she would tell you she SAYS she believes.... she couldnt be so afraid. she'd Know.
and that's one reason why im sad for my grandmother, and one reason im sad for our culture. so many of us pay lip service and are in thrall to god they dont really trust. in god we trust, our money says... but really, in god we fear, would be closer to the truth. i wish i had the words to allay my grandmother's fears. i wish i had the words to tell her that i am not afraid, that for me, the OtherSide is every bit as Real as this. but that would require her to extricate herself from the belief system that forms the bedrock of her world, and i just don't think that's possible at 94.