I turned 40 last weekend. This weekend, in a juxtaposition not to be interpreted too feelingly, my grandmother — last remaining grandparent — is dying, age 92. A week ago she was at a relatively advanced stage of a long decline, so gradual that some months more among us seemed not unlikely. But gradual turned to rapid a couple of days ago, and today I made the trip with my dad and little sister — my brother and his family having been through yesterday, Mom staying there with her already — for a last opportunity to see her alive. It wasn’t much. Mostly I sat in the family room with an uncle and a couple of aunts, switching, according to Sunday afternoon custom there in Richmond, between NASCAR and the Skins game. I am grateful for a moment before I left, though, standing some minutes by the bed, alone except for the hired caregiver, when my grandmother unexpectedly roused a little, with some coughing, from medicated sleep and saw me, recognized me, and said groggily, toothlessly — but otherwise just as she’d have said it on my paying the affectionate homage at the end of any other visit — ‘I appreciate you coming, son.’ There’s been little or nothing of self-disclosure, direct or roundabout, of invitation to know & be known, of effort (or even hint of a wish) to cross interpersonal distances in that family as I, at any rate, have ever known us. We aren’t close. But there has been setting differences to the side with humor and, especially with my grandmother, simple, persistent, sincere fondness, because you are family. I’m grateful to have this final expression of it from her — the last thing she will have said to me. A little while ago, before midnight, there was a call to let us know that she’d be gone in a few hours. She may be gone as I type this. I think to myself now, maybe naïvely, that I’ll be deeply disappointed on finding, if I come to such an end in another 40 or 50 years, that I haven’t learned to live with any more effect, any more grip, on people I’m connected to than she’s had on me. Which is partly to say, in a backhand way, that I’m sorry now not to be more sad at her passing. The effect her angle on life has had on me, still, the kindness she knew how to show particularly, I want to mark where I am now with reflection and gratitude.

5 Replies to “Advance”

  1. Death is a sad business, and I’m sorry for you and your family. I know for myself that there are departed loved ones who I miss more acutely than others. But it is difficult to quantify sadness, just as it is difficult to tabulate the full effect one person has on another’s life. A benign, if distant, tolerance is a gift of sorts (I type as the mother next door shrieks at her pre-school children). It’s natural for the heart to yearn for something higher on the shelf. But I think it is also right that we do not mourn the loss of every individual according to their true worth.

    But it’s probably best if you ignore all that and kindly accept my prayers on behalf of you and your family.

  2. Happy belated birthday. This poem is about the difference between European thinking (and grabbing) and African thinking, from an African perspective. Yet, I think we often feel lost in a world where we do not see as others:

    Belonging (G. Adali-Mortty)
    You may excel
    in knowledge of their tongue,
    and universal ties may bind you close to them;
    but what they say, and how they feel –
    the subtler details of their meaning,
    thinking, feeling, reaching –
    these are closed to you and me for evermore;
    as are, indeed, the interleaves of speech
    –our speech– which fall on them
    no more than were they dead leaves
    in dust-dry harmattan,
    although, for years, they’ve lived
    and counted all there is to count
    in our midst!

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