It’s pretty crazy how much can change in a month. The whole world has moved 1/12 of the way around the sun. SThe cold has left and returned and left again.The sun comes up halfway through my drive to work instead of at the end. Movies have been released, religious school has ended for this quarter, Spring Break and Pesach have come and gone.
As for me, my whole world has flipped over, because a month ago my Grandma was still alive.
I’m no idiot. I know that no one lives forever, present blogger included. Realizing that my grandmother was aging, I had started to think about death more and more. While I would not say I have come to grips with it’s inevitability, I have certainly thought a lot about the nature of the world as I see it as well as what I think my place is in it.
The biggest realization is that the world does, in fact, keep going. Again, I didn’t expect for it to stop, but I was taken back by how normal everything else felt relative to me. To everyone else who didn’t know me or my family, nothing had changed. To people who knew me, but not well, nothing had changed. Yet I am still stuck with the reality that all kinds of things have changed forever. Even internally, leaving the hospital for the last time felt the same as any other, despite the heavy knowledge that not all of us were leaving – or, at least, not through the same set of doors.
I don’t know if it’s the surreal feeling, my mind playing tricks with me, or a religious or cosmic truth that I don’t know, but while I can’t talk to Grandma and get a reply anymore, I don’t feel like she’s gone. And no, not in that corny, “she’s always in your heart” kind of way, but not in a presence either. I just don’t feel her absense in ways I expected.
Despite feeling as through I knew my Grandma really well, it is intriguing to go through her stuff and see what was really important to her. She kept all kinds of things, and it’s like a sort of adventure to figure out why. Things that have surprised me the least are the obvious things – birthday cards, notes, etc. The most surprising, though, are the things that I never once gave a second thought to keeping, like a random blog post here or a trinket from a trip – both of which are things she had. I reread the blog post and tried to figure out what made her want it, but all I came up with was that I probably helped her set up her printer, that was the test, and she held on to it. The trinket was a coin Miles and I made at the Rock and Roll McDonalds in Chicago in 1994. We must have gave it to her when we got back. The thing only cost $0.50, but it was important to her. Also, both of these finds made me cry.
There is a surprising amount of administrivia that comes with death. The funeral home and hospital handled death certificates, but that was only a fraction. Grandma had several online accounts that I knew of that needed addressing. Facebook has a two-step process, the first of which (Memorializing) will lock the account from login and prevent the account from showing up in a handful of places (search, friend suggestions). The second is full deletion. We haven’t done that yet. Geni, an online genealogy site, doesn’t let you designate the avatar of an active account as deceased, and requires documentation to mark it for an account you can’t log in to. Similarly, closing an account provides an option to indicate that the holder is deceased, which will automatically close the account and flag their avatar. I have no idea why this exists, since I don’t share passwords and don’t expect to be able to close my acccount from beyond the grave. However, for Grandma, it was useful since I had her password. I don’t know GMail’s process because I can’t bring myself to do it. This doesn’t even start to cover the real-world issues like bank accounts, car titles, insurance, inheritance, etc. My family, however, is constantly prepared for this since none of us are on any account alone. We have learned from our history, but that is a different blog post.
The definition I use for “friendship” in my head has also been updated. We were surrounded almost immediately by friends and extended family who took incredible care of us. I can’t properly thank them here, and frankly think they deserve better than a blog post. You quickly learn who really is there for you, because they appear without question. This is amazing – I knew that was a cliche, but I never realized how true it is. Even those who are distant by time or physical distance have ways of being with you, and I can’t express how much I appreciate those who did. I have never known the right thing to say or do in situations like this, and I extend that awkwardness to my friends, so just showing up is enough. Likewise, I had no idea what the proper response is to the sentiments offered. For some reason, “Thank You” didn’t seem appropriate, but it worked. I think my problem here is that the pleasantries don’t really change anything – I know people feel bad for me and can empathize or sympathize, but that doesn’t change how I feel. I also realize that’s a very cold statement, but it’s true and I stand by it.
Speaking of comfort, I found a lot more than I expected through the Judaic rituals. I do consider myself a religious person and not terribly cynical about it, but I found it really nice that there was basically a checklist of things that had to be done, and all I had to do was participate. Maybe that’s it – I know I felt fairly devistated, so having to stop and thing in an orderly fasion about what to do would probably have been impossible. I can only imagine that it’s worse when it’s your own parent and you are really responsible for making sure things happen. I also liked wearing the kriah ribbon because I felt that in a small way it kept her with me – not that she has left my mind much since, but it extends a step further. Lastly, I like the grace period of shiva and shloshim in that they add a humanistic approach to grief – no one expects a mourner to jump back in to the world, and we have prescribed ways of reintegrating. Or, as I’ve been calling it, finding the new normal.
In a lot of ways, I have changed. My perspective of those who have passed has changed in a big way. I would think of my paternal grandfather in a certain way that isn’t how I think of my grandmother now. I think that’s because I still have a way of thinking of her – a context, voice, persona etc, that I got from knowing her. I also have been a lot quieter in a few ways. I’ve barely posted to Facebook (especially considering my former patterns). I think I’ve been talking less, too, but that’s hard to quanity since I spend all day with myself, and only really notice it when I’m alone. But my patterns were all disrupted pretty severly, and I didn’t enjoy the things I had before, like playing games on my computer or TV. I did escape deeply in to books, tearing through the Hunger Games trilogy (well, still tearing through the last one). I think some of this is mild depression, but I’m not a doctor, and it’s starting to come around get back to normal. I have also become incredibly resolved to do some of my passion side projects and to focus again on my diet and exersize, the latter of which is being expedited by Pesach.
There’s so much more to say, but just getting that out was a surprising help. If there is anything for people who aren’t me to take away from this, it’s let the people in your life know what they mean to you. But that’s cliche, and you do it anyway, right?