… one by one all the privileges of self-possession and agency failed her, and sickness stripped away in layers the persona known to the world. …
What I do know is that the soft and helpless smiler of her children’s middle-age was as much my grandmother as the hard-edged diamond of their youths. Neither woman is more real. You can say, if you like, that the true Roseanita was the one who existed before debility made her strange to you, but that premature rupture is a choice: the safety of a familiar story over memory still alive, still capable of being shaped and reshaped by new truths that grow on each other without break or differentiation. …
We end and die a little with each of our fellows, and death is both the universal point of human solidarity and the challenge to its ties. Everyone dies alone, and no one dies alone.
I was crying for my grandmother but also for myself, and for my father: not merely in the sense that death waited for us too, but because a part of ourselves had already now succumbed to its call.
Still, only a part—I learned new things about my father, and his memories, and my memories of him, as we each in different ways participated in his mother’s long death. Our relationship is complicated in the way that only those between parents and children can be. I hope—I believe—it will change and be changed as we slowly die together.
Michael asks, “Who is like God?“
In considering an answer, we’re confronted by the stupidity of our first response.
I think this is partly why death stings, because we come face to face with the frailty of our judgment—of the choice to reshape human life. We face the fact that we were meant for more; were meant for life without end; but instead, by our choosing, this mask of death is something we each will have to wear. And the pain is real, because death “opens a chasm which swallows the past as well as the future.” In encountering death we encounter our stupidity, but not oblivion.
Every one of us who loses our place in the present, slipping into our ancestral past, is a shock. Rightly raged against. Rightly celebrated as one whom we loved; love still, and who all but the nihilist know is worth suffering, worth humility, worth mercy, worth virtue, to meet again.
Iskander, my paternal grandfather, is dead.