Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I Wish That They Knew

It's hard to keep the waves of grief at bay. I wondered why I seemed more sad when my uncle died in October last year than when my grandfather died just last month. But it's not really true. It just comes in different ways.

The last time I lost someone I loved to death I was in college. He was my best friend and he was murdered. Grief then was orderly and by the book. A wale of tears, an hilarious wake full of friends and love and gratefulness just to have known him, a funeral that honored what he was in his life; and then the sadness faded like red fades to pink in the sunshine over time. I still have, amongst my own, a t-shirt he loved and wore so often that by the time I got it it was already threadbare. His mother gave it to me and it was as if she had given me his most valuable thing in the world. I wear it sometimes when I think of him.

But somehow with my own family members it has been a more sporatic and surprising process. I never know what thought will make me laugh or make me cry. I think of my grandparents as people in a place as much as people I love. Somehow I mourn to them not being in 'thier place' any longer, though there was no particular love for the place itself. It only holds power because they inhabit it.

And I have more regrets. My love for my friend was whole hearted and in the moment. It felt GOOD. We could hug and kiss and fight and laugh at and with each other. There were no complications. And so there were no regrets.

There are 'things' that I regret with my grandfather and my uncle. I regret I never sent my uncle dates from Shields as he asked and I promised I would. Even after he sent me an email telling me he was ready to eat again, I still did not send them. That is the ugly part of me. The part that is scared and stingy and only looking out for myself.

I regret I never wrote my grandfather a letter. Just to him. I wrote many letters, addressed to them both or to my grandma and I sent many emails to my grandpa. But to send a letter, handwritten, is to say in a way "you are worthy of my time" that no other modern gesture can duplicate.

I spent a moment feeling it unfair that death should have come to them and so close together. But it is not the unfairness of their death that stings, but the unfairness of what I did not get from their lives. It is what I did not take from them, did not impose on them comfortable for them or not that I regret. It is the unbridled enthusiasm that I felt for my love for my friend that I wish I would have imposed on them both. I wish I were the little girl and could hurl myself at them each, bodily hugging and holding them and telling them with every inch of myself how glad I am they are in the world. I will have to do it now only in spirit... as long as they know.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Ever get that odd oogooey feeling, like you don't belong in your skin, your town, your house, your job? I got that.

Well, I dunno what it is, grief, change in the family. Easter maybe. But things seem to be swirling around in the universe and I seem unable to embrace them. Means always, these weird uncomfortable in your skin times, that you are changing, growing.

I'm always able to enjoy when say, things are rough or difficult... and of course when things are going smoothly. I have never been able however to enjoy and being in the moment, go with the flow, in these awkward times. And I realize that is perfectly normal - for me. I am not good with awkward. When I feel awkward I become the worst of myself. Cranky, disgruntled, onery and worse, whiny. Ah, whiny. I hate doing it, I hate hearing it... but sometimes, I know, one just has to whine.

I whine. Waaaaaaaaaaa! See ya when I am feeling more my 'good' self.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

They May Rue The Day

I keep thinking about generational forces. My Grandmother was just this past weekend moved to an Assisted Living facility (they need to find a better name for it, this one doesn't exactly trip off the tongue) and as my Mom or sister would explain some particularity of my Grandma's the staff would just nod and say "We've seen that before".

And then I read an article recently in the latest issue of Details Magazine about Generation X, the forgotten, passed over, overlooked, underappreciated generation. The author laments our fate as if lamenting is going to do anything to change our situation. I can't say as I disagree with anything he says, I just don't feel like lamenting it.

But I do look forward to the day, perhaps when my own mother is old enough to need some help living out her days, when the Baby Boom generation has to be taken care of by their own (mostly, and some of my generation's as well actually) spawn, the thirteeners, or Generation Y, who are generally self-centered, money and thing-oriented. You can call it technology or fashion or information technology or entertainment or whatever you want but it is all still stuff! The Baby Boom generation may rue the day they screamed to the Greatest Generation (Tom Brokaw's nomiker, not mine) that no one over 30 should be trusted. Well, funnily enough, guess they never thought they would experience it, but they are now all weeeeellllll over 30 and getting ready to retire.

Now the Baby Boomers are busily criticizing the children they raised as materialistic and impatient. I wonder why that is? The Baby Boomers changed the world, there is no doubt about that - they changed it for the better when they protested the Vietnam War and segregation and for women's rights - but then they changed it for the worse as they bought in to corporate culture to make a living and became 'the man' of the corporate world. The Boomers innovations in the corporate world include mass marketing - of stuff - and mass layoffs. What happened to their idealism once they themselves hit the workforce? Maybe they were right, you can't trust anyone over 30 to have a vision for the country. Isn't the current Administration largely made up of Boomers? And look how they have changed the world!

All that self-righteous, self-satisfied assurance that they were right from their protest days filed neatly into their work lives. But what world have they created? It is a consummer culture now. What good does a consummer culture do for a person who can no longer consume? How much fun is it to be sitting in the nursing home alone while your spawn are off shopping? If Generation Y were, in effect, taught to love only youth and beauty then how will they feel about their wrinkly old parents? And by that time their rapidly wrinkling selves will require quite a lot of plastic surgery and treatments to keep that youthful, pouty look. Where will they find time for that quaint old-timey pastime, human interaction? And will they look good doing it? Will any of the nursing staff notice their new Prada handbag, cause if they don't, really, what's the point.

I guess fighting the man makes one forget that eventually you will yourself become the man and then the old man who needs the new man to take care of you. Creating a fighting, 'I'm right, I deserve' kind of culture is not really very self-serving in the long run, is it? I wonder if Boomers are wondering where the time went and what cause they will fight now. Perhaps a little more understanding and respect from the get-go might have served them in the long term. We are now in a place where we don't see or hear 'old folks', just the way when Boomers were children they were not meant to be seen or heard. Funny how you end up more like your parents than you ever thought you would.

Wonder if the Boomer will have the energy to now fight the youth culture they created so that as oldsters they can be seen and heard.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Another Loss

On March 31st my grandfather passed away. It is a very sad loss but at 90 no real shock. Less than 6 months back my uncle, his youngest son, died. Ironically, March 31 was my uncle's birthday. What no doubt was already going to be a heartwrenching day for my grandmother, mother and other uncle was made all the worse by the loss of my grandfather.

He was a towering man, my grandpa, at a little over 6 feet tall I remember always having to crane my neck to look up to him... but look up I did. He was often stern and was elusive; at work most of the time during our visits to my grandparents as a child. But he could be spectacularly funny. One of his favorite games was attempting to make my sister and I laugh so hard at the dinner table milk would spit out our little noses. He succeeded several times. I have very vivid memories of he, my uncles and my mom, getting together and cracking jokes over the old slides at Christmas time. We'd laugh until we had to hold our sides.

But what was also a part of my grandfather's life was his enormous disappointment. He was constantly trying to find a way not to do it. Not that he turned to God or prayer or positive thinking or anything like that. It was almost as if his disappointment in his life was involuntary, an inherited family trait there was no shaking off. And it may have been. His own mother was stern and no fan of critical thinking. My grandpa spent his life as a professor of international relations, at San Francisco State, U.C. Berkeley and retiring finally from U.S.C. Many were, but his mother was not amoung them, impressed by his accomplishments.

My grandmother recalls too a time when he was being considered as Secretary of State for Robert Kennedy. His specialty was the Middle East and it was nothing but a huge regret that I was unable to pick his brain in the past few years about what he knew. He made several trips to Saudi Arabia to meet with shieks in his research at U.S.C. His work was mysterious and I believe he liked it that way. But my sister and I would attempt to put the pieces together to what he was working on during our summer visits when we were old enough to help. Helping consisted of cutting out articles he had circled in various newspapers from around the world and pasting them with rubber cement on 3x5 cards that my grandma would then organize. British papers, I remember, were like crepe paper and you darn't put too much rubber cement on them or you'd smear the print on the other side.

In these past 4 or 5 years he struggled with dementia. For a man who spent his life making his living with his mind it was a critical, nasty blow to lose it. It was to him almost like the world was saying "you're work is nothing". I know he already felt that way having not garnered the kind of respect and notariety for his work at U.S.C. that he thought, and very likely did, deserve. He was a first user of the Internet when computers were still gigantic noisy machines spinning away in cool rooms in basements. I remember a trip to see them as a kid, years before field trips to Berkeley's computer lab and 'pictures' of bunny images programmed into giant computers and spit out by dot matrix printers. He was probably 20 years before his time.

I'd like to think that I learned alot from my grandpa. But that would be sentimentalizing and not true. I did learn something about the enormous, destructive power of disappointment. His alone stunted the growth of our entire family in so many ways and it was not until becoming a mother myself did I finally sorted it all out. But it was a heavy armor to wear for him and I think he felt, until very, very late, unable to shake it and appreciate people just for who they were.

He was disappointed in his career. And he was disappointed in his children. I see in each of them how they dealt with it. My Uncle Tom just checked out. My Uncle Ty alternated between checking out and fighting. My mother, herself, decided to not be disappointed in anything and for the most part she has been successful. I too as a teen and a young woman adopted a stance of 'no regrets' which is very satisfying in a way but eventually you find that if there is not a shred of regret then learning is sacrificed too. I have now begun to come to term with regrets and disappointments of my own career. It is not easy certainly but my goal is primarily not to inflict it upon my children.

It can't have been easy to bear children after a catastrophic World War, nor to raise them in an inevitably changing world, nor for that matter to have grown up in the midst of the Depression. My grandfather's life spanned almost all the major changes of the 20th century. I can't imagine how you go from being an adolescent living on a farm to being a university professor and being one of the first on the Internet. It is almost too much to fathom, the changes that he and my grandmother have experienced. Considering how little the world changed for so long before he hit the earth and how much it changed whilst he was here, he did pretty darned well.

I will always remember rolling on his belly and him laughing me off. He strived so hard to make something of himself and at times it seemed as if the right people didn't notice. His life though is proof to me that I was loved, that learning is important and that disappointment is not. I hope that now he can remember the joy of laughing a little adoring girl off his belly too.