Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Last Grandparent

My grandmother, Edith Emery, passed away last night. We've been expecting it for several weeks. She was nearly 92, and had an infection that was not responding to antibiotics. She's had major memory issues and has been in a nursing facility for several years. I heard the news this morning at work - Dearest called me to let me know. Nana was an award winning painter many years ago, and her canvases are spread out through the family. She is part of the legacy I'm continuing, and I feel her paint in my veins sometimes when I wield a brush. Especially a large brush.

As usual, for me, the news was just news. The weather gets more emotional response. That's a sure sign to me that the feelings are going to be strong, and I can't handle them right now. So I went on with my 100 mph day, with presentations done over the phone and web, due diligence performed about some major decisions (one looking great, one that I'm glad I dug deeper as it would have been a disaster - pulling back from the edge of the cliff), layoffs happening in the corporate office, calls from colleagues who were leaving (one angry, one elated), it all meant nothing much. Waving hands in front of my eyes, "Hey! Anyone in there???" No one home.

I had a terrible craving for Indian food. I went out alone for lunch at Tandoor, a buffet where I can get a goat curry. Watch out for all the weird bones - on my plate they looked like a casting of knuckles to predict some arcane future. They had an eggplant dish so flavorful and exotic that it was like eating small planets whole. I went back for seconds of the goat. I savored every mouthful.

In the car I considered how Earth hatched life, and life has evolved in response to stimuli. Eventually creatures emerged that can choose their environment, their stimulus. Finally humans arrived on the scene, and we not only choose, we create stimuli. I've been listening to albums suggested by DCup, which I bought on my Chapel Hill day out. The soundtrack to Garden State was soothing and interesting from the start. Gradually some tracks were no longer interesting enough, though, after several repeat plays, and I skipped them. I grinned and blew past the Cary Brothers singing Blue Eyes. I skipped the piece with the repetitive sitar opening. The others held up well enough. Then two days ago I put on some Modest Mouse. This is such weird stuff that I actually got an upset stomach listening to one particularly disturbing piece on the way to work Monday. I realized, as I found three or four tracks that I like (but I have no idea WHY I like them) that all of these Mouse tunes are jangling and firing nerve endings in my mental world - combinations of them that are quite unfamiliar. I realized that while listening to some music I zone out and drift off mentally - but this made me hyper aware of everything around me. Colors were more intense - things seemed more 3-D. I had found some man-made stimuli that was having a unique and new effect on me. Like the Indian food, which I hated the first time I tried it years ago (I couldn't finish the meal) and later came to crave. Like coffee, that is the most overwhelmingly complex chemical humans ingest, and which is an acquired taste and a lifetime gustatory love affair. We are repelled and drawn by new sensations. Pain and ecstasy are near neighbors, and the boundary can shift moving towns and cities into new territory.

On the way home, with my daughter and a friend in the back seat, chattering away, I had to share the news of Nana's passing. We had just listened to the Summer Obsession's opening number 8 AM, turned up loud, filling the car, with me singing along at the top of my lungs, the car rolling accompaniment. And telling that news, after the emotional flush of the song, and all that stimulation, in the quiet that followed, suddenly the feelings of loss hit me a quick jab. The first of many, and I closed up again immediately, but I know what I'm in for later.

At home I clowned in front of the bathroom mirror, cigar posturing with my biggest brushes. Inappropriately large emotions bringing out odd responses from me. I wonder if our family clown Uncle Jack, Nana's younger son, my Dad's brother, will also goof around in response to this news. I have almost never felt anything in common with my Uncle Jack, we're very different, but I think I get him a little more (and love him a little more) after tonight. The brushes reminded me of Nana, and her artistic world, her color choices, her chosen stimuli, which she shared with others. I went to my art table and painted a Polish rooster on a piece I've have had around for months, that I'm not sure I will finish. The composition doesn't do a thing for me, but I'm getting some rooster practice. I love roosters - they press a lot of buttons for me, though I have no idea why. Like Modest Mouse, or Indian food, I keep returning to find out why.

And someday, hopefully soon, the dam will break inside and I'll know what my Nana's death really means to me. Since she lived in FL and NY, I have not seen her often the last half of my life, and I always felt I had more in common with the other grandparents. We lost Nana's husband of over 75 years, my Magyar grandfather, the family patriarch, this last January, and I think I've been waiting for Nana's passing to feel ANY of it. I can tell they both meant more to me than I could realize. Too much stimulus - too many emotions for now. Later.


Mathman6293 said...


I am sorry for your loss. But you wrote a beautiful post, full of feeling and emotion. Sad, yes but a wonderful family tribute.

Anonymous said...

Doug is right. What a beautiful post. I'm sorry for you loss. It's good that you recognize that there will be something, some moment when it hits you - the loss. And when it comes, you seem prepared to experience it.

(I'm glad you've found the Modest Mouse music interesting. Everytime I listen to it, I hear something new.)

My condolences to you and your family.

Randal Graves said...

I can only second what's already been said.

Alex said...

I never know how to respond to news like this. Words seem so impotent and empty, no matter how sincerely they are offered. And the printed word adds another layer of insulation, removing it even further from any kind of meaningful connection.

I just want you to know that I've got a couple interesting beers in the fridge, and the pool table is open. If you need a drink, a distraction or a shoulder you know where to find them.

DebD said...

So, so sorry for your loss. What a loving tribute to your Nana.

The grandparents I miss the most are my paternal Grandparents who died when my oldest was a wee baby. There is so much wisdom I lost, and I still grieve them to this day.

odd chick said...

Oh my, I read through this and slowly tears begin to run out of my overflowed eyeballs - the way you spilled out how to avoid thinking of your loss, the minimalism of the event and the trite things you did to make it through and at the same time tying yourself to her painting, her brother, her life. Something so very sweet and sad... at the same time. I'm glad you have her wherever she visiting now - we never really lose the ones we love and who love us - that is the biggest lie of all.

Steve Emery said...

MathMan - Thanks. That means a lot because I've got this idea that you're not easily impressed.

DCup - Thanks. I remember exactly when I was struck by my other Nana's loss. So I know what's coming, just not when. And I picked up a BoDeans live album today at a used book store I've been meaning to drop into... I'm liking that easier.

Randal - Thanks. Sometimes less really IS more.

Alex - Thanks - and I'll take you up on that soon and let you kick my ass at 9 ball again.

Debd - Thanks. I wish I had paid more attention to all of my wise old relatives. By the time you're old enough to really understand what's going by you (usually unnoticed) you're old enough and wise enough yourself that you've probably got no grandparents left... It's one of those things that makes me believe this is not our true home.

Odd Chick - Thanks. I know that no one is lost, really - thanks for reminding me of that. But they are out of touch, and that's the hard part for now. Though today is another day in numbville, where everything was whatever...