Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Funny: Halloween

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Even Stevphen - Halloween
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party


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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My grandmother died, part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

As it turned out, I did see Grandma one more time a year and a half later. In March of this year, I flew to Utah to visit family. I entered my parents' house and saw Grandma sleeping on the couch, a childlike smallness and fragility about her. I knelt next to her and she soon opened her eyes. "Oh. Leah." She grasped my shoulders and looked in my eyes. "Sing to me," she rasped, and the urgency in her voice makes it clear, this has been one of her last wishes. With my marriage disintegrating, "close to tears" has been my most common emotional state. This moment tips me over the edge. I almost tell her I can't, but no, I can't refuse her. I need a minute to compose myself and then to decide what to sing. I consider "Be Still, My Soul" but decide that may be too blatant an acknowledgement that we both know she's dying. I settle on "Come thou fount of every blessing." I take a breath and begin. My voice breaks on the first line and never completely steadies through all three verses. Grandma's eyes fill with tears. They are words I no longer believe in, but the song still carries power because of associated memories.

I finish and we exchange teary smiles. "Yes. Yes," she says. "Oh, golly!" Grandma's highest expression of praise. I lay my head on her chest and she pats my hair.

The phone call late in the evening on October 12 was not a shock. I made arrangements to leave the next morning, two days of driving with my two small children. It doesn't really sink in that Grandma's gone until I arrive. In the front room of my parents' house are two wheelchairs. One will never be occupied again.

The next morning, I hug my grandfather at breakfast. "How are you doing?"

"Oh, not too good," he says. "My patriarchal blessing says I'll live to be a very old man. Right now, I don't know if that's a blessing or not."

More relatives arrive throughout the day. That night we go to the funeral home for the viewing. It's so crowded, and most of the people I don't know very well. I don't feel like I can let myself grieve here. Grandpa is sitting next to the casket. I go over to talk to him. "Go stand back there," he tells me, indicating a couple of feet back from the casket. "Look at how pretty she is. Can you see how pretty she is?"

"She is," I agree, though it's hard to look very intently. She's in her temple clothes, white from head to toe and a green apron.

After we're all home, I knock on Grandpa's door. "Hi, Grandpa. Could I sing to you?" Grandpa loves music and I've heard him say the "I know that my Redeemer liveth" from Handel's Messiah is one of his favorites. I sing it for him now. "Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." No, I don't believe in a resurrection, but my grandfather does, and if this tale can give him comfort, by God, I'll mete it out.

The next morning we gather at the church for family prayer before the funeral service. I watch my mother place Grandma's temple veil over her face before they close the casket. We move to the chapel. The opening hymn is "I believe in Christ," once one of my favorites. The eulogy makes me smile, recounting Grandma's fastidiousness, her creativity, her friendly and generous nature, her fear of snakes. Then my sister and I sing a duet: "Be Still, My Soul"  It seems strange how Grandma planned and planned this day. All her life, she was waiting till she was dead to be happy.

All four of Grandma's children speak, including my father. It's a very nice service, up until the 30-something bishop calls all of Grandma's wayward posterity to repentance. He testifies of the truthfulness of the restored Gospel. "And you may ask, 'How can we know these things are true?' Because we have prophets who teach us that this is so." And I think, Really? That's the best you've got? Though he informs me, "And if you're having trouble believing in these things, it is because of your disobedience. I would exhort you to humble yourselves and ask God to soften your heart." I feel a little proud of myself that these words are inducing eye-rolling and suppressed laughter rather than anger. If anything, his words fill me with gratitude that my children are not being raised in this religion. As my brother's partner put it, "Yeah, as soon as the bishop got up, Spirit gone!"

The Relief Society has prepared a meal for the family following the service, including funeral potatoes. My two-year-old is restless, so I decide to skip the interment and take him home for a nap. I'm tired myself.

From my grandmother, I inherited my petite frame, a tendency to get cold easily, a love of music and a knack for foreign languages. When we first arrived in Utah, my son told my mother, "It's very sad that Grandma Great died." My mom told him, "Well, I think it's actually a good thing, because she was hurting a lot, and now she's not hurting anymore and she's with Heavenly Father." Mother, you know I'm not Mormon anymore. What makes you think it's okay to spout of Mormon beliefs to my son as though they're fact?

A while back, I had a thread about belief non-belief in an afterlife. One commenter was rather insistent about wanting to know whether or not I believe that part of us goes on living after physical death.

No. I don't.

Goodbye, Grandma. I'll miss you.


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Monday, October 25, 2010

Happy birthday, Whore!

One year ago today, I published my first blog post.

At the time, I never could have imagined how much starting a blog would change my life. People I've met, opportunities that have opened up, perspectives I've heard, the ways my own views have changed. I'm no where near the top in any sorts of rankings when it comes to visitor traffic, but writing this blog is one of the things I'm most proud of in my life.

Sometimes I'm still in shock that people actually take the time to read what I have to say and comment about it. I'd probably still write even if no one read, but all you readers up the fun quotient by a lot. Thanks so much for reading.

It's been a pretty good year. Here's to many more.


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Sunday, October 24, 2010

My grandmother died, part 2

Continued from Part 1

The next most memorable visit with Grandma was when my oldest son was four years old and my second was nine weeks old. She'd been declining ever since her stroke and I wanted to be sure she had a chance to see my baby.

Grandma was always the type who loved to jabber a mile a minute, cleaned obsessively, couldn't stand to not do things for herself. Now she couldn't walk without a cane and even as it was, she used a motorized wheel chair most of the time. She had regained some speech ability, but it was still very labored and she couldn't always think of the words to articulate her thoughts. She couldn't do much for herself and what was worse couldn't always tell other people exactly what she needed or wanted.  

My experience of recovering from a c-section was fresh in my mind. I'd needed help getting up and down the stairs, in and out of bed, even showering and using the bathroom. The doctor had said it was important to walk as much as possible so one day we went for a walk but I had to turn back just two houses down from our house. I remember how weak and helpless I felt, how humiliating and discouraging it was to be reduced from someone who runs marathons to someone who couldn't walk down the block or get out of a chair without help. It was so depressing for me, even though I knew it was temporary. Not so for my grandmother. She'd been this way for three years now would be this way be until the end.
I sat on the couch talking with her and told her about an incident when we lived in Mesa, Arizona. I was at the grocery store with my first son, about a year old at the time, and overheard a Hispanic woman say "¡Qué lindo niño!  Mira los ojos azules." ("What a beautiful child!  Look at those blue eyes.") Grandma learned Spanish on her mission in Mexico so she knew what that meant and smiled. I told her about another incident when we were in a hotel parking lot when he was a baby and some French people who were walking past said, "Regarde le bébé!  Ooo la la!"  ("Look at the baby!  Ooo la la!") After about a minute of tangled speech, Grandma got it out that she used to speak French, and then ended with saying, "But now I can't. I can't." And tears filled her eyes. It wasn't just her body that was broken; it was her mind. And yet enough of it was left that she was still aware of all that she couldn't do anymore.
She loved being with my little one. It brought her so much joy to see him smiling and cooing. She couldn't hold him because she didn't have the arm strength, but she would sit next to him while he lay on the couch. She would look down at him while he looked up at her and they would talk to each other. She said she missed holding babies.  We were sitting together and he was fussing and I was bouncing and shushing to calm him. "Sussha good mother," she said proudly.

Though I'd always known that Grandma loved me, prior to her stroke there had been a sharpness to her too, a critical edge I frequently found myself coming up against. Grandma was a talker, and she could be opinionated. She wasn't known for her patience when things weren't the way she thought they should be. But all that bite was gone now, all of Grandma's rough edges sanded smooth. Only love, gratitude and serenity remained and they radiated from her.

Several months later, I wrote a poem about this transformation:

Grandma is a sock puppet now.
Once all charm, chatter and chastisement
Suze Ormanesque
Spouting spreadsheets of my supposed sins.
But Grandma is a sock puppet now,
Audited by a clot.
Hair like unraveling gray yarn,
Googly eyes and gums,
Gaping and slack when she sleeps.
Crumpled, humbled lopsided mumbles.
Grandma is a sock puppet now,
And I love her so much more.

One evening, I went into her room to tell her and Grandpa good night. A copy of  The Ensign and Our Search for Happiness were on their bed, a picture of Jesus on the wall, mementos of their faith all around the room. Grandma, still faithful and enduring to the end, going to church with her oxygen tank in tow and attending the temple every week. I knew the peace and joy she found there, because at one time I found it too, and it stung to realize I no longer shared that with her.

She rode along when my father drove me and my children to the airport. She couldn't stop looking at my children and I imagined her thinking that this was the last time she would see them, and me. I got to tell her that I love her and she told me the same. Then I didn't say, "See you next time," or "See you later." I said, "Goodbye." She wasn't strong enough to walk with us to the gate. We left her in the parking garage in the car with the window rolled down. I couldn't help thinking of a dog and I felt sick. I heard her sobbing as we left. It was one of the hardest things I've done to just keep walking and not stay with her.

Part 3


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Saturday, October 23, 2010

My grandmother died, part 1

Both of my mother's parents passed away before I was born. The name "Grandma" has only ever referred to one woman in my life. I don't remember a first time meeting Grandma. She visited often enough that she was always a part of my awareness. She brought little gifts every time she visited. I remember writing to her and Grandpa when they were missionaries in Mexico.

As one of eleven children whose parents worked constantly just to scrape by, I would characterize the general ambience of my childhood as Lord of the Flies squalor. Grandma's visits were glimpses of civility. She'd clean the house and brush my hair. She'd pay attention, show enthusiasm, make us feel special. She taught us games, made finger puppets, told stories, tucked us in. All the maternal, nurturing sorts of things that bored my mother.

Grandma had her share of pain and dark emotions too. The man she really wanted to marry was killed in World War II, and while I have no doubt that she and Grandpa loved each other, I don't think she ever got over that loss. She planned her death for as long as I can remember, how she wanted her funeral conducted, which possessions would go to which grandchildren. "Be Still, My Soul" was the hymn she wanted sung at her funeral. The last verse:

Be still, my soul. The time is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointed, fear and grief are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joy restored.
Be still, my soul. When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Grandma experienced a lot of sadness and periods of depression, but she had unwavering faith that if she lived the Gospel and endured to the end, once she died, she'd be happy.

Grandma was a worrywart. Because we had all been warned of this, we were to avoid actions that would make her worry. They lived in the same town as us when I was eleven to twelve years old. One day I went over. Actually, my sister had sent me over to borrow some laundry detergent. When I knocked on the door, Grandma was so excited to see me, hugged me, siphoned me into the house for an afternoon of games and cookies and jigsaw puzzles. She seemed so happy that I had come and treated me so lovingly, I didn't have the heart to tell her that really I'd only come for soap and not to visit.

After a couple of hours, I left, but I didn't go straight home. I found some friends at the park and played there until almost dark before going home. Grandma was waiting there, furious. "You said you were going home and all this time we couldn't find you and didn't know what happened to you." I had made her worry. The guilt was paralyzing. "Don't you have anything to say?" she implored. I couldn't talk. "Not even 'I'm sorry, Grandma'?" Her voice broke and tears filled her eyes, and she left. I had hurt this sweet, gentle woman who loved me.

My grandparents' commitment to the Church  influenced my own devotion. Family reunions always included testimony-bearing sessions. The stories of how our ancestors had been miraculously led to the Gospel were handed down. I felt proud of our heritage and determined to live up to that legacy. I had one opportunity to attend the temple with my grandparents. They were both very proud, and I imagined what it would be like to meet them in the next life after having followed their examples of being faithful and enduring to the end.

Six months later, I was excommunicated. I never told my grandparents. I don't know if anyone else did. If they knew, they never said anything or treated me any differently.

Grandma loved babies and sent me an outfit and a handmade quilt when I was expecting my first. When he was eight months old, I had a feeling that I really needed to see my grandparents. I planned a trip to Utah when they would be visiting my parents there. Grandma gushed with pride as she watched me care for my son. "Oh, Leah! You're a mama!" We worked puzzles, sang songs, played with the babies, all the stuff Grandma loved to do.

Two days after I got home, I got a phone call. Grandma had had a stroke. That trip was the last time I saw her healthy.

Part 2


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