Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Talking about death

My grandfather is 97. He's survived 3 kinds of cancer, two (or is it three?) heart attacks, and - until recently - was doing the NYT crossword everyday. Now he says he can't do that AND read the Times from cover to cover, so he gave up the crossword in favor of being informed. Also until recently he and my grandmother were going to movies, museums, and plays. They're still reading the New York Review of Books and then reading the books that were reviewed. He's going deaf but still tells silly jokes and sings silly songs at my son. The same silly songs he used to sing to me.

He's an eternal sort of person. And it's hard to believe that he's coming to the end.

A few weeks ago, he started doing dialysis three days a week. For a long time, he refused to do it. He didn't want his quality of life to suffer. But this December is his 50th Anniversary with my grandmother, and I think he decided to start dialysis when it looked like he might not be able to get to that milestone. He seems to be doing really well on it, although he's exhausted on the days when he gets the procedure done.

MM and I went to visit them while we were in NYC. We saw them twice, on Friday and Sunday. In just the couple of months since I saw them last, my grandfather looks like he's aged 10 years. It's so hard to see him.

Here are some discussions from the weekend:

MM: "Is GG Professor Emeritus very old?" (GG stands for Great Grandfather)

Me: "Yes, sweetie, he's very, very old."

MM: "So old that he's going to die?"

Me: "Well..."

MM: "I know, I don't have to worry about it."

Me: "That's actually not what I was going to say. I was going to say that we are worried that he's going die. But he's not going to die today or even tomorrow probably. And we're visiting so that we can spend as much time as we can with him before we can't spend time with him anymore."

MM: "Does death mean that someone's gone forever?"

Me: "Yes it does. But that person will still be in our memories and we will still love them, so in a way they will always be there with us.

MM: "So is Grandpa's brother gone forever?"

Me: "Yes, sweetie. He is."

MM: "Did I ever meet him?"

Me: "No, I don't think you ever did."

MM: "So how can I remember him so that he'll be there?"

Me: "You can't, but Grandpa can. And so can all Uncle Science's family and friends. That's why we went to his memorial, so that all the people who knew him and loved him could remember him together."


MM: "What are those black spots on GG Professor Emeritus's face?"

Me: "I think they're kind of bruises."

MM: "Are they catching?"

Me: "No, they're not catching. He has them because he's very old and his blood vessels break easily and give him bruises*. You won't get them from kissing him or anything."

MM: "Are you sure?"

Me: "I'm totally, completely sure."

MM: "Okay."

MM: "I wish nobody ever had to die."

Me: "I wish that too, MM."

MM: "I'll put it on my Christmas list. Maybe Santa can give that to me."

Me: "I know Santa would love to give that to you, but even though he's very magical he just can't stop people from dying when they're very, very old."

MM: "Was Uncle Science very, very old?"

Me: "Yes. He was very, very old and also very sick."

MM: "He was Grandpa's brother, right?"

Me: "Yes."

MM: "Does that mean Grandpa is very, very old?"

Me: "No. Grandpa isn't very, very old because he was much younger than Uncle Science. He was the youngest of all his brothers and Uncle Science was the oldest. Uncle Science was twelve whole years older."

MM: "So Grandpa's not going to die?"

Me: "Not for a long time.**"

MM: "Okay."

*He's got very dark age spots that weren't there last time I saw him. I don't know the science behind age spots so I used this patently false explanation instead.
** You hear that, Dad? Keep up with the swimming and everything, okay?


liz said...


S. said...

We've been having conversations about dogs dying recently. Z. is so little I'm pretty sure she doesn't really get it.

ccw said...

MM is so sweet!

Magpie said...

Tough conversation. We aren't near anything like that yet, but it's on my mind because of my mother's health (or lack thereof, that is, cancer).

Nicely done, though.

Phantom Scribbler said...

LG was two and a half when his great-grandmother died, and totally shocked me with the extent to which he did get it. It was really heartbreaking to watch him working through the idea that he'd never get to go to the Chinese restaurant with her again.

Poor MM. And hugs to you!

Sarah said...

What a lovely and honest way to address all his questions and concerns.

Susan said...

Oh, the circle of life. We went through similar circumstances with my grandmother last summer; I was so taken with the way my young girls were able to comprehend the events.

Thinking of you and MM and your family.

Eva said...

Well it seems like that went well enough. I'm sorry the topic had to come up.

Jim said...

That's a tough conversation. My hugs for both you and MM.

Mummy/Crit said...

Great post Liz, got me teared up. D is terrified of death and doesn't like to think about it much... but we've had these kinds of conversations too.

Yankee T said...

I love MM. And what a sweet Mama he has!

jenn said...

I dunno, I kinda feel like he's got a better handle on it all than I do...

This stuff confuses the heck out of me. Well done Liz.