March 7, 2007

A death in the family

My ex-wife's mother died two days ago. This is the woman who for years I referred to as 'mom.' And of course, this is the person who my children call Gramma.

Monday was imposed upon me earlier than usual; it's never good news when the phone rings so early in the morning. It was my ex-wife. Her father couldn't wake-up her mom. I hustled over to my ex's place to get the kids ready for school while she attended to her parents (we have split custody and it happened to be my off-week).

Later that day we learned that Gramma suffered a massive stroke while in her sleep. Her mind and body started to degrade at an alarming rate about four years ago. She already had a couple of strokes and was suffering from Alzheimer's; her short-term memory was all but gone. We all knew she wasn't long for this world.

After performing the CatScan the doctors said there was no hope for recovery. The stroke created a large lesion in the brain and she was bleeding internally. Her speech centers were wiped out and she was permanently unconscious. She had only a few days or mere hours to live.

There was nothing the doctors could do. Nothing. In this day and age. I felt as if we were living in the medieval era. It just seemed strange to me that no interventions or treatments were even possible.

At the end of the work day I took my kids to the hospital. I had the uncomfortable task of having to tell my 7-year old and 9-year old that their grandmother was going to die and that we were going to say our last goodbyes. The shocked look on their faces is something I won't soon forget.

Another jolt awaited us when we arrived at the hospital. Gramma lay on the bed connected to a morphine drip. Her breathing was steady but labored. Vital sign monitors beeped and clicked in the background. Her body twitched in uncontrollable spasms every few minutes. She looked as if she had aged 20 years overnight. The stroke had clearly inflicted considerable damage.

We all took turns holding her hand and consoling her, desperately hoping she could hear us. Her hand was so warm. The kids and I reluctantly offered our last goodbyes and went home while the rest of the family stood guard.

She died three hours later.

Gramma was 77-years old, which is still young in my opinion. I think it's wonderful that she lived a reasonably long and full life, but her death still seems like such a waste. A lot of rationalizing goes on during times like these; we are socialized to feel less saddened by the death of an elderly person than, say, the death of a child. This kind of thinking disguises the fact that every death is a terrible tragedy.

And then there's that whole aging process. Aging doesn't just kill us, it kills us horribly. Sitting next to my mother-in-law in the hospital I was outraged -- outraged at all those who feel we shouldn't interfere with the aging process; outraged at all those who obstruct research into life extending medical technologies; outraged at all those who are blind to horrors of aging.

I'm reminded of a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien,
"There is no such thing as a natural death. Nothing that happens to Man is ever natural, since his presence calls the whole world into question. All men must die, but for every man his death is an accident. And even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation."
Fight Aging and be inspired by the medical possibilities.


Anonymous said...

Hello - I randomly bumped into some ideas of yours on wikipedia and then found your blog. A deeply personal entry to make an introduction, but I thought I would reach out to you and let you know the empathy of a complete stranger. That painting by Alex Gray is one of the most beautiful ways I can imagine of conceptualizing death and its meaning.

Be well and I am sorry for your loss.

I just began a new livejournal which is very empty, but I would love to engage in conversation with you about gender politics when the time comes.


George said...

Hi Erin, thank you for you kind words.

Drop me an email when you're so inclined.

casey said...

Condolences on your loss, George; best wishes tto your family.

George said...

Thanks, Casey.

Anonymous said...

I ahve been reading your blog and listening to your podcast from some time George.

I am saddend to hear for your loss - please accept my condolences.

Ilir Dema

George said...

Thanks, Ilir.

Jay Dugger said...

12:18 Sunday, 11 March 2007


I offer my sympathies and condolences, despite their uselessness, to you and your family. Every death makes a unique tragedy, and its awful frequency makes it no less terrible.

Dan said...

George, just wanted to thank you for sharing that with us, and to wish your family and children the best.

dungan said...

Your candor, sadness and anger in this post really touched me. I'm sorry for your loss. and also inspired to rethink my preconceptions about death and dying.