Sometimes when I call my Grandma Melba I hear big band music in the background. She shuffles around to pick up this phone and set down that one, to get into her seat where she can relax, to turn down the music. She says “Daaa-shielle…” in this way that sounds coy and sweet, happy and surprised, like breathing a deep deep sigh of relief. I love to talk to her when I can make the same kind of time as she does. She does most of the talking and tells me about what’s going on in her neighborhood, what the cat did that morning, or last week. She offers explanations for things, she talks about how she doesn’t like the lady who’s living with her. I love listening to her talk for the most part- her life is so simple and though she’s very closed to most people, with me I know she feels happy to share.
Since my grandpa died six years ago the death theme has come up often in our conversations. When he was still alive they used to say together, “We don’t want to live forever you know!” These days she wants to go (her euphemism for dieing) more than ever and talks about it at least when I visit. Even though she seems to relax at the thought of being done here herself she always seems to focus on the sadness of it when other people pass. My Great-Uncle Bill died two days ago and she brings it up, saying how sad it is. With so many people dieing in the last few years in my own personal circles I don’t want sadness to be my automatic response to the news of a person’s passing. I’ve learned sometimes it’s a blessing, sometimes it’s just time. Death can be a lot of things, but it is not always primarily sad.
My Uncle Bill was in a coma with Alzheimer’s, and had been bed-ridden for months, sometimes knowing and recognizing his family members, sometimes not. He died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his family. The situation is sad, but the death is the natural conclusion that let’s each of his family members grieve what was already happening for them before he died; the loss of him as a meaningful part of their lives.
“That’s one of the ways in this world it seems” I catch myself saying as she talks about death. What I said kind of seems, thinking afterwards, dismissive, but I meant it in the most accepting way possible…like, maybe it doesn’t have to be sad. Maybe it can be a release, and sad, and happy too. But that level of complex emotional realities nesting together is not really comfortable for her exploration…. the irrational world of human emotion…
After Amy passed away my friend David showed me some videos of people sharing their near death experiences, or NDEs. I thought my grandma would like to see these; she’s the only one in the family who considers herself Christian and thus, actively believes in God and heaven. I myself have a relationship with something that I don’t truly understand but call Creator; but heaven doesn’t figure into that. I’ve never been drawn to the Christian narrative. But I digress.
So I was excited to show these videos to her! The people in the videos are sweet, mainstream looking folks, who’ve had these incredibly vivid experiences of talking first-person with God, seeing their lives in review, feeling immeasurable love; the whole darn kit and caboodle. So we sit down to watch a couple. I’ve seen these before but still feel inspired and amazed at what I hear. My grandma on the other hand, who still considers the cordless telephone magic, (well, it kind of is) sits and gasps as people talk about what happened to them, the car accidents, the drownings, the heart attacks, etc. Then she’s mostly silent while they’re talking about the NDE itself. After we watch a couple I ask her what she thinks. Isn’t it amazing?
My expectation is that she’ll be delighted to have her faith in God vindicated and relieved to hear that what grandpa went through and what we will all eventually go through (dying) can be such a gosh-darned pleasant experience! But what she’s wondering about is how with all the millions of people in the world who must be dying at one time, how God can be in each of those places at the same time giving them all that personal attention? Really?!
This, of course, totally cracks me up; though I would never laugh in her presence. It’s as though God were a person. As though time were a limitation for God. If you believe that something is omniscient and omnipotent, are you really going to wonder about the logistics of it? It’s like arguing that Santa Claus doesn’t exist because how could he be in all those places all over the world at once. The man flies through the sky in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, one of whom has a lightbulb for a nose. The space-time constraint is really not the only issue that draws the story into question if you’re worried about things like rationality and how it makes sense to the human brain. I thought the whole point was that it was beyond our ability to comprehend…
If I was pulled out of my body, saw my entire life in review, met my dead relatives, and had an earnest chat with God about what I still had left to do on Earth- all the while being bathed in the most pure and powerful love I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, the first thing on my mind isn’t going to be “Yeah, all that was totally amazing, never experienced anything like it. But how does he do that for so many people? He must have a very full daily agenda!”
I don’t mean to make fun of my grandma, of course I love her unconditionally. It just felt funny to me. For someone with so much magical thinking, she sure was literal about the whole thing!