207th Goodbye

21 February 2002

How many times can you say goodbye to the same person?

Well, add one to the list, at least. Things with Great-Grandma have deteriorated, and we're into a palliative care phase with her. When I talked to my folks Tuesday night, they said she wasn't expected to last a week. There are some issues here that touch on complaints I have about the American medical system, but I don't really feel like I can talk about my great-grandmother's illness and her choices in a public forum like this. In private it's something different entirely. What I can say is that I'm really grateful that my aunt Ellen has been there and has been handling some of the tough decisions for Great-Grandma. Someone has to do it, and I'm glad it's someone I trust so much.

In some ways I really believe it, I really believe that this is it and within five days I will not have any great-grandparents left. But it's happened so often. It's never been a week like this before, it's never been this specific, but there have been many times when we didn't think she'd live out the month, or the winter, or some other time frame. It's hard to make it stick in my mind now. The more times you say goodbye, the less you think you mean it.

It's hard to know what to say to people about this. Some people I called immediately to tell them this was going on. With some, I've mentioned it in e-mail. But what about the people I don't talk to much? If I happen to be e-mailing them, do I mention it? Do I not? I don't know. I'm at peace with this, I think -- I did cry once so far, which is more than I thought I would. But it seems like this is time, and it seems like Great-Grandma thinks so, too. I don't know what more we could ask for here.

Still. It's there in my head, in the back somewhere, that she's dying for real this time. And while we've decided that it's more important for me to come back and spend time with the family (especially with Aunt Ellen) when the uproar of the funeral is not going on, it's hard to be out here when the family is going through a time like this.

When Gran died, it was a different thing entirely, but because I was at college, I was still partially isolated from the family. They came to fetch me the afternoon before the funeral and drove me back the afternoon of. I barely tasted the funeral baked meats -- there literally were some -- before Aunt Doris and Uncle Rudy and I were in the car on the way back to St. Pete. They lived in Fridley then, so it was convenient. That was a little isolated, too, but I got some of it. I got some of the time with the family, telling the stories, and I got to tell my own stories.

When I was in college, Great-Grandma Lingen sent me a dollar in her letters, with which I was to buy "a treat." (We both knew that it would make her happiest if the treat was either M&Ms or a strawberry milkshake. She loved those when she could have them.) When I was in junior high and high school, she would put her vise-grip on my arm and skip down the driveway with me to prove that she was still young and spry, which she was not, but she could still skip, and that was something.

We took her to a rock concert. She took us to Minnehaha Falls.

She kept score. She wrote things down.

Her apartment is filled with things that have labels on the bottom, for when she dies, people who have admired her knickknacks.

When I was seven or eight, she took me up to the roof of the high-rise she lived in then and showed me Minneapolis. Planting the seeds, I guess.

She's my great-grandmother. Maybe by now she already was my great-grandmother. I don't know. I don't know how to do this. I don't think anybody does.

On a happier note -- and that wouldn't be much harder, would it? -- I got to spend more time with my grands yesterday, also with my aunts and uncles and godfathers. We hung around Joe's place in the afternoon and went out for dinner in the evening (gaaaaarlic mashed potaaaaatoes...), and I watched Olympics with my grandfather and talked about the Kennedy assassination. Also I worked on "Small Talk" and wrote an entire silly short short called "Bright Red: Aim Here." (It's the sort of story I'll send to a couple of small markets but mostly needed to get out of my system.)

I read last month's F&SF and Borderliners on the train. Borderliners pointed out a pet peeve that rarely comes up in spec fic (which it was not): main characters in something labeled a "novel" who have the same name as the author. Unless you're being all arch and Pat Murphy about it, I don't really want it to work that way. Differentiate your main character from yourself, for heaven's sake. I don't care how much of Borderliners bordered truth -- Smilla Jaspersen was still a more interesting character than Peter Høeg, and I'm not at all surprised by that.

Today's plan: to go to the post office or the ATM for more stamps, as I appear to be missing one entire booklet from Tuesday's stamp run. To write the rest of the letter supporting Steve's promotion. To wish Heathah a happy birthday (happy birthday, Heathah!). To write the rest of "Small Talk" and perhaps something else as well. To work on the Not The Moose Book. To read Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution. To leave the house and/or interact with other human beings directly as little as possible. (That doesn't count Mark and Timprov. Also doesn't count phone and e-mail.)

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