by Angeliska on April 14, 2011
O much neglected corner of the world – little quiet place where I come to lay down my findings,
hollowed-out tree trunk where I store treasure. I am embarrassed at how little I’ve been able to
find the time, the wherewithal, the peace of mind to write here. Too much has been happening
for one heart to hold, much less one little snippet of a post here. It’s been a strange and heavy time,
during which I’ve been struggling to keep up, keep my head above water, find a moment to breathe in.
In the swarm of activity following Mardi Gras and during SXSW, I returned to find my favorite person
in the world depleted and depressed – my 97 year old grandfather, Charlie, went into the hospital on
New Year’s Eve, and had been transferred to a glorified nursing home, where he withered like an
unwatered houseplant. I felt the horror and guilt of Beauty returning to the Beast’s castle to find him
fading fast, dying on the flagstones. I’d never seen my Grandpa laid so low, so unhappy and without
hope. A few days later, he started vomiting blood, and was rushed to the emergency room. I’ve never
been so terrified, so broken at the thought of losing him. It sounds absurd, I suppose – coming from me,
since I’ve lost so many dear ones already. I am used to death, in a way – and I do prepare myself for it,
perhaps more than is healthy. But not with him. How ridiculous to be totally in denial about the mortality
of someone so advanced in years, right? But I am, I have been – for a long time now, totally unwilling to
even consider the possibility of him not being here. Same with my dad, who recently went through chemo
and radiation for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. To have both of them so threatened at once? Beyond horrifying.
Every day, I stifled a silent scream at the thought of my Papa and Grandpa laid so low, of losing them.
Instead, I sucked in my fear and loathing of hospitals, and made my voice a bright thing, a shiny balloon
filled with hopefulness, rising towards the ceiling. I stood by my Grandpa’s bed for hours, holding his hands and giving him everything I had, praying desperately that he could recover strength to his suffering kidneys, to his legs, his lungs, his heart. Miraculously, all of our prayers were answered, and he did grow stronger, and became much happier, especially since we told him he never had to go back to that nursing home/rehabilitation center he’d been trying out. I’d lay awake at night, unable to sleep, consumed with worry, with fury, at the thought of him laying alone there. What a grave injustice that someone who has lived such a long and fascinating life should find themselves at the other end of it, in a place that affords them so little dignity. How awful, that there should be so few options for the elderly in this country – particularly since we’re living longer and longer lives. The sad thing is that the place he was in was actually one of the better ones around – he chose it after visiting the nursing home recommended by the hospital and finding it to be “a warehouse for storing people who are at the end of their lives
(his words). Nursing homes throughout America are chronically understaffed and underfunded, with food that I literally wouldn’t feed to my dogs. Seriously – mystery meat and baloney sandwiches? You can get better food in prison. In the midst of all this, poor Japan suffered her violent shiftings, and the whole world seemed on the verge of some great reckoning. My grandparents visited Japan in the 80′s, before my grandmother became too frail for travel. I remember seeing pictures of her dolled up in a kimono like a tiny, ancient geisha. They loved it there, and told me many stories about everything they saw and experienced. Grampa loved the Noh and Kabuki theater, and brought back masks for his collection. We had hoped to go back together, but he decided he wasn’t up for travel a few years back.
The entrance of a cave at Enoshima Island – Soshu Enoshima Iwaya-no dzu
ANDO HIROSHIGE – FAMOUS PLACES IN JAPAN
I still have never been there. One day, I shall. For the last few years, Grampa has given me big, beautiful editions of the collected prints of Hiroshige for my birthday. I’ve been paging through them lately, admiring the elegance of line depicting many formerly serene coastlines and villages I know are now destroyed. I’ve been thinking about the way the elderly are regarded in Japanese culture – as integral and important members of society, to be respected and honored – not shoved in old people jails and forgotten about the way we do here. Or maybe that’s been changing there too. I’ve been thinking about the tidal wave dreams I used to have, about not trying to outrun them anymore, but instead trying to face them head-on, standing with arms open: letting the waves of sorrow wash over me, letting them take what they will from me. This is hard, maybe the hardest thing I have ever done – trying to accept this inevitable loss. I can’t bear the thought of it. Can’t stomach hearing well-meaning friends telling me things that only make them feel better, like: “He’s had a long, full life…” or “Think of how lucky you are to have had that time together…” I don’t want to hear it. I want him to live forever. Is that so much to ask? When you love someone deeply, there’s never enough time.
The (very, very, very!) good news is that Charlie’s doing much better lately – we found a really wonderful assisted living facility that feels more like a home than a hospital, and he likes it there. His spirits are higher, and his overall health has improved. We have been watching movies together – most recently “The King of Masks”, an amazing film about an aged street performer who practices the change-mask opera art of bian lian. Grampa instilled a love of Chinese Opera in me early on, but I had never heard of or seen bian lian before. Between Charlie’s love of masks, and a plot about a grandfather and granddaughter’s profound love, I knew I absolutely had to find a way to share this movie with him. The first time I watched it, I found myself bawling like a child by the end. Luckily, I was able to keep it more or less together when we watched it recently. He loved it as much as I had hoped, and we have a date to watch Cocteau’s “La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc” together soon. Also on our list: “The Last Laugh”, “Casque D’or”, and “Amélie”.
(Please excuse the overwrought trailer with melodramatic voice-over.
I promise this film is worth seeing!)
I just got The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (finally!) and am devouring it. I ordered a large print copy for Grampa to read, as I think he’ll enjoy it too. I fortuitously discovered David Mitchell on our last journey abroad – I fell horribly ill in Athens, and was confined to bed for several days with a violent stomach bug.Luckily, the hotel gift shop had a reasonable selection of reading material. I hesitated over the hot pink and metallic blue fanfare of Cloud Atlas’ paperback cover, but it was just to curious to not investigate. I have a vivid memory of being weakly tucked into a pillow fort, and being exhausted, but not being able to stop reading. I turned to Grampa then, and told him, “This guy Mitchell is really, really, really good!” Oh my, isn’t he? I love everything he’s done so far, and I can’t wait for him to write dozens more books. Hurry, hurry! Oh, and – of course, the cover illustration features a print by none other than Ando Hiroshige. Perfect, that.
Books and movies are definitely my drug of choice lately. Somebody else’s lives. Blessed escape.
I’ve been running on empty for awhile, and have been struggling to repair myself, stitch my soul
back together. Fortunately, I’ve found an amazing person who’s helping me with that: Elaine Dove. She’s a healer, counselor, artist, and teacher who has working with me, and even such in a relatively short amount of time, has helped me immensely. I feel lucky to have found someone I trust to do this work with me, and to help me process through this deep pain. It’s pretty incredible to have someone tell me that I can rest as much as I need to heal, and to be told that I don’t have to let my grandfather go before I’m ready to. Sometimes I really need to be given permission to give myself what I know I need. Elaine is using the Tara Approach, an energy medicine system with its roots in Jin Shin Jyutsu, a five element based meridian system of healing and balancing the nervous system. Here’s something Elaine wrote on the subject of loss that stuck with me:
“There’s so much we long for. Loss makes us vulnerable, brings to the surface that which isn’t finished, may never be finished. It may well be a fantasy that we get to finish everything we want to during the course of a short and precious human life. At least, it seems like a fantasy to me. As someone who is given the privilege of burrowing deeply into the lives of others like a little vole with good intentions, there’s always another tunnel that opens, another rock to dig up, another tree root to burrow around. It never ends until it ends. You don’t end up coming out where you went in. Then you’re not in the same place any more. But you remember where you started. It’s an integral part of being human, to remember.”
✸ Pinetop Perkins, Delta Boogie-Woogie Master, Dies at 97 – I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Perkins,
on several occasions. He was performing up until almost the end of his life.
I remember the sparkle that shone through the gray
haze of his cataracted eyes, and his long, elegant hands.
He was the same age as my Grampa is now when he died.
✸ Hiroshige: A Fantastical Melding of Life, Land and Sea
✸ On The Borderland in Okinawa – I’ve been reading Mlle. OTBL’s accounts of her adventures,
and came across this beautiful poem:
Be not defeated by the rain, nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.
Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.
A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove’s shade.
A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.
If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.
In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.
Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man”.
This is my goal, the person I strive to become.
—Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), 雨ニモマケズ (Ame ni mo makezu), trans. by David Sulz
(The poem was found posthumously in a small black notebook in one of the poet’s trunks.)
My old friend Sxip Shirey and his band, Gentlemen & Assassins, wrote this song called “Grandpa Charlie”.
I’ve decided it’s about my very own Grampa Charlie, though I reckon he may have one too.
I love his introduction: “You know, this is a song about your grandfather, your grandfather,
your grandfather – when your grandfather was young, hot, and fucking sexy as shit.”
I know Grandpa would say, “Too loud!” – which is what he said when I took him to see
Gogol Bordello in Chicago. Eugene dedicated a song to him that night. It’s our job to dance now,
dance for them, our favorite old men – our grandfathers. I think I can handle that much.