This weekend I’m going to visit with family, and visit my Beppe’s grave for the first time since she passed away in March 2021.
Beppe was the kind of old lady who has more vim and vigour than most thirty year olds, and a heck of a lot more confidence and self-assuredness. She dwindled, in 2020 and 2021, I think due in part to moving to a retirement home (finally; she had been on the list for this place for years; it was where a lot of her friends were and she was looking forward to it); the transition was hard for her psychologically in ways she had not quite anticipated. Add to that the COVID lockdown and anxiety, which made her extremely depressed – my Beppe was about as far as you could go on the extrovert scale, and not seeing anyone for an afternoon (never mind an entire day) was not great for her mentally.
It still was a huge shock to us to find her deceased last year. I suppose I’d thought she’d be eternal; she was one of those larger-than-life characters that seemed to be a constant in the universe. She was also my last direct link to the story of my mother’s side of the family (emigrating to Canada after WW2 and clawing their way up to lower middle class), and the bits and snatches of Dutch and Frisian are, I fear, mostly going to slip from my brain in the next few years.
My Oma (father’s mother) passed away in fall 2021; I was not that close with her, to be honest, as I’d stopped phoning her about six years ago when she began to slip unconsciously into Dutch in the middle of our conversations and I’d sit there like an idiot, completely lost. My Opa died of a heart attack just before I was born. My Beppe is buried beside my Pake, who passed away years ago, after about a decade dwindling in a nursing home. So we’ll visit both of them.
Not sure what the point of this post is; I was going to write something up about good deaths vs natural deaths vs unnatural ways of dying, because I feel like I have some Thoughts about that, given the fact that each of my grandparents died under conditions that compound my grief. Perhaps I wish to explore the valences of the feeling that I have that I am not so much sad because they are dead and gone, but because of the circumstances leading up to and surrounding their deaths were so frankly awful. Our elders deserve so much better than the purgatorial treatment we give them, and we deserve be able to make choices to enhance our parents’ lived experiences of their twilight years, ones that don’t involve a daughter (or son, but it is usually always a daughter) taking on the burden of caregiver.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is perhaps the best book on this subject that I have read, though I haven’t really gone seeking for other materials. If you have any recommendations, please drop them below.