Loss

family

Playing in the driveway with my sister and Papa, many moons ago.

It wasn’t long ago that I had reason to feel myself very fortuitous in terms of family longevity. On the north side of 30, I had three of my four grandparents still living. They had lived to see me into adulthood and to see the arrival of my son—the first great-grandchild—in 2012. They all delighted in him and he always got a big charge out of them too. He is still only a toddler now, too young to form memories, but I had hopes that he might know them all as a pre-schooler and be able to remember them when he was older.

It was not to be; my grandmother passed away in mid-October, my Nana and Papa last week, unexpectedly and suddenly within 24 hours of each other. They each died from unrelated health reasons, like a plot point in some hackneyed novel. “Couldn’t be apart,” is what I keep repeating to myself, searching for something optimistic but not really finding it. Once relatively flush with grandparents, now I am bereft.

Grief has made a narcissist out of me. I have three people (really four) to remember; I should be writing about their lives, their accomplishments, their personalities—and yet here I am, dwelling on myself, ceaselessly. Sometimes this inward turn feels appropriate. It feels like I have to keep going, that this is my way of paying tribute in some Darwinian sense. Because I carry parts of them with me, and I gaze at my dull face in the mirror to try and discern what they are, just as I now study my son’s handsome features closely to try and glimpse what irreducible elements have been passed down to him.

Coming to terms with the death of elderly relatives is a matter of finding the right proportionality. Beyond a certain threshold of age you are always a bit ready for it, while still being unprepared when it does happen. And so in October and now I have striven to deploy what seems like the right response: sad but not too sad, mature and accepting, grateful for the good times.

And for the most part, I have managed it. Even when the shock from this latest double-blow was still new, I went to work. I functioned normally. I talked with co-workers and acquaintances without hint of being distraught. I walked the dog, shoveled snow from the driveway, cooked dinner, and did all the other things that still needed doing. Because there is always something clamouring for attention and life is a moving sidewalk that bears us along even when we want to stand still.

And in some self-congratulatory moments, I look at my mostly unchanged comportment this past week and delude myself into thinking that this is indicative of me possessing some admirable degree of masculine strength. But it’s more likely a sign that some inner part of me has become calcified. With rationalism and chosen unfeeling, I have locked it away and now I am mostly successful at ignoring it.

I grew up separated by geography from my grandparents and the rest of my extended family. It wasn’t insurmountable distance—a day’s drive, an hour’s flight—but it was enough to pose a barrier. I remember when I was young, four or five, how I would cry uncontrollably when it came time for the visit to my grandparents to end and how I would beg to stay. It didn’t matter what reasoned explanations I received or how terribly I made everyone else feel; all that mattered was my sadness.

But as self-centred as I was and as and embarrassed as I felt about my childishness when I was older, there was also a great abiding love for my grandparents manifest in my tears and pleas. And there are moments now where I counter-intuitively wish that I could feel that way again, to be consumed with grief, to be left inconsolable. Beyond my needs for catharsis, it seems that would be an appropriate way to mourn, to externalize how much I cared for and loved them. Because if my heart is broken, why does it carry on without missing a beat?

I know it is a vain hope; the ability to grieve so deeply and freely seems lost to me now, washed away like a child’s sandcastle on a beach. I have my memories of the past for comfort, of how my grandparents were and of how I was. And now too, I have an adult’s forlorn knowledge that in time I will learn to accept the pain of being unable to return to them.

 

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New Year, Old Tricks

Well 2013 is gone and 2014 is here. As depicted in the comics sections of newspapers everywhere, we’ve reached the point where we can officially have a wake for the frail, bearded, stoop-backed old year that has slid into the dustbin of history. In its place, we welcome cherub-like and fresh-faced 2014, born with promise and hope. And with this year dawning so young and naïve, now is the time to resolve to Kick It’s Ass and take its lunch money. DO IT NOW. Don’t wait until May or June, the year will be far too strong and wily at that point; at best, you might be able to fight it to a draw.

PostcardHappyNewYearOldManKidScytheHourglass1910

So what will the New Year hold for me?

Well first off, I think it’s going to be a year of living frugally. No more impulse purchases, no more tiny luxuries, and no more $1.40 workday coffees bleeding my coffers dry. It’s time to save, save, save. I’m going to redirect the fruits of my thriftiness into high-value investments: equities, fixed-income vehicles, and commemorative coin pressings. The battle against an indigent retirement starts NOW.

At the same time though, I’m not going to deny myself. Life is just too short, and I’ve never heard of a happy miser (in the works of Charles Dickens or otherwise). If I see something and I want it, why shouldn’t I buy it? If I’m always forcing myself to go without, I’ll breed resentment and push myself ever closer to launching a pyramid scheme or living a life of crime to get the things I want. I look terrible in orange; I don’t care if it is the new black. I can’t let this downward spiral happen, so I’m going to have to strike a balance.

Another area where I want to improve is my physique. It is going to be a year of getting in crazy-good shape here in 2014. It’s going to be about eating clean, exercising like a fiend, and looking like a dream. There’s still only 168 hours in a given week, so it’s not going to be easy. I’m going to have to go to bed later and wake up earlier, all while getting more sleep in between. I’ll have to shed fat and build muscle at the same time, and I’ll have to work at simultaneously building up strength and endurance. It’s going to take a lot of sweat and sacrifice day-in and day-out, but I know that this year I’m primed to make it happen.

That being said, I’m not going to be afraid to indulge occasionally either. What’s the sense of living if you can’t relax enough to eat a piece of fudge cake every now and again? And if on occasion at my appointed workout times I find myself worn and tired, or I have more fulfilling things to do, you’re not going to find me at the gym. Deep-down, there’s something pathetic about these endorphin-addicts who claim they “never miss a workout.” What really keeps them going: love of fitness or their own simple vanity? Some of them need to take a long look in the mirror…and then step away from it. No sir, you’re not going to find me snared in that trap of narcissism.

Lastly, this is going to be a year where I give more of myself to others. It will be a time of personal growth for me, one that will see me become more patient, tolerant, self-reflective, and understanding. I’m going to keep marching forward in the battle to be more selfless, giving a greater share of my time and energy for the betterment of my family, community, and the broader world.

However, I’m also going to have to carve out more “me-time.” The work of becoming self-actualized is a solitary endeavour, and it’s going to require shutting out the world for a substantial portion of each day so I can develop my own interests, talents, and perspectives. It can be hard to do this, because there are always other people looking to intrude, trying to have their needs and demands given primacy. I’m going to have to find the strength to turn them away, and risk catcalls and accusations of being “selfish” and “aloof.”

Where I live, we’re buried in the depths of winter right now and locked in a frigid cold snap, but my being is kept warm with the inner fire of excitement and new purpose. As the calendar page flips over, I don’t see mere boxes, numbers, and dental appointments that need to be rescheduled; rather, I see the future—and an unbroken vista of limitless possibilities.

Just like I did last year.