Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Dec 8, 2005

Farewell Salute

My great-grandmother, the last of my great-grandparents, died Friday. She outlived her daughter, my grandmother, by just over a month. Well, physically at least; my mother told me that her mind had gone. It is doubtful she ever understood that her daughter had passed. I can’t be at the funeral to express my respects, so I thought I would blog them instead.

I didn’t know her very well; she was old when I was adopted into her family and already somewhat shut up in her own mind. Shortly afterward my immediate family moved to Germany, so my father’s relatives became simply some mysterious strangers that I was obliged to visit on occasion. When we finally moved to Virginia we were within driving distance and we visited her more often. She was beginning her long, slow decline but her formidable character clung to her tenaciously. Into her eighties she continued running her own house and working in her garden.

I learned one thing from her that has served me well over the past few years: there’s no sense in shrinking from things that happen to be, well, gross. I distinctly remember her pulling earthworms in half with her bare hands on one of our fishing trips. They were too big to go on the hook, and it was too much trouble to dig out a knife and cut them. I don’t think I often admitted to being squeamish after that, although I remain thankful that I haven’t been confronted with an earthworm in need of trimming since then. I do work in a tissue bank where I am surrounded by any number of stomach-turning things all day long. In a way, I owe my success at my job to her.

Working where I do, it’s almost impossible to avoid thinking about death fairly often. I think I’ve benefited from it; most atheists I know—including Objectivists—have a difficult time deciding what they think about death. Your own death is a strange enough thing to contemplate. What on earth do you think about the deaths of others?

I think it’s very important to remember the dead, not because they died, but because they lived. Is there anything to say more solemnly awesome than that simple fact? Is there anything more deserving of ceremony and respect? I think not. The question is, though, why do you wait until someone dies to feel, much less express, such an emotion?

The reason is that during their life it would be an intrusion. While you live, your life belongs only to you and everyone must respect that. When you die the memory of it belongs to everyone you touched. I write of my great-grandmother because the silent depth of my reverence for my own life demands that I treat the pieces of hers I now hold with the same respect. It is entirely possible that I am the only one who remembers them.

I offer them to you in electronic words so that you might pause and remember what a wondrous life this is.

Crossposted to the Egosphere.


Gus Van Horn said...


First of all, my condolences.

Second, this was very thought-provoking. I have occasionally wondered myself why we don't always just tell our loved ones how much they mean to us, but have come up empty every time. This is at least a big chunk of the answer I was missing. Thanks.


Jennifer Snow said...

Thanks, Gus.

I do think it's certainly possible to bridge that gap, but it's something that has to be done with tremendous seriousness and respect.

I wonder sometimes what happened to profundity or dignity around here.