As She Lay Dying

After Christopher Hitchens’ death, there has been the occasional post from atheists about death. I read them, glibly moved on to the next. It was interesting how people talk of their atheism and how they won’t turn to god in that moment when death hits them in the face with the cold steel of a scythe. How brave Hitchens was to the very end, what an inspiration he was and is.

We all look around for direction when we are thrust into the unknown. The vacuum of our experience is that one darkest place: death. Poetic, and with trepidation we tip toe our way toward it even when it is not our own. Taking care not to disturb it for fear it will be cranky and want more. As though we are skulking in a dark room, afraid to touch anything for fear it will harm us or that we’ll break something. Never curious, never exploring. This one mountain we all climb alone and never return to share the stories of the trip. A dream that does not end, perhaps. A door that will not open twice. Our meager dalliances here cannot distance us from that door. Each of us will walk through it, alone, ignorant, perhaps more alive than we have ever been.

Today I was told that my grandmother is in the hospital, probably the last place she will ever see. After more than 90 years her body is giving out.  She’s lived a long time. I hope to live longer. So there it is. I did not watch the door open. I was told about it from afar. I can’t say good bye. She’s already kind of checked out.

There are a few things to say about her as there should be about anyone.When I was young and decided that I was learning what it meant to be an adult, her life made an impact on mine. In a way she lives on through me. My desire to write and be artistic comes directly from her. I’m writing a short story inspired by her. She was and is an inspiration to me. As much as Hitchens was an inspiration, his life could not touch mine the way hers did. In 50 years she may not be remembered by anyone with a voice. She will be remembered not because people talk of her, but because she affected others and their lives have changed a little bit. As much as any human can affect the course of humanity she has, in her part of the world.

  • Through her I am listed in the DAR
  • She was taller than my grandfather and outlived him by 40+ years
  • She was a painter and artist
  • She made award winning sculptures (Bell Tower)
  • She taught art in a local college
  • She worked in a working historical museum, she could make lye soap, candles, can her own food
  • She was self sufficient in a man’s world, you didn’t want to be in her way
  • She worked in a library
  • She worked in a Goodwill store
  • She lived through the great depression and World War II in one of the poorest parts of our country
  • She had a strong sense or awareness of the changes the last 100 years have brought – I think is befuddled her at times
  • She wrote and published a book – A Story Of A Christian Woman
  • She always sent hand written letters
  • She “did not go gently into that good night
  • They had to confiscate her driving license
  • She buried one husband and tended the next as he slowly lost his mind to Alzheimer’s
  • She had thousands of pictures of our family, the curator of photos ( I wish I had them now )
  • She enjoyed flower gardens and grew very lovely gardens herself
  • She made good stone soup
  • Both she and my grandfather shared full names (first and last) with famous authors or academics or both
  • She could make a grand holiday event by rubbing two pennies together
  • She was a devout Christian woman, her son became an evangelical preacher
  • She told me of seeing his ghost/spirit visit her the night my grandfather died
  • She was fun to be with
  • Everyone counted on her
  • She loved to laugh and hear stories about her family, children, and grand children
  • She helped out a lot of people around her, giving more than you would think she could have in savings
  • She always had a kind word
  • She talked of her death 30+ years before it became remotely possible
  • She loved me honestly, the kind of way I wish everyone knew and experienced
  • She took me to Blennerhassett island for a day. We talked of history and our place. The history of the family and eventually visited the original family farm (purchased on immigration to the US). She had a strong understanding of her/our place in history and time.
  • She once arranged for musicians to give me a personal concert on three styles of Dolcimer. I still love the sound of the hammer dolcimer.
  • She stupidly gave money to televangelists
  • She saved S&H Greenstamps to buy me a guitar as a child
  • If there is a god, he’s up shit creek now. She’ll keep him busy fixing things for a very long time. She doesn’t like to be told no, or that it can’t be done, or that it will take too long.
  • It would not be out of character to hear her say something like “I don’t know much about transmissions, but if you’ll help me we can fix this old thing. Your grandpa left some tools. What do you say? Hang on, I’ll go get some gloves.”
  • As a child, I can tell you that she knew everything. I know she didn’t but she made us feel that way: safe, unafraid.

I look around the world today. I don’t see many women like her. I don’t think that they ever made many like her. Strong of character, strong of back, boundless energy, the kind of person that you knew almost instantly that you wanted to have on your side whether it was for kickball or petitioning the governor for new funds to fix the local streets. He eventually capitulated and got the streets fixed.

The world will miss her. I will miss her. I am certain that I would not be who I am today had I not known her.

If her only contribution to this world was to inspire myself and others, she out did herself. It wasn’t the only contribution she made. The seemingly unstoppable has finally come to rest.

Good bye Maxine

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  1. Excellent post my friend

      • myatheistlife
      • October 15th, 2012

      Thank you. Wish it was 15 years from now that I needed to write it.

  2. Greetings! Very useful advice within this article! It’s the little changes that will make the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing!

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