What is at stake is not merely art or literature. For either the artistic machine, the analytical machine, and the revolutionary machine will remain in extrinsic relationships that make them function in the deadening framework of the system of social and psychic repression, or they will become parts and cogs of one another in the flow that feeds one and the same desiring-machine, so many local fires patiently kindled for a generalized explosion—the schiz and not the signifier.
—Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus p. 137
It’s been a little while since I wrote for this blog. Along with the typical end- and beginning-of-term stuff and the tiny amount of holiday we try to cram into the last couple weeks of August, my grandmother fell ill and, this past Monday, died.
In June, after a series of heart events for my grandmother, my grandfather, whose dementia had progressed to the point where taking care of him was more than my nearly blind and mostly deaf grandmother could cope with, had to be put into full-time care. The stress of caring for him had led to two heart attacks for her in the space of a week, before our local health authority moved very quickly to find my grandfather a bed.
But this got left too late. Transitioning him into care was a rupturing event that left him incredibly confused, and my grandmother absolutely bereft. She had been holding on so tightly to him that moving him into care was essentially like losing him altogether for her. Even though he eventually got settled enough that she could start visiting him, the damage was already done. She sank into a depression, stopped eating more than a few bites at a meal, and then fell. She ended up in hospital with severe abdominal pain that the doctors eventually attributed to diverticulitis, but her system was shutting down. Three days after her eighty-eighth birthday, multiple organ failure led to a final cardiac event.
Later that week, my mother, aunt and I met with the RN in charge of my grandfather’s care team at the facility where he is now living, and we agreed that it was the best decision to tell him that his wife of sixty nine years had died. We went out that evening to do so.
He took the news of his wife’s passing fairly well, all things considered. There were tears, and obvious loss, but, frankly, I think that he already knew. I think that there was an element of relief in knowing. He’ll need to be reminded of this on a daily basis for the rest of his life, probably multiple times per day. We’re preparing a story-board of loss for him.
But when we went to tell him, this wasn’t the worst part. Finding out that his wife was dead was…just a confirmation of what he was already experiencing. He had a plan. He begged us. Take him home with us. He would sleep anywhere. In the basement. On the floor. He would do anything. Maybe we could each take him for a month at a time. He has no complaints about the people taking care of him right now. He made that clear repeatedly. But they’re not family. Not, he gestured frantically to the three of us, family.
He doesn’t know my name, and calls my aunt, ‘that lady’, but knows who we are nevertheless. He understands family. He knows that we’re all he has left. Family.
Sitting in the hospital with my grandmother the day before she died, as I had several times over the past year, I also thought a lot about family. About tribe. About our evolutionary heritage so poorly intersecting with this ridiculous world we’ve constructed around us. The little alienations that become enormous and violent ones. I’m finding it hard to settle back into the uncomfortable comfort I normally occupy. Finding the little ways—the local brush fires I can set hoping for a larger conflagration. Today, all I can see is the overwhleming tide that will extinguish any efforts that I can make.
My grandparents didn’t move in with my family when they retired. Independence is the watchword in our society. Independence for as long as possible. Economic units depending upon themselves, spending as much as possible for as long as possible. We are perfect little batteries, eating the dead and pumping out energy for a machine that feeds us to ourselves.
We’re destroying this world that we live on. We’re doing it by attrition, slowly at first, and now at a pace that it seems we can’t counter. My grandmother lying in that hospital bed, my grandfather in full-time care—these are the ‘safety net’ of a post-industrial society that has organized itself on principles designed to leverage our tribal evolution into something that never quite allows us to connect, to attach to each other, to experience the connectivity that we have lost. And, sitting with my beautiful, eighty eight year old grandmother, watching her in agony, reaching out for something she couldn’t reach, all I wanted to do was pick her frail body up in my arms and take her home with me. It was time to go. Thankfully, I think her body knew that, and she left peacefully the next day after spending an evening with my mother.
Now my grandfather is incarcerated in care. They treat him as well as they possibly can. But he’s not home. He’s with strangers. And, despite all the local brush fires I’ve started in my own life, I can’t bring him home with me. We have to work. We have a young child. Our environment is too toxic to allow him to wander. So, for his own safety, we leave him there.
This week, it’s too much for me. I can’t bow neatly to one of the theorists I wrap myself in to feel better about the destruction happening around me. I can’t find the doors into the structures that I use to protect myself.
So this week, I’m letting the despair overwhlem me. I’m grieving. And I’m going to try to let that grief do its work.