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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Other Shoe Dropping

Sometimes at night I light a lamp so as not to see. ~ Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943


Again, another of those thinking-out-loud posts.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my grandpa and his not being well. Well, a few days ago we found out what is wrong and today my mom called to tell me that things have moved to the next stage: saying goodbye.

I am not going into all of the details because that's not what I'm looking for right now. In a moment, my day turned from a regular one to a surreal one. I am supposed to visit him in a day or so, and just be with him and tell him what I am up to and keep him company and not talk about his condition.

I honestly don't know how I am going to do that. Just the thought of it is killing me. I am horrible at hiding my feelings and I know that I am not supposed to go in there and cry.


Tonight I was looking for some sort of diversion so I could get myself together and get resolved for what comes next. I feel like I'm in a car that's going to crash but it hasn't happened yet so now I am just bracing myself for the impact. I know I have a seatbelt and airbags and I won't be killed, but it's still going to hurt a lot and there's no getting around it.

I thought at first maybe I would still go dancing but I just couldn't handle the thought of being overcome by emotion in either a perfect dance or by being a wallflower and bursting into inappropriate tears at a milonga.

So The Boy was very kind and took me to North Beach. We listened to Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter and the warm, pink light of the setting sun made the wonderful old buildings seem like understanding friends. And then as the sky darkened, the neon lights of Columbus Avenue were distracting, and hanging out at City Lights Bookstore for a while and reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti was calming. The Boy tried his darnedest, bless him.

But there is a certain time of night where nothing can distract me and I'm just here stuck with what the hell am I going to do now?

Which is now. Which is why I have a question for you.

If you have a favorite thing that is soothing to you, something that always works for you when times are dark, I'd like to know what it is. I feel like I need to build up a bunker of stuff that will either keep my mind distracted, calmed, or whatever. I have a few things in my arsenal, like some books I'll read again and I'll watch Rivers and Tides again, but I'm really tired and kind of at a loss right now and I'm wondering what you turn to.

I don't drink, take drugs or have a TV, so that might limit some of your suggestions. I'm also not religious so that might put a damper on things too. But if you still have a thought after all of this, let me know. Please don't feel you have to write something sentimental and kind--if you've read this far, I know you're already thinking something kind already and if you write that to me, you'll make me cry at work, which is where I read a lot of your comments anyway.

But if nothing else, despite my chatter about rainbows and Jane Austen characters, I am a practical person. So whatever I can do to prepare myself (if such a thing is possible) will make me feel like I am doing something useful besides running my mind around in circles.


Below is a scene from Rivers and Tides. If you have not seen this film about artist Andy Goldsworthy, then perhaps I've given you something for your bunker someday.


Red Shoes April 24, 2008 at 12:51 AM  

There's a series of books I read as a girl that I go back to time and again, for the comfort of the familiar words and characters who are friends. And how about Gene Kelly?

Love you.

julochka April 24, 2008 at 3:19 AM  

the best thing that i can think of is to do something NOW while he's still alive to preserve your memories and your stories about him and with him. i don't know what you're into (i came here from Crumbs From the Corner and haven't had a chance to look around yet), but perhaps some art journal pages? a painting?

but most of all, TALK with your grandpa, relive all of the great stories right there with him, while you still have him to laugh and share with. you can start with, "hey grandpa, remember that one time..."

hope that helps a little bit. i think you're very wise to want to try to prepare yourself in some way.

NYC Tango Pilgrim April 24, 2008 at 7:02 AM  


Yoga had worked for me during my darkest hours ten years ago. I found tranquility at the death pose at the end of the practice.

It is probably insensitive to say, but focusing on yourself, less thought of losing the dearest someone, be a little selfish.

Sending you some electronic hugs from the other side of the country,

Elizabeth Brinton April 24, 2008 at 7:43 AM  

Baby Doll, Thinking of you. TP is right. Selfish is good.
Besos. E

Anonymous April 24, 2008 at 8:28 AM  

Actually, I am not sure I agree with NYCTango so much. I've lost my mother, both sets of grandparents, an uncle, 3 aunts and my father is going for brain surgery to remove a benign tumour in about 2 weeks.
Honestly, write a letter to your grandfather. Give him something he can read and hold onto while he's in the hospital. My biggest regret is not doing that for my relatives, especially my mother. Can't tell you how often I wished I had a chance to tell her some things before she passed away when I was 15 years old.
Sit down, write a letter, tell him everything, what he means to you, how he affected you, influenced you, etc etc etc. Then you'll be able to exorcise your feelings pretty much instead of having them relive themselves over and over again with such pain and living with a lifetime of regret. My most important possessions are photos and letters from loved ones. I think your grandfather would appreciate knowing that at the end of his life, he's left his mark. Eulogies are wasted on the dead, as brutal as that sounds.

La Tanguerita April 24, 2008 at 9:06 AM  
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La Tanguerita April 24, 2008 at 9:07 AM  
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La Tanguerita April 24, 2008 at 9:07 AM  
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La Tanguerita April 24, 2008 at 9:07 AM  

I won’t be of much help, as I always embrace sadness and grief so intensely it almost kills me every time. Be I promise to think of something. Meanwhile a tiny present for you:


Anonymous April 24, 2008 at 9:10 AM  

My sweet baby,

You have such wise friends, all with great advice. I love the idea of writing a eulogy early. Your Grandpa wants to know that he made a difference and that everything is in order.

You have a great spirit that shines through in your blog. From your description of your grandpa, he had a hand in this. Let him know that his spirit lives on. Tell him he's done well and you are a direct beneficiary. I guarantee you, he will leave this world on a very high note!

studio wellspring April 24, 2008 at 9:30 AM  

i am one of those people who needs close connections, both with people and with nature. so what works best to comfort me when i'm grieving is to be with people who love me, surrounded by loving friends & family, sharing, and just being together. and i also find much comfort in being surrounded by huge trees, thick ferns and dark mosses, or being able to look out upon the bright blue expanse of the ever changing ocean. i can highly recommend going to mt.tamalpais or if that's too much of a drive head over to land's end. and i'm happy to go with you if you'd like company.

Anonymous April 24, 2008 at 9:59 AM  

Dearest Sister,
Many excellent suggestions here, especially the letter to Grandpa.

However, knowing that Death is the Great Master doesn't make the lesson any easier. Like me, you seem to spend a lot of time in the mental realm, which spins all sorts of fantasies, dramas, and dreams. No matter what you envision or imagine, things will happen the way they will, with or without you. This may make you feel powerless, but it also relieves you of responsibility.

What works best for me is anything that takes me out of my head, or puts what's in it into perspective. I love to drive out to the beach towards sunset and watch the infinite power that are the sun, the sky, and the water.

Also, a vigorous hike in beautiful scenery.

Oh, and of course, chocolate :-)

msHedgehog April 24, 2008 at 11:43 AM  

Buy the rest of the Aubrey/Maturin series if you haven't got them all. I can get lost in the writing even when I'm pretty damn miserable.


FogBay April 24, 2008 at 11:44 AM  

I don't have a suggestion for a diversion but I wanted to share something that might help with your upcoming visit.

My mother passed three months ago and during her last night as our family gathered, things started to get very emotional and extremely hard on everyone.

What we did instead was turn the talk to all the good times we'd had together, family vacations, pets, funny stories, graduations and so forth. We went on for over an hour.

Although she couldn't respond in kind, my mother made some noises to let us know she could hear and remembered those times too.

For me it was a good way of sharing her end and celebrating her life in a way that she enjoyed. That was the moment I will remember from her passing.

I hope this experience might help you as you prepare for your visit with your grandfather.

[ Sentimental and kind thoughts withheld, but felt ]

b April 24, 2008 at 11:51 AM  

I adjust my bed so everything is perfectly comfortable. The window is open enough to let in a soft warm breeze. The sun is coming through the large windows and hitting the pillow area, so it is on my face and chest and arms but dappled by the breeze-moved curtains. I lay there and drift away.

ModernTanguera April 24, 2008 at 12:14 PM  

In difficult times I arm myself with tea, my mother's phone number, and plans to get out of the house.

The tea is good for soothing, for wrapping myself up in comfort and warmth while I fly off to elsewhere (with a book, a movie, a show - if you have Netflix there are lots of things online to watch, Coupling being a show that I have used to cheer me up).

The phone is good for when I really need to talk, to cry, to think things through with unending, unconditional support on the other end of the line.

And the plans to get out are good for clearing my head. For reconnecting with the people who are right here in my life, for building new memories of good times, and for getting exercise to life my mood.

Also, think about what you want to do with your goodbye. I didn't have a chance for that with any of my grandparents, and it seems like it could be a perfect opportunity to create a special moment that you can carry with you later on. My thoughts are with you.

j April 24, 2008 at 2:15 PM  

thinking of you, sweet girl. i find a lot of what works one day won't work another day, but the one thing i always come back to is one particular album i love, listened to through headphones. i don't know if you would even like the music, but i'll make you a copy.

Relyn Lawson April 24, 2008 at 3:36 PM  

My dear Tangobaby, I am so sorry.

I will just move past the sentiment and on to the practical. I am writing this before I read the other comments, so you may have heard all this before. Here's what I do.

1.) Plan to be sad for a while, you will be anyway and that needs to be OK. Take a day or a morning off work and just cry till you are finished.

2.)Then, write. Write to your Grandpa and tell him all that is in your heart. Tell him of your love and your sadness. Tell him of all the joy in your memories of him. Say goodbye. Give him the letter. Let him savor your love in a private moment, over and over if he wants to. If he can't read it himself, read it to him.

3.) Be there. Hold his hand and just love him. Who says you can't go to the hospital and cry? I sure wouldn't want to be dying and have nobody cry. But, just as much as crying, laugh with him. Share memories and old stories. Even if he is asleep. Even if he is unconscious. You never know what the mind and body absorb. Trust that he will know it and feel your love.

4) As for taking care of yourself... Be sad, yes. But then be joyful. Laugh. Revel in your memories and laugh. The best thing I ever do for myself is to count my blessings. I name them one by one and write them down. I have quite a big book by now. Start your own Happy Book. Start with having a grandpa you love.

Then, add having people who love you. Even people you've never seen.

AlexTangoFuego April 24, 2008 at 8:56 PM  

Hola Baby...

I'm sorry to hear about this. I know it's a tough time right now. Everyone has left such great comments, I don't know that I could add much.

What comes to mind for me is this...

If it were you, and one of your grandchildren came to see you in the hospital, what would you want - "how" would you want that visit to be? Make it so with your grandpa.

My thoughts are with you and yours.

Anonymous April 24, 2008 at 9:00 PM  

Memories can be both beautiful and painful~ thus is life.


Eva April 24, 2008 at 9:19 PM  

Dearest TB,
I use to take my dog to the lake and talk to him. Animals are great listeners. I'd watch him chase squirrels and bark at ducks. Somehow, this helped to remind of the simplicity of life and it's inevitable cycles. I'll be thinking of you my friend.

Maria April 25, 2008 at 10:10 AM  

Dearest Tango Baby,

I'm with you, much more than you think--I'm going through something similar, and really share your pain :( :( Hang in there. Walk in the sun, sit and enjoy an ice cream, and pamper yourself and just be a bit selfish sometimes. Play with your pets (I do with my cats) and hug them a lot.

Hugs from me to you,


Holly April 25, 2008 at 11:02 AM  

I have no suggestions, but I have to say how envious I am that you are so lucky to have had your Grandfather right into your adulthood. I lost my only Grandmother at a young age, and although I have always missed her. I have really really missed her these days when I sing the same lullabies to little Isa, I find myself crying over her almost every other day, wishing her to still be here.

Holly April 25, 2008 at 11:10 AM  

I am sorry to hear what you are going through. Happy to know you were able to have such love with your Grandad, sorry that the time we have, never seems to be enough.

paris parfait April 28, 2008 at 5:00 AM  

This is a tough time, no matter how you look at it or how much ammo you have to try to insulate yourself. If you think back to some of the things you've been through already - and emerged stronger for it - you'll remember how strong you are; that you have an inner core of strength just waiting for times like this. Reading helps me - and listening to Earth Wind and Fire's "That's the Way of the World." Taking a walk in a beautiful setting (uh, that would be San Francisco) - anything to get outside yourself for a little while. Sending lots of hugs and good thoughts your way. xoxox

Phyllis Hunt McGowan April 28, 2008 at 9:58 AM  

I would immerse myself in a task that helps somebody- if you have any energy or time for volunteering somewhere. I throw myself into some new task, usually with an aim toward taking focus off my endless thoughts that don't go anywhere.
This is such a difficult one to answer because it's hard to help ease someone else's pain. I'll be thinking of you, and so will many people.

Unknown April 28, 2008 at 4:20 PM  

oh sweetheart. i'm so sorry. i think you are doing a wonderful service to both yourself and your grandfather by reaching out to your community in a time of need. it is amazing what the collective consciousness is capable of....

to cheer you up:

in the east bay on the berkeley marina is a landfill where artists have built incredible outdoor sculptures with a vintage circus theme. it's totally bizarre, inspiring, peaceful and renewing.

for a quick fix:

the legion of honor museum. one of the most beautiful places with beautiful treasures. i can't seem to feel anything but a sense of wonderment whilst there.

any my prayers and thoughts go out to you and your family.

Psyche April 28, 2008 at 5:59 PM  

Dear Baby,

I'm so sorry.

The single thing that lifts me more than anything else is nature. And nature is at its very best right now, covering everything in splendour with almost indecent generosity. If I can get into the country, up a mountain, or to the sea, I always find it deeply restorative. If you can't get into the country, then half an hour lying under a cherry tree and letting it shower you with blossom would be almost as good. (And nature doesn't mind if you cry at it.)

Andy Goldsworthy is wonderful.

Anonymous April 29, 2008 at 6:14 AM  

As sad as it is, it is still a good thing that you are able to say goodbye. Make the best of that time with him, hold his hand, and yes, by all means, let him know how he contributed to make your life very special.
As for keeping your spirits up, I suggest a beautiful reading that someone gave me when life was tough : Tuesdays with Morrie, which you might already know, but here it is : http://www.randomhouse.com/features/morrie/
Lots of love from afar.

Anonymous April 29, 2008 at 9:56 AM  

I am sorry that I haven't commented here yet. I am so terrible at grief and don't really know how to handle it so I didn't know what to say.

I think it's a great idea to write a letter to your grandfather and say anything and everything that you want to say.

I think it's also important to take really good care of yourself. Make sure you eat and eat well. Get lots of sleep, if you can. Sleep with really comfy blankets. Take long, hot baths. Spend time in silence not thinking about anything.

I'm sorry you have to go through this and I'm thinking of you and your family. Sending lots of love your way.

tangobaby April 29, 2008 at 11:36 AM  

Hello everyone,

I truly want to thank each and every one of you here, so please bear with me as obviously this is a very long reply! It made me so grateful to see all of you here.

Dear Red Shoes,

I'd love to know what those books are (I wonder if we share the same ones). I do that too. For me, my childhood book is A Wrinkle in Time.

And Gene Kelly always. Maybe we should watch some together?

I love you, too.

Hello Julochka,

Thank you for visiting my blog and thank you for your wise and lovely comment. I thought about what you wrote when I was there visiting, and I am happy to say that I did make him laugh.

I am working on a project to share with him and it should be done in a few days. I wanted to thank you for reaching out and sharing with me, and for the inspiration.

Hi TP,

As soon as you mentioned yoga, I started to feel calmer. I know exactly what you mean about being selfish. I don't think it's being selfish, it's more like conserving your energy.

And how did you know that I had just bought a yoga mat a couple of days before. You are a mind-reader, my friend.

Thank you for the electronic hugs. You are a dear man.

Dear Elizabeth,

I know you are thinking of me. Thank you for your support and wisdom.


Dear Caroline,

First, I want to wish your father a successful surgery and quick recovery. I hope that everything goes perfectly for you and your family.

Thank you for your honest and heartfelt comment. I read it several times and even though the thought of what you said was scary to me at first, I have already started on a project with what you said in mind. It should be finished in a few days and I will give it to him, with the letter that you inspired.

Thank you for the gift of your story and your wisdom. It was put to good use and I appreciate that you shared this with me.

Dear La Tangeurita,

Just your writing a comment is a help to me. It actually means a great deal.

Thank you for the link to that very interesting site. I will be sure to look it over more in depth soon.

Dear dutchbaby,

Your words are like sunshine, and I might not be able to say exactly what you told me, but I will try.

Thank you.

Dear Ms. Wellspring,

I think a date with you sounds like a perfect option, whether I am happy or sad or anyplace in between.

I think I like the tree idea best.

Dear Johanna,

Of course, I can always count on you for such good counsel. I know you understand exactly. I'm so glad/relieved/grateful you've got my back...

Dear Ms. Hedgehog,

I think Jack Aubrey would definitely help me go to another place for a while! What a great suggestion.

And that hug was exceptionally welcome.

(((((Ms. Hedgehog))))

Dear FogBay,

Your story to me was a tangible thing. Every word was helpful, even though it made me so sad for your loss.

I am so glad you wanted to share it with me, and I will try to emulate you and use your experience to help me and my family.

Thank you.

Dear b,

My bed already is a place of escape, although living in the fog belt keeps me from opening the windows. But I have a puffy down comforter, nice pillows and some good books and a candle. Thank you for reminding me that the little things make a big difference, too.

Hi Modern Tanguera,

Yes, tea and the wit of the BBC can never fail me. Although my choices are either Michael Palin's travel adventures or The Office, I think you and I are on the same page.

Luckily my family is close enough by car or phone so I have them, although somehow I find it hard to talk on the phone about things like this. I am not a good phone person, so it's my problem not theirs.

Thank you for offering your advice and I'm glad to hear from you.

Hi j,

Just seeing you makes me smile. I would love to hear your music and would be very happy to have a copy of your CD when you have time.

Dear Relyn,

Your comment is just as real and helpful as if you were sitting beside me and telling me all of this. I promise to do all of the things you've suggested and will feel you are with me.

Thank you for your sweetness.

Dear Alex,

Just your being here is wonderful. And you're right--I will put myself in his shoes and see that I make these visits as worthy as I can.

Thank you for your thoughts and wishes.

Dear Katie,

I know, memories are beautiful and painful, but it's painful part I'm not so hot with. I guess I am going to stop wishing that I'll grow up and be better because that doesn't seem to be happening.

Dear Eva,

Thank you for checking in with me. I hope you are well. It sounds like I need to find me a puppy and take him to Golden Gate Park.

Thank you for your thoughts and wishes.

Dear La Tanguera,

Will you come out here and let me borrow your cat? I'll share my ice cream with you.

And thank you for the hug. ;-)

Dear Miss Tango,

It made me so sad to think of you and little Isa singing and not having your grandma with you. I know she would be so proud of you and love that beautiful little girl so much.

Hugs to you and the baby.

Dear Paris Parfait,

I know you are right, but somehow the other things that have happened to me pale in comparison to this, because this is it. It's so final. But I'm really trying and having friends like you out there make things a lot better for me. I can't wait to see you.

Dear TheElementary,

Volunteering is a wonderful idea! Thank you. I really mean it, that gives me a lot of food for thought and I really think you have some great advice there.

It seems a little hectic now, but I can see me doing something when things settle down a little with my grandpa.

Dear Octavine,

Wow, wow. That place in Berkeley sounds incredible. I must go there and see it. And it's funny that you mentioned the Legion of Honor because it is so beautiful and I have been planning to see the Annie Leibowitz exhibition there, so you have reminded me to get over there--it being only 10 minutes away from my house.

Thank you for the Busby Berkeley (of course you knew I would love that) and the wishes and thoughts. You are so sweet.

Dear Psyche,

The cherry blossoms are almost done flowering in the park, but there is an Andy Goldsworthy installation in the front of the de Young museum, so I will walk over there and see it again.

I'm glad we both share an admiration of him, too.

Dear Tassili,

Thank you--you are right. It is a good thing, and how sorry I would be if I lived far away and could not see him.

I have not read that book yet. I have wanted to but kept putting it back on the shelf. I will get it on your recommendation.

Thank you for the special love from where you are.

Dear Tina,

Don't be sorry. But thank you for commenting. I am like you--what can be said? I know exactly what you mean.

When I see your name, I can't help but light up inside and think of your adventures and the exciting times ahead for you. You make me feel better just by doing and being you and sharing your stories with us.