My Grandfather Died

March 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm (Death and Dying, Spiritual) (, , , , )

In a way, the title says it all. Wilbur Fischbeck, my maternal grandfather, passed away on Wednesday morning around 2am. He was 86 years old and had been battling several attacks on his health, the most notable being advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

He and I weren’t particularly close. He was a fine grandfather, don’t get me wrong. He was cheerful and interactive, welcoming and friendly. As I grew from childhood to adulthood, it became clear in very subtle ways that he didn’t approve of my less-than-heteronormative life. I don’t remember him outright saying anything about it, but he just didn’t say anything at all. I get this sense from my cousins – who are, at least from the outside, your stereotypical heteronormative adults who got married and had kids and live in the suburbs and have “real” jobs – that he was much closer with them and their children. I did visit him from time to time, and tried to make conversation with him, but I had the same problems with him that I do with anyone from “Mundania” – I can’t talk about my relationships, or my vocation, or what I do for fun, or my politics or religion, or even things I consider to be achievements. All of it comes from me being kinky, queer, trans, poly, liberal, etc.

He fought in WWII in the navy as a spotter and a fireman. It makes me proud that there are relatives of mine who served in the armed forces – my half-brother was also a Navy man, and later on went into the Reserves and served several times overseas – because I believe any kind of service that comes from your heart and your dedication to mores and ethics is honorable. I don’t care if you serve the country, or the laity, or a disabled dominant, or an aging parent; all service given freely is honorable.

He wasn’t a boisterous kind of guy, at least not around me. We played dominoes a lot. In fact, I am going to buy a set of dominoes for him for my altar, as I feel sort of weird asking my grandmother for an artifact of his for that purpose. He loved playing games, and he wanted you always to play to win; he won a lot.

A lot of my personal thinking and feeling surrounding his death is on a bigger scale. This is the third family member that has died (my father died in 2008, my great-grandmother died in 2000) that I am not very sad about. With my father, it made sense to me; he and I were basically estranged by the time he died, and our relationship had almost never been good. My great-grandmother I didn’t know very well and I had very limited contact with.

I’m just not that close to my birth family. It wasn’t something that was a big deal in my home growing up, this sense that Family Is Important. My family was tumultuous and dysfunctional on a pretty big scale, and there was never any sense that we were a “team” or a “unit”; it always felt more like we were a bunch of strangers thrown into a house together and told to duke it out as best we could (a great reality show these days). My mother has tried, especially in the last ten years, to create some sort of family cohesion amongst my nuclear family, but most of the time I feel like our attitude is “too little, too late”. We don’t live near each other, we don’t have any holiday traditions in common anymore (my mother is Baha’i, my sister and I are pagan, and my brother is some form of Buddhist, last I remember), so other than American holidays like Thanksgiving or Fourth of July, we don’t have any innate urge to get together. I visit my sister and mom (who live together with my sister’s fiancee Mike) once a year, usually around December. When I think about it, that’s very silly, since they live in NY and there’s usually snow to contend with.

You’re going to think I’m odd (too late) but I keep waiting to have this cathartic death experience. When I find out someone is dead and it just rends me. I was sad when my father died, and it took a while for the news to sink in, but overall I was able to process that and move on in about a day. I know some people who, when someone in their family dies, are still grieving about it six months, a year, two years later. I don’t know if it’s my casual relationship with death, my knowledge that I can contact dead people if I really want to, the lack of intimacy with those I know who have died, or what, but the last time someone died and I got really upset about it was a friend who died from AIDS back in 1995. And even then, he was more of a casual acquaintance.

So I went to my grandfather’s funeral. It was strange. Everyone seemed happy I could make it (we had to find a ride because Ninja can’t drive for another two months), but there was a palpable awkwardness to it all. I hadn’t visited Grandpa in the VA Hospice, because I didn’t want to spend time with someone I didn’t feel intimately toward when there was a really good chance he wouldn’t know who I was, anyway. The positive part of the funeral was seeing my niece, who has grown up too fast and now has a pink streak in her hair and watches Anime. Seeing my cousin’s children (are they my second cousins? I never understood how that worked) was also enlightening. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a gathering of my maternal family. (I have never met anyone related to my father except for my half-brother. Well, okay, I met my paternal grandfather when I was <1, but I don't remember it.)

I feel like a good death shaman (even a half-assed one like me) should have something profound or interesting to say on the passing of someone related to him, but I don't. He was old, he was sick for a long time, and I'm happy he's no longer struggling or suffering. I'm sad that my grandmother is alone; I worry that she will go batty without someone to care for. She went from caring for my great-grandmother (her mother), to my mother (until my mom moved in with my sister), to her spouse. Now she's at odds in an empty house. I almost want to buy her a gift certificate to Harrington, where she likes to play the slots. I see a lot of slot playing in her future.

I'll still honor Grandpa at Samhain this year, and I'll buy those dominoes for my death altar, but I can't shake this sense that I'm missing something about this whole death thing that other people find highly emotional.



  1. Blue said,

    I have your artifact of his

  2. Ninja said,

    They say that the greatest Mitvah that you can do for another living being, is to bury them. Because it is an act that they will never be able to repay.

  3. Evil Voodoo Celt said,

    “He was old, he was sick for a long time, and I’m happy he’s no longer struggling or suffering. ”

    Sometimes that is all you *can* say, to sum things up at least. But I think your reminisces above are a proper honoring in their own way. They are honest and genuine.

    “I almost want to buy her a gift certificate to Harrington, where she likes to play the slots.”

    Why not? It sounds like it would be a loving gift…

    Oh, and hi. I just figured out that you had a blog (typical of me)… sorry I’ve been out of touch. Really do need to find a way to touch base with you sometime.

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