My grandmother passed away this past weekend. At 94 years old, she was the remaining matriarch of my mom’s side of the family. She lost the last vestiges of her independence after suffering a broken hip in November, and spent the last 8 months in transitional care and then a nursing facility. As she became more frail with age, her body began its all-too-natural process of shutting down, and on Friday, June 26th, 2020, Marian Hoffman died.
Unfortunately, we knew that this was the reality we would have to face all along, but we were powerless to stop it. She had been living by herself in her multi-story house since my grandpa died 8 years ago. Being most comfortable at home, she had no desire to move into an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Combining her relative solitude with the fact that she struggled to see and hear made her daily life a significant hazard. After she suffered a fall on a staircase in New York and broke her hip, going back home was no longer an option so she was forced to move into a nursing facility.
By the time she had recovered from her injury and was settled into the nursing home, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Given that nursing facilities are particularly at risk, quarantine practices prevented any visitors from entering her facility.
As her health declined this year, she had to endure her suffering alone. Knowing a loved one is dying is difficult enough, but to add social isolation to the situation makes it even harder to cope with such a cruel reality.
This tragic scenario has now become quite common for my grandma’s entire generation. Perhaps, however, this is the final lesson to be learned from a group of people that had so much to teach us.
My grandma was one of an entire generation of people that endured some of the worst things life could throw at them. A generation that survived the scarcity of the Great Depression, the atrocities of World War II, and the fear and anxiety of the Cold War. And yet, they continued to live their lives while it seemed like the world was tearing itself apart.
It’s inconceivable that anyone could live through all of that without internalizing the idea that life is suffering. They knew that the world is rife with tragedy and that nothing is guaranteed. Instead of seeking protection, they sought meaning through family and faith, which gave them the strength to confront their suffering head on. When it comes to health issues like breast cancer or any other ailments it’s not just the patient but the whole family suffers.
Now, as the world’s pendulum rapidly swings back towards chaos, I see us lacking that same resolve. Somewhere along the way, we developed the idea that we’re entitled to happiness and comfort.
Like children, when we’re confronted with hardship we cry and stamp our feet with outrage over the unfairness of our existence. Rather than shouldering our burdens and working to ease the suffering around us, we place blame and demand that others fix the situation on our behalf.
Rather than accepting the personal responsibility to create a better future, we lash out in anger over the past. All traditions and stories are now under intense scrutiny. We arrogantly cast them aside so that they can be recreated in the image of our ideal.
Our own history – the history that was lived by our ancestors – shows us how to overcome adversity that we cannot even imagine. Instead of letting that history teach us how to properly strengthen ourselves, we destroy it with the foolish assertion that adversity itself is tantamount to undue oppression and should not be acknowledged. We do this at our own peril.
If there’s anything to be learned from this waning generation, it’s that hardship and tragedy are an immutable component of life itself. But, the establishment of a proper value structure can give us the strength needed to confront the world and all of its suffering.
Their history, and the history of everyone that came before them, demonstrates that if an individual pursues genuine meaning in their life, then nothing can crush their will to move forward. In fact, the only thing that can cause an individual to self-destruct is the oppressive nihilism of their own creation.
I choose to remember my grandma as a force of will. I remember her as someone who cherished her family and her faith, and strived to ease the suffering around her. She recognized that resilience is manifested at the level of the individual, and sought to demonstrate that every day. She will be missed. Rest in peace, Grandma.