On Toni Morrison and My Grandmother

There are so many thoughts swirling in my head upon hearing of the death of Toni Morrison. Her publisher tweeted this quote of hers: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

What does this mean Ms. Morrison?!

Does it mean since we know our lives are finite, they have more value to us? Does it mean death is the point?

And what about the language part? Does it mean the words we speak and write demonstrate who we are?

I’m still mulling this over and probably will be for some time.

My grandmother died at 84. Ms. Morrison died at 88. Many people told me my grandmother lived a long life. Ms. Morrison’s family said the same thing about her today. My grandmother’s life doesn’t seem that long to me. Don’t get me wrong, I know she lived a lot longer than many people. But by contrast, John McCain’s mother is still alive. There was a woman in the church I grew up in who lived to be 106.

106. That would’ve been 22 more years with my grandmother. I would’ve been 56 when she died. That wouldn’t’ve made it any easier. My aunt and uncles were just as devastated by my grandmother’s death as I was. As my aunt said, it’s because “she was everything to us.”

Yesterday I learned about the Kaddish prayer in Judaism from an episode of This American Life. It was described as a prayer said on the anniversary of the death of a loved one in which God is praised. Wikipedia says “[m]ourners say Kaddish to show that despite the loss they still praise God.” For my Jewish readers, if anything I’ve said here is incorrect, please, please correct me in the comments.

This sentence from Wikipedia struck me because when my grandmother died, all I did was scream at God. “How could you take her from me?!” I yelled. Two years in, and after discovering the Kaddish, I wonder, what if God showed God’s greatness by “taking” my grandmother? My grandmother had dementia. In the last three years of her life, she never recognized me once. When she did have moments of clarity, she may have thought she didn’t want to live that way: not recognizing her grandchildren, sometimes even her children.

Maybe the death of my grandmother is actually a display of God’s grace. My grandmother had done her job on this earth: she’d lived a pious life and raised her children, and grandchild, well. So God ended her suffering. I’m not completely committed to this idea, but I’m leaning towards it. I don’t have any answers, just a lot of questions. And for now, that’s OK.

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