Friday, November 14, 2008

350. Sketch Notes from the Passing of My Grandfather, John Ray Minnich, Age 96. Part II

(I started writing this about an hour before my grandfather’s passing).

Today is a day of Loss. And through the medium of Loss, by pure accidental opportunity meeting a prepared mind, or perhaps two prepared minds meeting in somewhat random circumstance, I have gained a new Love.

As I am writing these here words, it is the last moments of my grandfather’s life. Ray is currently in an intensive-care resting home in Long Beach, California, near by Saint Mary’s Memorial Hospital. My father and sister are there right now. I would be there right now, but it would be impractical for my 5-6-hour round trip drive when I am awaiting for a 10am class tomorrow morning. I refuse to miss any of Dr. Sam Sweet’s lectures. I know Ray would be pissed off if I did, had he been healthy and well right now. My grandfather is currently drowning in his own fluids within his lungs. He engorged in his own blood and phlegm, invaded with a soup of bacteria. I suppose an ephemeral woohoo for the bacteria, but a horrid road for my grandfather. He has low blood pressure: 70/40 (though stabilized). His pulse has been 140 beats per minute since last Saturday, when they started giving him a horrendous cocktail of antibiotics. My heart goes up that high after a long jog or intense bout of tennis or badminton. My sister, Jenny, inquired me in a dire, sarcastic tone: “How would you like to chronically jog nonstop for a week?” Uhhh, no. Ray, 96 years old, perhaps had run his body into 5 or 6 bouts of 26-mile marathons, given the pumping of his heart. As of now, either he drowns in his own fluids or his heart fails from a heart attack. He is obviously struggling to breathe. Two minutes without oxygen, you’re gone. I bet the mass accumulation of specialized and generalist cells in his body are all flipping out and gasping for existence. Does the entire body shut down right away, or are there still small islands of life remaining in the body for a little while? Is there some electrical charge that blew in the brain?

Dxmmit. No Darwin Award here for being killed by a hummingbird flying into your eye or a giant saw whamming into your car window while driving on the freeway. The small things get my grandfather in the end. As if a shifting baseline of gradual decay has mounted to some form of brutal extreme event of tragic dysfunction of parts of a once synchronistic and strong whole. All I can see with the weakening form of my grandfather is a Star Trek Spaceship calling out Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, awaiting it’s inevitable collision with a planet or another ship. Or as one graduate student described the modern human-environmental condition for Planet Earth as the Titanic about to crash into a massive iceberg.

And such is the condition of my grandfather. There is no way out of death. There is no way to cheat or bypass death. There is no Plan B. But then, the Plan B of evolution is living family: my grandfather’s brothers and their families, my father, my sister, my mother (in-law), my two cousins… and their kids…. Wow, my grandfather is a “great grandfather”…. It may be the passing of my grandfather, but in the end, he fulfilled the duty and “fitness” of evolution such that he was able to pass on a rehash of his genes into the next generation, with some pretty impressive results—at the moment. I know I inherited quite a bit from him, whether genetic or environmental. A high energy budget, the value of brains—whether intelligence took form of gee-wiz fun facts or abstract problem-solving. A stubbornness and meticulousness. A sticking to fundamental principles and values… no matter what. But heck, this is an essay on its own, I will touch upon later.

Knowing Death is Knowing Life. Knowing Life is Knowing Death.
Being trained by evolutionary biologists and geologists, I suppose we have rather strange, bizarre, yet “ultimate” views of life and death. We go from individual births and deaths, to births and deaths of societies, all the way expanded to mass extinctions and adaptive radiations. Talk about scale. But again, this is another essay to talk about.

For example, how do people define the “cause of death” when it ultimately ends up being a conditional chain reaction of events in space and time?

All I can say, whatever is happening now, represents about .05% of my grandfather’s existence in his long life. My grandfather is in fetal condition during two times of his life: (1) now, age 96 (2) when he was born, 1912. That’s it. The rest of the time, he was an extremely intelligent, strong, independent-minded individual who understood the landscapes, contributed to the community, and raised a strong family.

It seems like the Last Bout of Medical Care ends up being some form of Mind-numbing Protocol of Medieval Brutality. My grandfather Ray deteriorated from the use of heavy antibiotics, not from the early stages of pneumonia. They should have just given him amoxicillin. Apparently my grandmother Marion went out in a more “painful way.” My mother claims that she was “awake” and “convulsing” the entire time. I had a flashback to my good friend Lauri’s partner Claudia (who used to work in a nursing facility), who mentioned that people don’t croak instantly, but ultimately takes days for the different organs and parts to shut down. And they’re just kinda laying there, convulsing as their form starts to shut down. My grandmother had been largely a vegetable the last year or so before her passing, so claiming that she was awake, measured by here “eyes wide open” doesn’t mean much to me. I remain quite skeptic of her “level of consciousness.” Even though Ray right now may have his eyes closed—though he opened them once yesterday to acknowledge my presence—I have a notion that Ray is much more conscious of what is going on now than what Marion went through. After seeing what I saw yesterday, I honestly think that Going Out by Car Crash seems more glamorously painless than this.

My mother also explained to me in my grandmother Kiki’s Last Bout of Medical Care, she essentially did not pass from cancer, but her form stopped functioning due to the pain induced from the forced-in feeding tube. Mama said (pardon my lack of consistency) that Kiki’s skin around her face looked like fried meat. Mama claimed that Kiki died a painful death, and that people attempted to “put make up” all over her face, but you could see the remaining facial expression telling another more gruesome story otherwise. But then again, how do we define happy or a sad facial expression. Being worn on a body that is no longer moving? Come on, Mama! That’s a value judgment. Kiki had no control of that facial expression. I’m sorry.

Hospitals are Mass Production Factories of Life and Death. Patients are part of the assembly line. Doctors and nurses don’t see you as a human. They don’t have the capacity to when they see a few hundred humans every single day. You’re a number. You’re a statistic. You’re a “next,” “next,” “next.” They mindlessly plunge oxygen tubes down your nose and shove feeding tubes in your stomach. I don’t know what My Fate shall be. It’s not a matter of “if” it’s more so “when and where and how.” The “how” part will most certainly not factor in the Mass Production Assembly Line of hospital treatment. But I have a long to-do list before that happens. The longer I live, the longer I see a value in keeping my genes in the gene pool. I might engage in an egg-donor situation. I can’t take care of kids. Dogs. Plants. Caterpillars. Nada. I can barely take care of myself. My very own mind!

It’s as if Ray’s form, skinny-stick form, a relict of my own anorexia, pale-white, as if he were some living ghost of a body of a Jew from the Holocaust. I suppose it’s a horrid analogy, for our family is not Jew-affiliated (though I have many Jewish friends), but my grandfather was a researcher for Shell Chemical during World War II, and I am sure he was indirectly involved in saving many people’s lives (at least from the Non-Nazi side).

I talked to my father on the phone today for quite a bit. I will have to call T-Mobile and ask them for a Grace Period this month due to the death of my grandfather. Besides my bxtching and griping about a challenging meeting with one of my advisors, which led to my elaborated encounters with two other very solid-minded professors… my father started making a long-to-do list in concern of “what shall happen.” He informed me that only the immediate family knows about what is going on, and apparently there was already a Game Plan in action in terms of “who will call who” as soon as the Event occurs. Uncle Dwight will inform his lineage of the family. My father will call Ray’s close friends: neighbor across the street and peanocle friends at the park. I suppose my father will also call Uncle Bob (retired Anthropologist in Norway) and Judy (in San Diego), and the other lines of the family, like Chuck’s side. Apparently two weeks ago Ray pointed out to my father (now Bub) the place where Marion was cremated, and that he should do the same with his form. I just found out today that my grandmother’s ashes were distributed into the ocean.

Wow, my grandmother is part of the chemical soup of the ocean. Maybe she’s incorporated proteins in some phytoplankton or zooplankton. Maybe some of her chemicals are now part of some shark or a Blue Whale. Marion’s diffuse components are circulating in this vast, global swimming pool. She liked the ocean much more than the mountains, though Ray and Bub would have preferred her placement under a pine tree at the Cabin of Manker Flats of Mount Baldy (same here), Ray did a private ceremony and released her ashes into the currents of the ocean breeze and water.

To resume my father’s to-do list, he made a decision to do a personal ceremony of placing my grandfather’s ashes underneath a sugar tree behind the Cabin. Uncle Ralph’s up there to, by a Ponderosa pine. I guess I’m going to have a lot of my family living up there, incorporated into Tree Biomass of the San Gabriel Mountains. Well, at least trees live for a long time. It’s a more concrete system than an ocean. Talk about some epic form of Ecological Reincarnation. Geodegradeable: it all recycles in the end. Who knows? Maybe some of my body used to be part of some T rex body a few million years ago. I suppose life recycles its chemistry parts through time. I think my dad and I want to be in part birds, but I know for sure we will both go to Visit Hxll and have an Epic Conversation with Mark Twain at a bar, over home-made beer.

I’m not even being religious. I’m being tangible about these thoughts. Kyle asked me if I were religious. I said no. Then I asked, “Are you?” Kyle said no. I said, “As a scientist, it’s best to say ‘I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.’ That’s what Dr. Schneider from Stanford got away with saying and it was well received by an entire room of journalists at an international science conference.

The other thing that my father will do is hold a Memorial service (hopefully after all this Holiday-ing) and that he will inform the newspaper of Ray’s passing. At first Bub was hesitant, and I said, “No, it’s not right. Ray contributed a lot to the community of Long Beach. You have an obligation to inform the newspaper of his passing.”

For a moment today, I thought about the Illusion of Fame, and if I ever had a conversation with Dr. Sam Sweet, I would tell him that if I croaked right now, I bet there are only about five humans on this planet who would ever bat an eye or even alter their step from their pre-existing pathway.

Sometimes I hate being a human. As if we were some form of accidental hyper-creative byproduct of evolution, and sometimes I think it does no good for anything for me to think about my thinking—though I have a notorious tendency to do so. It can be self-defeating sometimes.

Depending on how optimistic or pessimistic people are, I think humans will remember “the last good day” rather than the last bad. Last bad days are inevitable to happen, but you can frame your mind to hierarchize your memories and recall the disproportional number of good days.

So, in strange, twisted ways, a Day of Loss has led to a Day of Found… of Love. Yes, “love.” The word that I rarely use. I witnessed Ray Bradbury speak of how his relationships of love ultimately fostered and was the foundation of his writing. “The key to writing is love,” if only they could sell that as a bumper sticker, *sigh.*

Love takes various mysterious forms, sizes and shapes and colors and textures. The Hollywood standard definition of Love for a tall female in her twenties predictably takes the form of an even taller, young, athletic, handsome male. But Love is more so a state of Reality, a Beautiful Bower of the mind that can be constructed independent from True Reality. Love is an Adventure of Magnanimous Proportions that has no creative and intellectual and physical boundaries. And given this definition that is far beyond the housing of a physical body, I do indeed state amidst the Chaos of Loss, I have found Love.

You will never know when you will find Love, but you will know you will have found it within a few minutes, within an hour—within a lengthy two hour conversation—sealed by the warmth and firmness of a handshake that embodied Trust and Growth, but so firm that it could potentially symbolize a helping hand to (Academic) Survival in times of falling. I don’t mean to sound superstitious or endorse “smoking gun reasoning” or anything, but Claudia Carbonell, an instructor at Barbizon in Los Angeles, once told me that you can tell the condition of Love by the mere first shake of a hand. All I can say is that meeting Love and a Penetration and Syncing and Aligning of Cognitive Maps of souls yesterday—this finding of connection, communication, meaning, in all spectrums—made all the worth of the pain of meeting 200 people the last three months, in which only each person would give me a piece, a fragment of the larger puzzle of my mind.

A sour meeting with one professor led to the discovery of two different professors (my grandfather Ray wants me to resume my academic life!), to which one—seemed to be the beginning of an Academic Adventure I would have never dreamt of otherwise. A mind can be another world, an epic, beautiful journey—all contained within one brain?

It’s funny to think that sometimes asking REALLY STUPID QUESTIONS can actually get you somewhere. Like, why do humans artificially select the cute fuzz-balls to conserve rather than the slime molds? Why do I have fear of velociraptors? Like, why do I need to eat? Back in the days of physical manifestation of anorexia, this stupid question was no laughing matter. Somehow in this day of age, the really stupid questions seem to have become really profound.

No comments: