One Grandson’s Tribute
by Keith Telfeyan
Grandma Elida died yesterday, Friday, March 29, 2019. Dad texted after trying to call me. I was in a loud Berlin bar, midnight, drinking with friends. I felt jubilant, a bit sedate as I read the text. It shook me more than I anticipated. I can’t say I was shocked, but a shiver nonetheless consumed me. My heart skipped a bit. A sadness loomed. I thought how I could leave that bar, but the specific context was too tricky. It was similar for dad, who had to go teach a class. Death isn’t convenient, to say the least.
She died in a hospital bed, in questionable comfort. It hurts me to imagine the suffering: accumulations of minor troubles all piled up like sand, the anxiety of the unknown, the fear of the end, the pain of gasping breath, lungs too weak to fill, blood lacking oxygen, the mind racing. Ominous death has held like a cloud over Elida off and on for some time now, her health a slow march to the inevitable. I like to think of the respites, the bits of joy and pleasantness, that capacity for human cognition that she held onto, and I like to think of the burdens she no longer carries, the suffering that death lets slip away.
Because death is such a dreadful thing. Diseases coursing through the human body, ambient bacteria settling, the hell of bugs, billions of microscopic cells at war, the collapsing integrity of organs, one after another. Life at such a stage is terrifying. It disturbs me to imagine, and to think that it happens to loved ones, and one day: me. All we can ask for is for it be easy. For life to slip out the door gently.
I’m sad she wasn’t at home – the home she’s inhabited so stalwartly. I seek solace in the idea that a hospital – so full of uniformed strangers toiling about, fluorescent lighting – might have provided the best of modern opiates and barbiturates. Drugs are freedom for the oppressed body and mind.
Meanwhile, I drank beer. I confided in my friends, tried to articulate my feelings. I was unable to reach my dad before going to bed in Europe at 3am; I just sent him incomplete texts, struggling for words that befit the situation, whatever those could be. I slept oddly. I dreamed of death. Chloe called me at 9:50; I was tossing and turning. We spoke of grief, of some logistics, of time and space and how she wished she was in New York with the family, and how strange it is that she is in Armenia.
Armenia, of all places… Armenia: the ancient land from which our family tree has grown, sort of. Armenia: the old world that Elida represented, but never actually belonged to. Armenia, abstracted: the idea, the heritage, the human family. Armenia: moved around, shifted, landlocked, embargoed, confined, ignored. Armenia: victim, oppressed, the cross carried through the trials of life. Armenia: escape, a constant search for a better existence. Soul: heavy, weighted, ever-present, in the heart and in the eyes.
In death, there’s something of a passing of more than an individual life. There’s the loss of a bridge to the past, the disappearance of a generation. Elida was the last of my grandparents, the last of an era. She persevered deep into her 90s, deep into the 21st century after a strong and mighty 20th century life. She was part of the greatest generation; her husband – my grandpa Sarkis – a physician who served in World War II. Their home outside of Queens, Long Island, a classic Americana vision. Their legacy has dominated, persists. Elida made this.
Elida was a great-grandmother. My cousin Brad has kids. The rest of us four – the borderline millennial children of the her baby boomer progeny – are childless. Uncle Bruce is the grandparent. I wonder about lineage, about life begetting life, about the future and the present. It’s 2019. Time passes. The drama of intertwined lives unfolds like raindrops on a window. Water condenses, collects.
Life is like that. From womb to tomb, an individual existence appears linear, ambling and crashing its way through the world. But seen from a distance, as a collective, it’s cyclical, somehow. Earth rotates as it floats through space, its poles breathe ice, the seasons change. A leaf buds from an empty branch, grows green, breathes in its surroundings, the light of the immense sky, the warming glow of our star, the sun magnificent in its boundless energy, feeding it, and then clouds gather, cold snaps, the leaf reacts in hues of orange, color fades. It falls gently to the ground, back to the soil from whence it came.
Elida was an especially full, large leaf from the tree of life. She was bountiful, a mountain, really. She rose high, earthy, rocky, layers and layers of sediment. She provided a footstep, a peak, a trail-blazed hike for others to climb. She made shade. Wind blew around her. She created weather. She was a force of nature. In death, we feel her wake. There is a space now, a giant hole, a volcano. We are survivors of an eruption, left to sift through the cooling lava, the soot still settling from the air. We breathe it in with dirty hands.
And I think of life, what remains. The labor, and what we make of it. The dead give us immense pause… a ponderance too much to fathom, really. We honor it, remember the life that once inhabited a now still body – the moments and decades of decisions and memories. We’re still here, alive, kicking. Blood courses through our veins. The blood we share. The life we embody together, the spirit of Elida in us, moving us forward, through her passing.