Life and Death in the Family Tree: Beauty in Design.
As the moon balanced light and shadow in its fourth quarter, my grandmother died, yielding the illumination of her final phase of life.
I’ve been preparing for this. I’ve anticipated devastation, extreme pain and sadness, but what I feel is more like relief. Knowing her, I was aware that one of her greatest fears was losing control. Losing the autonomy of an ordered, balanced life full of harmony and disciplined enjoyment.
Her last years were spent outside the realm of her conscious control, an area she was never really comfortable with.
Her world was a simple, arranged one, her rituals infused with care and meaning within the social and familial sphere — the cleanly sliced apples to be set into the perfectly pinched rounds of pie crust, the dependably crispy mantle containing juicy succulence in her Cornflake Chicken.
Her recipes were born of the practical marriage between Americana and familial tradition, which contained the resonant halves of her life.
She gracefully spanned ancestral and American customs, her pink hands dusted in flour and adorned only with a careworn gold band on her wedding finger seemed to cradle both in holy union. The kitchen when she cooked was always warmly lit, a wallpapered meadow of daffodils in perpetual bloom beside her.
Funnily, you could engage her in more outlandish topics when she baked or cooked, as if the talismans of social prescription allowed her more adventurous freedom in discussion. She was a Libra, when I’d mention this to her she might chortle indulgently or scoff softly, depending on how perfectly the pies were progressing.
The hardest part of her final years for me was the loss of this mental sphere of hers — in the world ruled by emotion that was my early life, she was a bastion of calm mental rulership. The mind was the ever vigilant and appropriate steward of the emotive. Emotions were invited, and stayed for tastefully appointed visits.
The sometimes chaotic feelings that could usurp moments in my early life were unknown in that field of dainty daffodils.
So many of my ideals were informed by my grandmother that now I can see her as the face of social benevolence in my mind. I have so often balked at social restriction and expectation, but she illumined the grace and exquisiteness of performing socially with ease — the consonance and loveliness found in being in concert with others following the mutually agreed upon music.
To this day, if I’ve managed to be both in disagreement and gracious engagement, I think of her and how pleased she’d be.
She had an eye for the understated elegance in design, the aspects that supported without attracting undue attention, successful in its subtlety.
I was ready to be wrought into devastation, but in this moment I feel renewed.
I no longer carry the heaviness of knowing that the most mentally methodical part of my family tree is bound in sterile mechanization beyond her influence. Caught in an Old Age Home and lost in confusion and the dull pull of an unknowable malaise, not being able to calibrate her own world, her own mind.
The most clear-eyed matriarch of my line didn’t know who was on the other end of hers when I’d call in the last years.
When her tremulous voice flickered waveringly, I found myself steeling myself and projecting a person more clear and collected than I felt. I realized that the roles had reversed, and I was reassuring a loved one who was confused and unsure of what was to come. It was so strange and sad and gloriously, beautifully symmetrical.
I saw that she taught me to do that, to recognize beauty even when it hurts, to appreciate the design.
We’ve all had a half of ourselves contained by the structure of our grandmothers, housed in their supportive frame. This isn’t a flowery fabrication, but fact, as our mother’s eggs were formed while she was still within our grandmother’s womb.
To me this is resonant as in my upbringing, it was the maternal side that ruled hearth and home: it was the matrix of matriarchal roots that I could feel the pulse of.
I’ve felt a lifting sensation, as older life in the family tree has cleared, giving way to newer energy — the germinating seedling nourished by the breakdown of former forms.
I feel a clearing, the slower rhythms in the music have faded, allowing a more vital vibration in my awareness to take over the dull thud of sadness, guilt and worry.
It enables me to find to an appreciation of all that came before that gave structure, security and sustenance.
A figure that’s been coming up for me in dream and reflection has been that of Orpheus, the man in myth who journeyed to the underworld to save a woman he loved from death. It’s sprung up with such clarity that I couldn’t ignore it, though I felt regret and sadness when I let my mind stay with it.
I’ve begun to unspool its multi-faceted meaning in my life. Though I’ve felt tormented by it, I’ve started to accept it. Not as a literal rescue of a woman from death, but of the conserving of an aspect of myself.
The protection of an inner feminine quality that carries within it the seed of my female ancestors.
This aspect is a different type of feminine energy than the kind that feels instinctive to me, that intuitive influence which seems to evoke more primal energy in others.
This is a more reserved, socially sanctioned feminine aspect, one that I sense supporting from the periphery of my mind, clear-eyed and compassionate without being overwhelmed by the emotions of others. A lens that can look outwardly into society and see a part to play in the overall, collective harmony.
In this way, I think I can embody an aspect of my grandmother in an integral and invigorated way, preserving a part of her to express with tonal balance, just as she did for me.
Maren Zweifler enjoys teaching Yoga with a focus on free movement and intrinsic shapes, emphasizing spinal fluidity and innate, primal posture. Deeply inspired by movement systems that embrace nature like Sridaiva and Continuum Movement. He completed a 500-hour certification in SF and has taught both there and in Austin where he honed his skills teaching private classes tailored to the individual needs of his clients. He created a wellness/yoga program at a non-profit. These experiences allowed him to explore both the unique individuation of the physical experience in one-on-one sessions, and the commonalities of the human form that can be witnessed in large groups. You could connect with Maren on Instagram.