Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘death

Tearful visits

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An unexpected side-effect of my visits to Sweden was a mixture of sorrow and nostalgia that had me on the verge of tears for most of the first few days in Kopparberg.

The largest reason was the respective deaths of my maternal grand-mother (2012) and mother (2017): This was my first visit to Kopparberg in a good many years and seeing their graves for the first time made their deaths real in a different manner. The effect and the feeling are hard to put in words, but imagine knowing that -X degrees is cold and then actually being exposed to -X degrees.

Moreover, seeing old places and things stirred up a great many memories of the two, some of which had not entered my mind this side of my move to Germany in 1997 (or even earlier). I did spend a fair amount of time thinking about them and our past history after their respective deaths, but memory is a tricky thing and there was so much that was simply not available without the right prompts. This especially when it came to older memories, from when I looked upon them as kind and caring figures through the eyes of a child, before the eyes of a teenager took over and turned them into annoying adults who just got in the way. (An unfortunate side-effect of my moving to Stockholm to study in 1994, and then to Germany, was a reduction in contacts, limiting my ability to look at them through an adult’s eyes and leaving the teenage view quite strong even twenty years later.)

Other deaths contributed too, especially as I went through old photos, including one or two that actually showed my parents and all four of my grand-parents at the same time—a meeting that must have been quite rare, as my paternal grand-father died when I was one or two years old and as all three families lived a good distance from each other. Of the six, only my father remains. (My maternal grand-father also died prematurely in 1982; my paternal grandmother more reasonably in 1994.) Then there were photos of Liza, the family dog, who had to be put down when I was a child, a cousin who died in his twenties, and his (also dead) father. (This not to mention a great number of less emotionally loaded dead people, e.g. a great-uncle that I had only ever met a handful of times.)

Then there were a lot of nostalgia and resurrection of memories in general (as opposed to those dealing with relatives). As the recurring reader knows, I have a weakness in this area and there were a great many triggers to process in a fairly short time. (See e.g. [1], [2] for some prior discussions.) This especially with an eye on the reason for my visits: My mother’s house was being sold, and I had to decide what of my childhood and teenage possessions I wanted to and realistically could bring back to Germany and what must ultimately be lost. Ditto remaining things from my mother and what she had kept from my maternal grand-parents. (More on this in a later text.)

Other areas of nostalgia and a feeling of loss were common, e.g. through what in the village had remained the same and what had changed over the years, including the closing of the school that I visited as a child, the one bookstore, and one of the two grocery stores (specifically, the one my mother and grand-mother always used). Generally, Kopparberg was quite small to begin with and has been heading downwards for decades—the current population is around three thousand.

In many ways, I had a few weeks to process emotions, make decisions, reach closure, etc. that others might have several decades for—as would I have had, had I remained in Sweden. (While I do not regret the move, especially as Sweden has been going downhill since then, I often wonder how my life would have turned out, had I stayed.)


Written by michaeleriksson

November 19, 2019 at 8:44 am

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Death of body builder Rich Piana / Follow-up: Reality disconnect

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Had I known one day ago what happened two days ago, I might have been far more specific:

This Friday, a body builder named Rich Piana died, after* suffering a heart attack, hitting his head falling, and spending several weeks in an induced coma.

*I have read several somewhat conflicting accounts today, including those speculating on opiate use and, obviously, the mandatory “steroid overdose”, but the claims above seem to be reasonably main stream, and I will stick to this scenario for now. Beware, however, that this need not be the exact truth of what happened.

Not only was he one of the people I had in mind when I wrote about the extremes some go to, having watched possibly two dozen of his videos, but I am also reasonably certain that he was the one with the insulin-injecting friend*—and his death is a perfect, if very sad, illustration of some of the problems involved when assigning blame:

*Sometimes the weirdest coincidences occur. I recall e.g. watching “Black Swan” the first time, being blown away, reading up a bit afterwards, and seeing a claim about Oscar-winner Natalie Portman. ???When the hell did she win an Oscar??? Mere hours earlier—for her part in … “Black Swan”.

  1. If drugs were involved in his death, they were so in an indirect manner. They might have caused or contributed to the heart attack, but the cause of death was likely brain related. (And if so, likely because of the blow to the head, possibly in combination with a deliberate decision to “turn off the machines”; remember that the modern criterion for death is the brain, not the heart.)
  2. Among the drugs most likely to have been the cause, we do not have steroids—but various forms of growth hormone. I definitely recall one video discussing how his hands, feet, gut, likely even head, had grown due to growth hormones—and that even he more-or-less took it for granted that his heart was affected too. In as far as steroids were involved, well, he apparently started taking them as a teenager and kept it up for several decades…
  3. The heart attack could have been caused by his eating habits, which included a daily pint of Ben and Jerry’s, tons of fast food, and up to twelve meals a day during some phases—eat like that and a heart attack at 46 is no surprise. At the same time, IIRC, he also used a “ketonic diet”, which effectively amounts to starving the body of carbohydrates, and causing its energy processing to change. I am not aware of any known health problems associated with this, but there is a decided possibility that such extremes have side-effects.
  4. He was a positively enormous, almost grotesquely large, man. Where some body builders have upper arms like other people have thighs, he had upper arms like other body builders (!) have thighs. Just carrying that amount of weight must have been an enormous stress on his heart (and knees, and whatnots).
  5. He was quite extreme in a number of other regards too; some, including endless hours spent in the gym, that could possibly have had some relevance; others, including tattoos, that almost certainly did not.

Those interested can find his YouTube account under https://www.youtube.com/user/1DAYUMAY/. Please beware that the possible first impression of “complete moron” is very far from the truth—on closer inspection, he was a fair bit above the average in terms of intelligence.

To boot, it seems that another body builder, Dallas McCarver, died earlier in the week, with speculation that an insulin over-dose was the cause. (To re-iterate: Insulin is indisputably very dangerous. Even for diabetics, it is merely a lesser evil.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 27, 2017 at 2:38 pm

My mother’s last funeral

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Today is the day of my mother’s last funeral.

While a funeral is how we all end, this feels very weird and somehow wrong. Not because she died or because she was my mother, but because officiating at funerals is one of the two things I associate most strongly with my mother (the other being “bringing flowers to old people”): She spent several decades as a priest* in the Church of Sweden, and in her small rural town, with its aging population, funerals outnumbered weddings and baptisms considerably.

*There was a lot more to the job than flowers and funerals, but some things simply come across in a more obvious manner to others, children in particular. Funerals also likely took more preparation than, say, baptisms, for the simple reason that is so much more important to say the right things and not say the wrong things. Much of this preparation was done at home.

It has been a long time since I had any major contact with her, mostly because my recollections of my childhood, school years, and family life in Kopparberg (for reasons that she could not control) were mostly negative, sometimes horrible. For my own peace of mind, I had an absolute need to distance myself from that world for a number of years and to build my own life, away from the past. A few attempts to re-connect per letter or email with my mother failed on our having too different interests, personalities, and opinions of how, to the point that contacts always felt like a chore to me, something more done out of duty than out of actual interest. On the rare occasion, we have likely all met someone who is a perfectly fine person, possibly someone loved by most others, but who just happens to be so incompatible with ourselves that interactions are hard or even annoying. In my case, very unfortunately, my mother was one of these rare people.*

*As with several points below, the details do not belong here. However, much of it was directly or indirectly caused by a clash between her extreme extroversion and my extreme introversion. Note that this is not to be confused with the “my parents are annoying/embarrassing/…” that most teenagers go through for a few years.

Still, this is one of the few things in my life that I have a bad conscience about and in which I have been far from a model son. In part out of necessity, true, but also in part because it was so much easier to keep certain chapters closed than to re-open them. I am well aware that my mother put in a larger effort and sacrificed more than most other parents do and that her life was harder than that of most modern Westerners.

Let me talk a little of what she did do (apart from delivering flowers and holding funerals) and what happened in her life:

When I was born, she was twenty-five years old and she and my father were both officers in the Salvation Army. My sister followed two and a half years later. Life in the Salvation Army was frugal*, the budget often tight, and I remember how my mother actually sew clothes for the family to save money. By the time I was four, we had moved twice**, which was an added stress and implied a removal from local friends and co-workers for both my parents, my mother in particular. Friends were very important to my mother and she kept in close contact with some particular friends (like Ruth, who was her assistant for a few years, a long, long time ago) over decades, even after all geographical and workplace connections were long gone.

*The Salvation Army is based on dedication to a higher cause, which includes getting by with less so that the needy can get by at all.

**The Salvation Army shares many aspects with some “ordinary” armies, e.g. in that its personnel is often ordered to re-locate every few years based on what happens to suit the army.

By the time I was five or six, my parents divorced and from here on the problems really started. The divorce was very amicable and little blame can be attached, seeing that my father was gay and eventually had understood that this was not a condition that marriage could cure.*

*I am, admittedly, not certain whether my mother ever knew this. My father only told me two decades later.

However, even an amicable divorce turns the world on its head and causes immense stress—even under normal circumstances. Here the circumstances were not normal: The Salvation Army disapproves of divorce and my parents had to leave their jobs and the apartment the Salvation Army had provided. This caused a further lack of money and yet another up-rooting, with mother and children moving back to my mother’s childhood town of Kopparberg, and my father to Stockholm. To boot, being an officer in the Salvation Army is normally a life-time career, making this worse than losing a regular job; and it requires a multi-year education that brings very little “market value” outside of the Salvation Army, giving my parents a worse starting point than if they had earned the equivalent of a regular Bachelor’s degree.

Once in Kopparberg, things were not easy:

  1. Employment was scarce and for several years my mother went through a mixture of unemployment and low-paying, temporary jobs. This included a stretch as leader of after-school activities, which lead her to a pun in which she took great delight: Legitimerad lekare.**Unfortunately untranslatable, but it is a play on “legitimerad läkare” (roughly, “licensed physician”) and “lek” (“child’s play”, in the literal sense). A Bond fan might similarly have punned on being “licensed to kid”.

    I was too young to have very clear recollections or knowledge of our economy, but for quite some time second-hand and hand-me-downs dominated.* The help of her parents (i.e. my grand-parents) and, to a lesser degree, brother, who all had remained in Kopparberg, was certainly essential during the first few years, on both the material and the emotional side.

    *However, this was something that we children took in stride and considered perfectly normal, not something that we suffered from—the point is rather the compromises and extra effort my mother had to go through, compared with most other families. I even remember objecting strongly when my mother handed down one of my jackets to my sister: It was my jacket and it should, in due time, be handed down to my children—not to my sister. Today I hear people debating the dangers of childhood “poverty” and how it prevents children from wearing the brand clothes their class-mates wear or how they cannot afford to join a trip abroad with the other children… Go back just another generation or two, or look at some other countries in today’s world, and even what I had might be considered luxury in comparison.

  2. A further major personal blow fell within just a year or two after the divorce, when her father died very pre-maturely. The emotional distress was, of course, coupled with the removal of one of her two main support pillars. I was too young to know their relationship first hand, but from what I have gathered later I believe that she had an unusually strong connection to him, shown e.g. by her changing her last name to Wilhelmsdotter (“daughter of Wilhelm”) in his honor.Not long after that, the family dog, which had been with my mother longer than I had, likely since before she married, grew ill and had to be put down.
  3. Something went very wrong with both my sister and me during these first years, likely largely as a consequence of the many central people disappearing from our lives, in combination with a considerable friction between the two of us. I even had a recurring nightmare of being with my family and again and again, every time I looked away, have one of them disappear until I was all alone—and knowing that whatever had taken them would come for me next. The worst nightmare I have ever had…Thinking back, we were so horrible that I wonder how my mother could take it. In fact, one of the reasons why I have never founded a family of my own is the fear of ending up as a parent to that type of children. While the money issues eventually passed, these conflicts and problems endured for a very long time. (Including contributing to issues like my distancing myself from my “old” life, as already described, and my sister’s dropping out of high-school and only getting a job and moving away from our mother’s in her late twenties.)

    Regrettably, the stress on my mother was something I was too young to understand back then, making the task even harder for her.

    (I similar failed to understand the situation of my sister, who was even younger and probably hit even worse by the family losses, especially since I got to spend a lot more time with our father than she did. With hindsight, much of what I saw as pure malice back then might have been nothing more than little girl acting out her distress, possibly even just trying to get attention and interaction.)

Attempting to get back to steady employment and reasonable earnings, my mother took up studies of Theology aiming at priesthood: Four years of studies and long travels, with the university being hours away, while being a single mother—a task that most people would not even attempt.

However, having a good head for studies was one of my mother’s particular prides and failure was not an option: She bit down and got the job done, even when the odds were against her. (As when she had to squeeze in the mandatory class in Classic Greek in half the allotted time—something she liked to brag that her professor had considered impossible.) She traveled, she studied, she graduated. For reasons of geography, she did have to delegate a part of the child rearing to her mother, who stepped in and took care of us for several days a week.

Post-ordination, things improved: The earnings were better; the job was secure; a house was bought (courtesy of the dwindling local population and equally dwindling real-estate prices) as a replacement for the too small, rented apartment; and she found a new husband—-an old friend from the Salvation Army who had been kicked out after his divorce and who had taken up studies for priesthood… (A match made in heaven?)

During the next few years, she grew to be one of the most popular people of the community, smiling, bringing flowers to old people, and gaining friends even when she was holding funerals. She worked hard for the benefit of others as a priest, just as she had as mother. Even with the problematic children and the hard work, this was likely one of the happiest times of her adult life, with exactly the effect on others and the type of recognition that she wanted.

Unfortunately, the rest of her life saw many medical problems that got in the way, starting with a car crash* that broke her leg and might have had a negative effect on her back. Irrespective of the reason, she did develop severe back problems that lead to major surgery, which prevented her from sitting for many months and hampered her ability to work for even longer. Naturally, not being able to sit made car travel hard or, for longer distances, impossible—and for someone living in a rural area of Sweden, travel by car is a necessity for many things. I remember being home from college, likely over Christmas, and finding the living room rearranged to include a hospital bed, allowing my mother to join in the interactions.

*Probably traveling on duty between Kopparberg and Hörken, where she had her main responsibilities, but I could misremember.

She bit down and got through this too, still working hard, but in her early sixties (late fifties?) developed Spinal Stenosis, which is particularly bad in a job that involves a lot of standing and walking. From here on, she was forced to cut back on work considerably, working on a part-time or free-lance basis.

Then came ALS

ALS patients usually die within just a few years. My mother, unfortunately, was no exception, seeing her life cut short at 67.

And that brings us my mother’s last funeral.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm

A few thoughts around the death of Leonard Nimoy

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Leonard Nimoy is dead—and unlike his alter ego, Spock, he is unlikely to be miraculously restored to life.

This might seem a sad day for Trekkies everywhere, but I suspect that both Leonard and Spock would have considered sadness “most illogical”:

He, by human standards, lived long and prospered, his body of work remains even in the absence of his physical body, and his age and relative inactivity makes it unlikely that he would have made any major further contributions to the world, even had he lived for another few years. Sadness would be better directed at the limitations that aging ultimately places on us.

Instead, I suggest that we see this day as an opportunity:

  1. An opportunity to celebrate a wonderful actor, the iconic character that would not have been without him, and the positive influence on several generations of nerds that both of them had.

  2. An opportunity to remember, in these times of growing anti-Semitism and absurdly loop-sided views on Israel, how much good the Jews (to whom Leonard belonged) have done for the world through their entirely disproportionate accomplishments, be it with regard to science (Einstein, Feynman, …), movies (Spielberg, Mel Brooks, …), music (Mendelssohn, Mahler, …), and virtually any other area short of sports. Indeed, if asked at fifteen who my favourite (for want of a better word) “celebrity” was, it would likely have been a toss up between Einstein and Mel Brooks, with Spock being a strong candidate for favourite fictional character. They currently have provided roughly a quarter of all Nobel laureates.

    The analogy between the benefit of the small minority of Jews to this world is comparable to the benefit of the one-man minority Spock to the Enterprise.

  3. An opportunity to remember that life is short and that we should make good use of it. We may only have limited control over how long we live, but whether we prosper is mostly up to ourselves in today’s Western world.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 27, 2015 at 10:16 pm

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