As I’m sure many of you know, actress Carrie Fisher died in December from complications due to a heart attack. She was best known for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars films, so after she died, many of my students and friends asked how I felt due to my great passion for those movies.
It was tough, I’ll admit; those movies were so influential in my formative years. And when I really thought about it, Princess Leia was the first really strong female character I’d seen on a screen. Think about it. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, women were starting to come into their own in movies and on television. But you still had Chrissy on Three’s Company and Daisy Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard to set women’s lib back a decade.
Fisher as the princess of Alderaan put forth a woman who was strong in her beliefs even if she was small in stature. She stood up to space pirates, Sith lords, and even recovered quickly from watching her entire planet get blown up by the Death Star. How many of us would have that strength?
Yet for all that, Fisher led a troubled life. Her father was a famous singer and her mother a well-known actress. Fisher had a Hollywood life but had chemical issues; reading her autobiographies is quite an eye-opener. She had many struggles but always seemed to have the strength of will to find a solution and push on with her life. When she first suffered her heart attack on an airplane, I remember thinking, “Okay, but she’s Carrie Fisher. She’ll be fine.” However, at the end of the day, her body couldn’t hold out; even the strongest people can be felled by their own body eventually.
And that’s what is going on right now with my Grandma Ann. My long-time readers know I’ve written about Grandma a couple times, including for her 90th birthday last year. I wrote about how strong my grandma has always been, but now her body is failing her as well. It started with a heart attack not long after Fisher’s occurred. Grandma has had other complications since then, and we’re not sure how much longer she has with us.
This has been really difficult to see Grandma in such a weakened state. Some days she’s not herself and seems to have given up. Other days she shows that same old fierceness and determination that I know so well. And I got to thinking. Even if Princess Leia was the strongest woman I remember on a screen, my grandma was surely one of the first really strong women I knew growing up. I know she was a tremendous role model for my mom and my sisters to be strong in a world that was really just starting to recognize the equality of women.
But how do you fight the inevitable? We all know our day will come, but I really don’t know how you prepare yourself for that. Every one of us has known someone who has suffered from an illness as we watched from a distance. We are able to prepare ourselves to a degree for the death we know is imminent, but how do you find the strength when you know it is you who is on that precipice? Did Carrie Fisher have any moments of consciousness where she knew her time had come? Does Grandma have her predicament front and center most of the time?
I’ve had my own medical problems in the last few months. I won’t go into boring details, but I just haven’t been quite right. I’ve had all manner of exams, scans, and procedures to try to pinpoint what’s going on, and I hope a solution will be in sight soon. As I’ve struggled with this, I’ve watched my grandma display strength in her battle, and that has inspired me. Whatever is going on with me is unlikely to be life-threatening, so the least I can do is go about my life and be strong, especially as my grandma fights for her life, a fight that she knows she will eventually lose.
I love my grandma, and I keep trying to find ways to show her and tell her how important she has been to me. Even after she’s gone, she will have left a legacy of strength that is unparalleled. She wasn’t an inspiration on such a large stage like Carrie Fisher, but I’m pretty sure that even Princess Leia wouldn’t have had a chance against my grandma!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is inexorable, which means incapable of being changed or stopped, as in, “Grandma was an inexorable force, and there was no way you were going to change her mind.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!