Dispatch #6: Transitions and Passages

By Tobin Shelton, Intern

I spent today at Gale School with the young people there. I received word that my grandmother died in the middle of the day. Though her death did not take me by surprise–she was 88 years old and had a beautiful and soft understanding of her mortality–I did feel the immensity of my fragile state while with the students. I remember a professor speaking about leaving our own lives on the sideline while engaging with clients. However I  was with  a small group of students for whom the death seemed relevant. We addressed death and dying in a circle and I am not quite sure what will come of it. They saw my vulnerabilities that day and I sense that it empowered me as a counselor and the students in their confrontations with death.

My grandmother was a very strong woman who educated herself and had sagacious wit, a wicked memory and a 6th sense devoted to discerning wines, paintings, and languages. Together she and her husband dedicated nearly all their finances to support the education of their grandchildren (and the democratic party). In the 40s she moved from Birmingham, Alabama and in doing so shed a way of thinking, a religion, and a culture of prejudice in order to raise her kids.  She volunteered at hospitals, libraries, museums, and traveled the world on my grandfather’s lecture tours. She always challenged me to listen to what I say, ask questions of others, and read, read, read.  She gave so much to my generation.

When I learned of her death on Tuesday I was overwhelmed with a need to be authentic about my experience. My intention is to continue the cycle of giving that day I felt the torch pass to my hands in a visceral, intellectual and cathartic interaction with a group of 3rd graders. With her death my parents transition into elder-hood and I, into a decidedly new generational role.



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