i grew up next to railroad tracks. most of the time while i’m here, i don’t even notice the trains that speed by, rumbling the house on a regular schedule. when mike is in IL with me, he draws my attention to the trains again and i feel the house shake and the train horn echo in my belly. when i’m in SF or traveling, i wake up through the night when i hear a train passing…groggy with confusion and wonder as to where i am and what i’m doing.
i think of the train as a parallel to grief. sometimes it passes through you, by you, with you, only slightly observed. other times it shakes you, leaving you awake and confused.
as many of you already know, my grandpa, pop, died last friday. he was 93. when his wife GG died 4 years ago, he was ready to be with her then. he’s been patient. we miss him and marvel at the life he lived.
he’d often ask my mom, aunt katrina, or caregivers “why am i still here?” after we swallowed the heartbreak loaded in that question, the answers would come that at times, felt inexact. “God has other plans for you.” “You’re serving another purpose.” “Your work here isn’t done.” and so on…
recently, a new pastor at his church shared this answer with my family: “He’s still here to teach you all how to care for the dying.”
that got me thinking about what else he taught us all. there is so much in a life well-lived. here are some things that come to mind this week:
- you’re never too old to find your voice. pop had to learn how to talk several times in his life—of course when he was little, but also after his aneurysm. and then again, he had to find his voice after GG died, to communicate what he needed and be the one now to share stories and memories.
- beautiful penmanship is an art form.
- being kind and polite and using manners takes little effort and has huge pay off. but the pay off isn’t the reason to do it. it’s simply the right thing to do to treat everyone as a person, deserving of respect and appreciation. even on his literal deathbed, in likely pain and discomfort, he was using manners. we all think of the nursing home as a place that no one wants to go to die. but the staff there was visibly upset at my grandpa’s downturn and mourned alongside us. it dawned on me that he was sweet to them, always saying “please” and “thank you.” and that is rare and special.
- stories, especially painful or complex ones, can take awhile to surface. but once they’re out, they become gems to the listeners.
- swinging in the yard with the sunshine on your face is therapy.
- a firm handshake is memorable. even when you’re 93 and dying, a strong grip is never to be forgotten.
- a nap goes a long way.
- especially after a hard day on your feet.
- warm food, a blanket tucked just right, and folgers warmed slightly also go a long way…along with stale cookies dunked in that folgers.
- faith is powerful.
- there is truth in what all the doctors tell us–keep physical, keep active. pop laid brick into his late 70’s. after taking many spills in his 90s, he still never broke a bone and points to all his physical fitness as the reason.
- the kind of home to try and build is a welcoming one. it will create love and memories for more people than you realize.
- being blind sucks. but with little adaptations and a family who tries to find you all the right resources, you can make it work and still find joy in different things. even climbing ladders to clean the gutters, although that may cause familial strife.
- the value of letters exchanged among friends and family is incredible and leaves us with a treasure trove.
- that grown men, the oldest of friends and life-long troublemakers together, in the winter of their lives, can hold hands with each other.
- freckles are beautiful.
- masonry in an incredible art form.
- classic American literature is classic for good reason.
- a person can truly deeply love another person, traverse many hardships together, and still truly deeply love that person. being open about love and grief is a powerful truth to share.
- and, reuniting with your wife, our beloved GG, is pure heaven.
after pop died, my mom lamented that “no one knows our story.” that deep grief that comes with being parentless, grandparentless and being recognized as the family leader now, the patriarch or matriarch of it all. i can empathize in its overwhelming enormity.
my response to my mom, as it is just coming to me: the beautiful thread in all of this is that i’m your story. we’re your story. and we’re all pop’s story. it keeps unfolding with more to come.
goodbye for now, pop.
his full obituary is linked here.