I'm in Red Wing again. My grandpa passed away on Monday.
I'm told he fought until the end, literally thrashed and kicked, until death finally took him. My grandpa's wife, Bev, thinks he fought it. I'm inclined to believe he fought for it, flailed his arms and flung his exhausted body at death, making it take him whether death was ready or not. In a way, that makes me happy, proud to know that when my grandpa wanted something, he got it, even at the end of his life.
He was ready. He had made decisions about whether or not he should be resuscitated. He picked out the people he wanted to be pallbearers at his funeral. He waited until he had one last visit with his son, then after he left, let his strength and resolve faded away just as my dad had done, starting the drive back home.
My grandmother was much the same. Although she wasn't able to fight off the cancer that took her, she had made a choice not to fight. The kind of cancer she had was simply too powerful to combat. Treatment would only prolong her life, while still taking away its subtle qualities, so she decided to just let her disease run its course, to live with what time she had, rather than force her body to give her more. Given her dignity and grace while facing death, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my grandpa would choose his time with as much bravery and resolve. All of us will have our time, there's no escaping that, and I hope when my time does come, I can be as sure and poised. It's a powerful gift you give to those you leave behind and I'm thankful for it, thankful for the many amazing lessons he's taught me, thankful for this last one, one of many.
I've said it on this blog before, but my grandpa meant a lot to me. He was a father, when I didn't have one. Sitting around last night, I learned some things about my grandpa's own complicated relationship with his dad, and then his step-dad, stories that made things much clearer for me, made me understand why he stepped up when no one else did, why he protected me.
On these parenting blogs, we talk a lot about the duties of being a parent, about our responsibilities to our children. I take those very seriously, especially given the recklessness I experienced under my biological mother's watch, but it seems like many of those responsibilities are born in the physical world. We have to protect our children from the elements, feed them, protect them from harm. But, if we're lucky, we also teach them lessons about the emotional world, guide them towards honesty and love and responsibility. If we're lucky, we help them to become better people, kind people. Some of us learn what that means from hard-won experience, others simply know it, given an easy path from their parents, a path that works.
I don't know if, one day years from now, Chunk will look back and suddenly understand why I tell him every day that I love him. I don't know if he'll ever truly get why I hold him and tell him he's important, but he's an intelligent boy, almost too smart, and so maybe the light bulb will go on for him, as it did for me last night. Maybe he will have a single moment of clarity that makes him see why the path I tried to lay out for him had the turns and long stretches. If that moment comes, when he's tired and grieving and feeling lost, I hope it brings him the joy and peace that it has brought me. My grandfather has given me so much over the years, I was shocked to get yet another gift from him, even after he passed, and I'm thankful for that flash of understanding and clarity, that insight that came so quickly and powerful it was as if it had been written to me.
On Monday, before I learned that my grandfather had passed away, I went to pick up Chunk from day care. By that time, my grandpa was already gone, but for us, it was just an ordinary day, simple in its naivety. The room teacher pulled me aside and told me that a little girl in the class was upset in the morning, crying, and Chunk went over to her and held her hand. Maybe it was just the innate kindness all children have, the human urge we share to comfort those in pain, before cynicism and pain make us harder, cruel, aloof. Or, maybe he learned that empathy, was taught to be concerned when others are hurting. If he did, if I taught him any of that, it's because of my grandpa.
His gifts keep coming, even after his death.