Sunday, October 3, 2010
Was informed yesterday that my 97-year old grandfather had passed away, and somehow it got me thinking about my time working in nursing homes. I’d seen so much while I was there, including people progressively losing their ability to speak, and finally even communicate at all. Thankfully my grandfather was able to hang on to his mind for most of his life, as knowledge was one of the things he valued the most in this world. He helped me and much of my family get through college growing up, and the fact that he was able to hang onto his mind for nearly the entirety of his 97 years, speaks to the level of commitment he directed in his life to the pursuit of knowledge, education, and excellence.
When I first heard the news, I had a kind of numb feeling, where I wasn’t able to really compute what I had just heard. My grandfather’s physical body had worn out, but in no way did I understand the idea that he was gone. I could still think of him and remember all of the things he had taught me and told me over the years, and those lessons weren’t going anywhere.
What I would never be able to do again was go over to his house when I was sick and have him make me some hot tomato soup. My brothers and I could never go out on his boat again and go fishing, and he would never spend another hour untying my line when I got it tied up in knots for the dozenth time. I’d never hear him whistle the song “stormy weather” again, which was so oddly comforting to me as a child, although I had no idea at the time what the song really meant.
All of those things exist only in my memory now, but somehow they all came flooding back to me this morning, and then finally the tears came, and I begun to understand the gravity of what I had just heard. Someone who had had a tremendous and nearly immeasurable influence on my life was now gone, and now, whatever was immortal in him, had somehow been passed down to me. He could teach me no more lessons and give me no more advice. That part of our time together was over, but somehow I am still in possession of a part of him. Perhaps if I am fortunate, someone will even look up to and seek out my advice one day, and when this day comes, I’ll draw on what my grandfather taught me and smile, knowing that that part of him lives on, and will live on, past my own time even. That thought brings me quite a lot of comfort.
In thinking of my grandpa’s life, and particularly his time with my grandmother, who he watched suffer with sickness and disease for almost the entirety of their married life, I thought of the following passage from Colleen McCullough,
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself on upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in his heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain ...Or so says the legend.
Although I’m sure my grandfather suffered tremendously watching my grandmother in pain for so many years, as a private man he chose to bear the brunt of much of this suffering alone. Again it must have been so terribly painful to watch the love of your life struggle so hard for so long, and know that what you have to offer can’t take that pain away. His patience, love, strength and endurance in this regard was again a testimony to the kind of man he was, and a part of the life lesson that I can only hope I will continue to absorb and pass on.
And now, as I reach the middle of my own life, I think about passages, and how I can pass these lessons on. What is my responsibility to this brief life that I have been given, and how can I honor my grandfather’s memory as I continue on my own journey? These are the questions, and I know I will have to ask them of myself over and over again as I continue to stumble through this life. What I do have now is a blueprint, as my grandpa’s footsteps are full of lessons about love, family, education, and taking personal responsibility for your own life no matter what circumstances are handed to you. Somehow today I feel a little more grown up, knowing that at least a portion of the torch of a very great man has now been passed to me. Thank you for everything grandpa.