17 August 2016
A Summer Lesson
I finally silence my cell phone as the text tone rings incessantly. My dear aunt is posting pictures to all the grandkids. The photos are nostalgic items from my grandfather's yellow farmhouse, for she is cleaning it out.
It has been a truly marvelous summer, exceeding my expectations. Almost none of my summer goals are checked off, but somehow that's okay.
In June I attended my grandfather's funeral. Living just down the road from him most of my childhood years, he is a constant in my memory. Always there, always around, always showing up.
Two months ago, when we got the news, the grandchild/cousin text circuit was incredible. We grew up together with him as patriarch. Memory after memory ringing out the truth. He is gone. His memory is fully alive.
Before summer exits, before I receive the bolo tie I claimed from yesterday's photos, can I share what really matters to me? Can I share what will stay alive always in me and what I've inadvertently passed on to my children without even trying?
I was ten or eleven when his first wife, my grandmother, lay dying from advanced cancer. I loved her passionately. I loved her so much my grades suffered that fifth grade year. I was troubled by her pain, by her inevitable death.
It was not just me that loved her though. During an afternoon on one of the last days of her life, I said my goodbyes to her silently failing body. She lay in a hospital bed near the top of the stairs of the split level farmhouse.
I left the room and stood in the hallway; in the in between. On one side was the kitchen where she'd cut my hair, fixed fabulous meals, and let me play barbies. At the other end was the doorway into her death.
My grandfather walked out of her room and blurry eyed, ran into me. He grabbed my shoulders, his body shaking with anguish, and then wrapped his arms around my little body. He held me sobbing for a lifetime.
For sure, the embrace lasted less than a minute, but the impact it left will outlive him, and outlive me. In that moment of his unrestrained grief released in my presence, his tears were a river, rushing through me, his oldest grandchild. The river's intense rushing left me with a vision for a marriage like his. I didn't even know the vision began.
True love, you see, is real. True love is lasting. True love means great gain, and great pain.
I witnessed the real deal marriage, where separation by death is the only option, and death comes only with a serious fight to remain alive and together.
My grandfather was a quiet man with a song at the right time and a quick wit when you thought he wasn't paying attention.
His commitment in marriage was loud, lasting, alluring.
Seeing something that good showed an impressionable preadolescent something to look for, strive for, wait for. Without saying anything.
Grandpa's death this summer helped me to see what an incredible gift he gave me. I have a great inheritance. Divorce in our family is extremely rare. My parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and cousins have chosen strong and lasting marriages. We've received a good legacy. It's not perfect, but it's good.
Sometimes I think creating a legacy has to be complicated. From Grandpa I learned it just has to be real.