My grandfather died this past Friday. The last several days have been filled with the typical aftermath that accompanies the passage of a family member and a loved one. Preparing everything for the wake and funeral, beginning the process of going through personal belongings and collecting the pictures of the person who is gone, brings about the refreshing of old memories and stories of things long past.
My grandfather was a rather complicated man who very much lived a complicated life. Yet if he was not or is not the typical person who resides here on this earthly plane I don’t know who is. There is no completely heavenly body or devilish persona here on the planet and my grandfather would certainly rest comfortably between the two. There are stories that I shall hold forever of those times when I can remember him laughing at some ridiculous family joke or situation. And I will too recall the moments where he said or did things that were absolutely horrible. But my ultimate judgements are only the product of my personal experiences and can never reflect what his real ultimate judgement will be, if there is indeed the ability to format a true and complete judgement of someone’s life.
What has happened recently has renewed for me the struggle with confronting the ultimate change that befalls all of us, with death. As I write this, I am reminded of this day 15 years ago when I was first being introduced to the concept of death and dying with my brother. Finding out at 16 that death could be a possibility was so unnerving that it haunted me to the core for several years. The ghostly presence of those lingering effects continue to hide behind corners just waiting for the opportunity to haunt again. Now, as I have watched in successive years first my grandmother on my dad’s side and my grandfather on my mom’s pass onto some unknown place, I am confronted with the eventuality of death again. Of course it is “natural” to watch a grandparent die as with advanced age comes the closer dawning of potential passage. But it is hard to find anything natural in being in the presence of death no matter the situation. Many of us rely on the comfort in believing the transition from life to death will involve a pit stop before continuing onto something else but we cannot scientifically conclude how long the darkness will last when we make our ultimate transfer. Admittedly, with having to confront a question of so great many possibilities, it becomes clearer to me with each passing why there are so many who would choose the comfortable belief over the cavernous hole of uncertainty.
And there is something to be said for the traditions of honoring the life of someone lost for the benefit of those left behind. It did however, strike me that as my family and I stood in the middle of a room with a line of those waiting to pay respects that here we were in the presence of death personified in my grandfather lying mere feet away while conversations of cars, and work, and life being lived in that moment commenced and continued. How long are we really able to talk about death? And for how long may a life thats passed on be able to hang around for? Life for us has to continue and the image of a loved one who has died becomes shimmery and bathed in grey as the fog of memory takes its cruel toll. The memories we carry will likely break down over the passage of time and the picture of a voice that was as loud as a clarion call becomes more like a low whisper no matter how strongly we attempt to hold on. Thus, I can no longer remember what my brother sounded like and can only remember what he looked like by seeing a picture of him. As time goes on, I imagine the same will occur for my grandparents and it breaks my heart to imagine. In a way, I really want this to serve as the best of a reminder I can think of by which lives can be honored and a memory can be etched. For we all here on earth hope to be remembered. It is true that we are all born a record and die the same. May that record survive, even if it’s only for a little while and remembered only by a select few.