Saturday, July 18, 2009

Simple Things

The journey of grieving has many twists and turns. It presents crossroads and fellow travelers. There are unexpected delays and few shortcuts. The path, although well traveled, remains uncharted.

Knowing that her great grandfather was close to the end, I told my granddaughter that his bags were packed and he was ready to go to heaven. She wanted me to ask him to say hello to her pre-school teacher who had died the year before. She thought maybe they could have a tea party when he arrived at heaven's gate. I did tell him. He died a few hours later.

It made telling my granddaughter easier, I suppose. I told her that Fa was so excited to hear about the tea party, he decided to go right away. This seemed reasonable to her.

"What will be on his headstone?" she asked. I told her that Fa wanted to be buried at sea since he loved fishing so much. There would be no headstone. This, too, seemed reasonable to her. Orville had chosen to be cremated but I did not think this was an explanation I wanted to tackle with a 6 year old.

The next day, she asked if Fa had been buried yet. I told her no. She wanted to know where he was. I replied, in heaven at the tea party. She said it didn't seem right not to have a rock or a stone on the beach, so we would know where he was buried.
"It's important to know," she said. I told her we would think about it and find someway to mark where he was.

On Fathers Day she sang Amazing Grace for him. Although he didn't know who was singing the sweet melody, his eyes lit up and a smile came to his lips. She wanted to sing it again for him. We will plan a memorial in a few weeks and promised her she could sing it for him then.

A fisherman, with nothing more than a high school sophomore education, is dearly loved by a small little girl, who for most of her life, he didn't know. Yet she remembers and wants to keep on remembering. Not through tears but through the simple things, a song, a stone - bookmarks to return to, a place to honor, a moment in time that says he was here.

The journey continues.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Who You Know

As we sat by my father in law's bedside, we wondered if he could hear us. He has been suffering through the ravages of Alzheimer's for the past decade. We knew that we were no longer names he could recall. I had become "that girl" and my mother in law was "his best friend". "Do I know you?" was often the question he reserved for his grandchildren and his great grandchildren were twinkles in his eyes but little more.

None of that really mattered, though, since we all knew him. We knew the fisherman who would rather be on a boat fishing than any place else on the planet. Unless it was working out his frustrations on the dents on a car. We knew the man who went to church each Sunday and McDonald's to chat with old friends every morning. The woman behind the counter at Taco Time knew his order, since he had been coming in for almost 20 years. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn't know him. We often laughed that we had never been anywhere that someone didn't know Orville.

We sat by his bedside knowing that the time was near. He had cheated death so many times in the last couple of years, I suppose there was a piece of us that wondered if he wouldn't open his eyes. His signature remark when asked how he felt, was "with my fingers". We wanted nothing more than to hear him say it one more time.

Yet here I am filling out an obituary form, filled with facts, dates, timelines that seem devoid of the essence of the man we have lost. Though we never know the exact moment of our earthly departure, even if we have the luxury of knowing it is close, it is still a shock when that life exits this mortal coil. Within a half hour of his release, the life force that we knew was gone. From his skin color to the texture of his hair, there was no hint of his presence.

Through the tears, the paperwork, the phone calls and all the little details that follow in the next few hours and days, it is comforting to know that somewhere Orville is baiting a hook.