Mom got the phone call from Martin Luther Manor minutes later, and then called me. This was not a phone call I was expecting today. Minutes previous, I’d been cleaning in my office, sorting through papers, finding numerous items to pass back to Mom and Dad to deal with or recycle; as I was sorting, in retrospect at near the exact minute Grandpa died, I noticed a picture of Grandma and Grandpa by my desk, and had taken a minute to look at it, pondering if I could put it someplace more prominent.
We later found out other relatives, too, had been thinking of Grandpa this morning, wrapping presents to ship to him for Christmas, or writing cards, etc. Though our family was not physically at his side when he passed, Grandpa was being thought of all morning.
It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
That’s a quote from one of the Lemony Snicket books. I think it aptly describes the feeling when you’ve first been told someone has died. It’s surreal, you ask, “Wait, what? Can that really be?” My first reaction was, ‘quick, find shoes and socks - I don’t know yet where I need to go, but I know I’m driving somewhere.’ For the best, my rational side retains enough control in the midst of emotional chaos to allow me to process logistics and not panic. Mom and I hung up, I finished getting dressed, updated my Facebook status, and sent a brief email to my closest friends and coworkers; I can have my emotional breakdown later, right now the most important thing is to get the word out, something at which computers in our flat world (Thomas Friedman) are quite proficient. More specifically, I knew this was a time I needed to “summon the troops”, or rather, the prayer-warriors. Literally within minutes of emailing and Facebooking, I’d already received several text and FB messages of support and condolence, as well as promised prayer. (Other friends called, texted, and mailed throughout the day, for which I am so absolutely grateful; they really helped lift me up.)
Personally I had hoped Grandpa’s death would have been timed out like Grandma Sue’s - we had five days to vigil after she began “actively dying”, time enough to gather the family and get people in from out of town. Today we had no warning at all. On the other hand, Grandpa went through his normal routine this morning, breakfast, nap, nursing home activity, lunch, and then just went to sleep. That’s about as peaceful as anyone could hope for.
With Christmas later this week, along with the ginormous snowstorm that crossed Minnesota today, and with literally everyone in the family (except Mom and Dad and I) out of town right now, logistics of funeral scheduling look very different from the previous two funerals we’ve planned; in those cases, things had to be planned very quickly, because the funeral itself was mere days away. This time we’re delaying a week until after Christmas, until everyone can [hopefully] get here. It’ll also give me time to clean my house in case out of town relatives need my hide-a-bed and/or couches.
Now begins the grief process. Already I’m feeling that burden of guilt, “I could have visited more, I could have sent more cards, I never played my guitar for him, I never showed him Harry Putter 1, I hardly ever spent time with him, and now I can’t.” My best friend encouraged me that it’s not healthy to dwell on those thoughts, but they still haunt me, and I suppose they will for a while. On the other hand, I can choose to look on the positive side. I did visit sometimes, I did mail him cards every month to say hello, I did have a relationship with Grandpa while he was still alive, and once I have a chance to process, I know I still have those memories of him to hold on to.
Though it’s hard to lose someone, especially right before Christmas (or any major holiday), our family is resting in the knowledge that this will be the happiest Christmas of Grandpa’s life - not only does he get to celebrate with Jesus, he’s dancing with Grandma again, his mind is sharp again, and there’s no more wheelchair!! Sure, there could be some theological discussion about when resurrection happens, but I choose to believe it’s immediate; (please bear with me as I mix together lyrics from several songs) Grandpa’s spirit flew away from Earth and ran right into God’s wide open arms, and he heard a Voice that said, “Welcome home, my good and faithful servant.”
I love you, Grandpa, and I miss you.