Archive for Family

Goodbye

It’s 2 a.m., and sometimes I don’t know how to light up the darkness. I think of a childhood book, The Phantom Tollbooth, and the imagery of conducting the sunrise in a symphony of color. But I am me, and I can’t paint the dawn, and in the dead of night I feel alone, and so very small. I light candles, 7 of them, because they make me feel warm and peaceful. Music plays softly: Lately I am partial to depressing classical music and obscure latin hymns. My roommate walks in and asks me who the vigil is for. I laugh, because she is right, my room does resemble a tomb. He has been dead for two days, but I feel oddly comforted that he is at peace. I feel quietness, I feel calmness, and that sensation of slipping into a bed of freshly washed, crisp sheets, when I try to feel him. No more worries for him, the end of pain and the end of uncertainty.

So, why then, do I fear the stillness of the night? Is it the fear of admitting that I don’t know how to say goodbye, or the threat of tears that elude me? It seems ludicrous that I sit here at two in the morning, simultaneously trying to write essays on preschoolers’ cognitive development and the Epistle of James. So funny, in this moment that could birth thoughts so deep, that I should cling to the mundane. So funny that all I can think about is achieving the minimum word count on these assignments. Strange, but perhaps it is all I can do?

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Thoughts on dying

I like it when it rains at night. The upside of a dreary summer is crisp nights where the rain falls, cleansing and soothing, outside my window while I am safe in my bed. I like to think that the sky is singing me a lullaby, softly brushing my tears away with its healing downfall. In those moments, I feel truly in touch with the Earth. No matter how despairing I am and how completely alone I feel, the rain still falls. It is comforting and grounding. In spite of my pain, the world is alive.

Spending time with someone who is dying makes everything seem surreal. I watch him struggle to live through one more hour, one more day, just so he can live his final moments out of the hospital. Suddenly things that were so ordinary become sacred. Precious moments to watch one more sunrise or to hear a child laugh. The things we take for granted become gifts to savor.

He was always there, and just like that, he’ll be gone. He will not be there to see me graduate from university or to meet my children. It’s so strange the way life works. It seems as though we have so much power through medicine, technology, science these days. But still, we can’t stop death. It’s sobering and in a terrible way, somewhat comforting. He will die soon. But the world will still turn, and I will still lie in bed at night and listen to the rain fall.

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Grandpa

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in awhile. I never seem to have the energy to write these days.

But here I am to ask if you could please keep my Grandpa in your prayers and good thoughts.

He’s fading…

Thank you.

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Grandpa

Some of my earliest memories are those of spending weekdays at my grandparents’ house while my mom was at work, before I was old enough to go to school. In those days, my grandmother would entertain me tirelessly as I learned about the world around me. During those early years, my grandfather was still working as an engineer, and was not home with us during the day. I remember that every day, he would phone us at lunch time like clockwork. My grandmother would speak on the telephone in the kitchen, and I would take the ornate rotary phone in the hallway. I would ask him every day what color were the airplanes he was working on that day, and every day he would tell me that they were gray.

 

Those years were magical, and I don’t think there has ever been a love so pure and uncomplicated as that of a young child for those who care for her. In those days, I was learning about my world, and in retrospect, I suppose that they were learning too: Learning about being grandparents, learning about dealing with ageing bodies, and learning about stepping out of the limelight to let the next generation take the lead. In a way, this is what is so special about the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren: Both are pushed to the fringes of society, both have the time to dream and play, and both are waiting for something. Although one group is at the end of their lives, and one is at the beginning, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is a special one.

 

My grandfather was always the perfect gentleman: The embodiment of chivalry from a time long gone. After 40 years of marriage, my grandmother would still blush and giggle when he walked in the door, and his face would light up when she entered the room. Theirs was a love so rare that domestic routine had not withered those precious moments of  intimacy that could be shared through a simple glance or a single word. Looking back, my grandparents seemed very old, but I realize now that my grandfather was younger then than my father is now. So very strange how time can distort the sense of age.

 

At that time, they were learning how to be grandparents for the first time, and they were a major part of my small world. It is an amazing feeling to know that you can make someone smile through a simple phone call, or a picture drawn on the back of a placemat. Things so simple that it seems incomprehensible that they should be so cherished. My grandfather was a quiet man, with a stoicism that would soften and become a calm introspectiveness in his old age. He would walk for hours every day, taking care of his body, and earning him the attention and the attraction of elderly women all over Pointe-Claire. But he only had the eyes for one woman.

 

They met in Belfast after the war. My grandfather was working on airplanes and my grandmother was a secretary in the company where he worked. He was reserved and serious, and she was coquettish and somewhat vain. The first time he laid eyes on her, he knew that she was the woman he would marry. Later, he would tell me stories of walking two hours along country roads back to his lodging, just so that they could spend another hour together, after the city bus stopped running. They had a fairy tale courtship, but my grandfather was young and poor and could not afford the ring he felt my grandmother deserved. When he came into some inheritance money, the first thing he did was buy her a spectacular engagement ring. With a promising career ahead of him in Canada, my grandfather used his advance to pay for their wedding. The two leapt into the unknown, drawing strength from their love, and started a new life in Canada. Later, with a rare sense of duty and protectiveness, my grandfather would pay for his mother-in-law to come and live with them in Canada, and he loved her as his own.

 

It was this strong sense of duty and caretaking that makes my grandfather stand out. Although I consider myself to be an empowered woman of the 21st Century, I must admit that I like having the door held open for me occasionally. When I moved a few years ago, my grandfather insisted on carrying the heavy boxes for me, although he was in his 80s and I in my 20s. Although my grandmother died nearly five years ago, he remains devoted to her in a love so strong that death cannot destroy it.

 

He is always the one man who thinks I am beautiful, no matter what I am wearing. I can make his day with a simple telephone call – and who can resist a power like that? On Friday night suppers, he calls me his young girlfriend, and wears a suit and tie, even in the summer heat. We discuss philosophy and metaphysics: He is a devout atheist, which is rare and surprising for someone of his generation. He tells me the same stories, but I don’t mind. I like hearing them, and he likes telling them. Over 70 years later, he still cries when he speaks of the morning he lost his mother when he was a young child. He tells me he still feels young inside, and that never changes as you age. Mostly, he makes me feel loved and important, and that is paramount.

 

He has become ill, and for the first time, I stand on the brink of living a life that does not include him. The future seems colder and less welcoming, and I shiver when I look ahead. I remember him lying in a hospital bed a few years ago, and he kissed my hand and said, “You can’t get rid of me that easily.” But now, I fear that it is time. He is ready and he is tired, but it is us for whom my heart cries. I know that time will soften the memories and dull the ache, but he will always be a part of me. I just hope that in his final hours, he will know how much he is loved.

 

 

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