Sunday, May 5, 2013
This is a post about death and dying and life and living. I know. I'm sorry. It's where I'm at right now. It's what is happening in my world. So I am using my blog to process. Because I can't afford therapy. I will not be offended if you stop reading right now. Maybe you don't feel like crying. But if you do need a good cry, this might be a good post to read. It's making me cry. But I tend to do that a lot these days. So now that you have been warned, stick around or don't. Either way, it's all good.
I think I mentioned in a previous post how ironic I think it is that I am dealing with end of life issues at the very same time that I am trying to create a rebirth for myself and my family. As I contemplate the marks left on communities by those who are leaving us, I am still struggling to find my place in the world. As I feel sadness for the loss of people close to me, I feel joy and gratitude for those who have been sent for me to raise and nurture. One day finds me holding a dying man's hand,
while the next finds me helping very much alive and overly-excited boys make a lemonade stand to earn money.
The emotional toll this juxtaposition has taken on me is exhausting, mentally and physically. My brain keeps trying to process deep life and death concepts that make me think about my own mortality and my own happiness (or lack of) and other complicated stuff that causes me pain to think about. Not liking it at all. At. All. I keep trying to shut it all out by just focusing on living in the moment and enjoying each moment for what it is. Except some moments are kind of painful. Like watching someone you love pass away.
For a few weeks now I have been watching my step-grandfather deteriorate and face the end of his life. Because he is 100% coherent and aware, it has been tough on him to deal with a body that refuses to give up the fight to live, even while it is shutting down and cannot support him any longer. It has been tough on his family too, to watch him struggle to die with some kind of peace and dignity. We were hoping it would be an easier passing for him. It would have been nice for him to go to sleep one night and not wake up. The phone call I got tonight indicated the further breakdown of his bodily systems and I was told that he may not make it through the night. Even now though, during these last hours, he is experiencing much discomfort and frustration. I hate that this is how he has to experience death.
I have been blessed over the last month to spend some days sitting with him as he winds up his time here on earth. He is an amazing man. He has some incredible stories about growing up in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years, about working for the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Depression and about surviving D-Day on Omaha beach during World War II. He lived through some of the worst times this country has seen.
Despite struggling to endure and survive some really tough and sad situations, my grandfather never dwells on the negative aspects of his experiences. If he mentions the pain or negativity at all, it's kind of in passing and then he quickly moves on to the valuable lessons he learned from what he went through. He is seriously one of the most positive, upbeat people I have ever known. The last few weeks of visits haven't brought much conversation from him. It's painful for him to talk because he can't breathe well. But I talk to his nurses and others who stop by to see him. In spite of his weakened state, he offers them a smile or a quick hello. They offer hugs in return. Even the cook came out of the kitchen to see if her "favorite guy" wanted anything special for dinner. There is never an unkind or impatient word about him from anyone in the facility, or for that matter, in his life. They talk about his humor, his enthusiastic attitude, his positive outlook and his ability to remember names. He leaves a lasting impression of all that is good about humanity on everyone he meets.
When he married my grandmother after she left her horribly abusive first husband, he changed not only her life, but ours as well. He opened his heart and his home to her and her family without hesitation. It was his idea to invite my grandmother's mother to live with them instead of living by herself halfway across the country as she started to suffer from the effects of a stroke. And even though he loves Idaho, he was happy to relocate every winter to Phoenix after they retired so my grandmother could be closer to us. Her life was so much better because he understood the give and take required to have a happy marriage and he understood that her family (no matter how messed up he thought we might be) was part of the package. He never judged us. He accepted us and did his best to love us. I am going to miss him an awful lot when he's gone. Strength of character, a positive outlook, a kind heart and resilience will be his legacies. I hope I have learned enough from him to emulate him even just a little as I continue my own earthly journey.
There's so much more I want to say about Grandpa Russ, but I don't have the words tonight. I just know that I'm a better person for having known him. And I know when he is reunited with my grandmother in Heaven, he will have nothing but great things to say about his life here on earth. Even the dying part. I know he will find a lesson in all that suffering. I hope I can say the same thing about my struggles some day.
Until then, I will say thank you to a great man who served his family, his country and his God well.