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Monday, February 28, 2005

I Don't Know, But I've Been Told,

If You Keep On Dancin, You'll Never Grow Old

My father's father died today.

At the age of 93, he passed away at midday today, due to complications from a virulent strain of pneumonia that finally proved more powerful than all the other physical and mental demons that had plagued him for the last third of his life. He went peacefully, without pain, and thankfully, not alone.

I got the call from my father at about 1:30 this afternoon, in the middle of my first full day of work in three and a-half months, at exactly the time when these sorts of things tend to happen, so it was a shock, but not exactly unexpected. Grandpa's health had been slowly deteriorating for some time, years in fact, and I'm sure most of the family had been anticipating the dreaded news for quite some time. Still, nothing really ever prepares you for the inevtitable dropping of the other shoe, and despite all your efforts at keeping a stiff upper lip, or whatever the contemporary equivalent is, you feel it.

So, the rest of today has been calling: parents, siblings, cousins, aunt, uncles, the entire familial gamut, trying to come to terms with this thing that has been hanging over our heads like Damocles' sword, trying to comfort and console and make each other feel better via electronic impulses that are a pretty poor substitute for real contact, but it's all we have available to us from a distance, and for myself at least, it's better than sitting here alone.

But, still it hurts.

I remember the last time I saw my grandfather, roughly 14 months ago, the day after Christmas, 2003. I drove my grandmother out to the house on Portland's Eastside, where he was being cared for in a sort of hospice situation, better than the nursing home where he'd spent the previous several years. Smaller, but what the people lacked in medical expertise they seemed to more than make up for in attention to personal needs. He was asleep when we arrived. But, he roused himself, and seemed particularly happy to see us. We spoke for a few minutes, but he quickly tired, and without much ceremony, promptly rolled over onto his side (he was essentially bed-ridden by that point), and fell asleep. As though we hadn't really been there at all. My grandmother seemed to take it in stride; no doubt, she'd seen this before, and it didn't strike her as unusual. For me, it was a blow. I was a ghost, a shadow that inhabited some twilight world between sleep and wakefulness. We left, thanking his caregivers for their efforts, and drove back to my grandmother's retirement home. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it would be the last time I'd see him alive.

I just didn't expect he'd hang on as long as he did.

By all accounts, my grandfather wasn't a sociable person. Unlike my grandmother, who knew every shop owner, grocer, maitre d', cashier and attendant along the stretch of NE Sandy Blvd., between 54th and the Hollywood District, my grandfather was a reticent sort, introspective, withdrawn and more inclined to curl up with a book than engage in a conversation. My father says he suffered from bouts of depresion most of his life, and although I can only dimly perceive those traits through the filter of a small child, I don't discount their veracity. As we all grew older, I saw those traits manifested: his sedentary disposition, his willingness to allow others to cater to his needs, his brooding silences, his desire for isolation. He was a man not fully comfortable in the world that surrounded him on a daily basis, and he was a man who retreated into the solace and security of far-flung places, exotic locales and mysterious worlds, places where we were unable to follow.

I'm not a religious person. I don't believe in an afterlife, a heaven or a hell. My grandfather didn't either. He donated his body to science. Even as I write this, what's left of his earthly remains lay in a cold, dark, quiet place, awaiting hands that will probe, explore, discover things inside of him that may someday be of benefit to someone else. Despite his general aversion toward human contact, his last willful act was to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a human being.

Posted byCOMTE on 7:20 PM

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