Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Learning about life without Grandpa

I had previously written that my grandfather was in the hospital, but there wasn’t really an update to give after that post; he was taken out of ICU, as I’d written, and was in his own room, and then things just sort of stayed there.

I was woken up Saturday morning by a call from my mom. She told me that things had gotten worse, and that I’d better get down there to see him, as it might be my last chance. She was packing a bag, in case she needed to stay overnight, and I’d better do the same. So I got up, and we showered, and we packed a bag with some clothes. Andrea had actually been planning to work, on Saturday, but she called to let them know she couldn’t make it. We got in the car, and headed off to the hospital. My grandparents live in a small town near London, which is about 200km from Toronto.

We were about halfway there when my stepfather called my cell, to let me know that Grandpa had just passed away. He said we shouldn’t bother to go to the hospital; we could go to Grandma’s house instead, and they’d probably be there. So we did. (Travel: about 200km.)

I didn’t know what to expect when we walked in the door. Grandpa was 80, and he and Grandma had been married for 57 years. How would she take it? How would Mom? However, as is often the case with an illness such as he had, the death wasn’t a surprise, and people were taking it well. I was relieved, because it’s always harder to deal with death when everyone around you is not dealing with it well; when everyone is dealing with it well, it’s easier for all involved. (Did that come out tautological? Oh well.) My sister, who lives in Ottawa, was also on her way down, with her partner, but we weren’t sure when they would get there; Ottawa is about an 8 hour drive. So we all hung out at Grandma’s house, and had KFC for supper, and waited for them to arrive.

In a bizarre kind of way, it was a nice visit with Grandma. She and Andrea like each other, which is good, and we had a nice visit. At one point, everyone except Andrea and I had to go to the funeral home, to make the arrangements, and I took the opportunity to go and get a haircut, since I was still overdue, and didn’t want to show up at the funeral home looking disrespectful. Funnily enough, I ended up at First Choice, as usual, but I got a really good cut—which, these days, is not usual, for First Choice.

For some reason, they needed a white shirt for Grandpa; apparently there wasn’t an appropriate one in his closet. (Or maybe they just felt they needed a new one?) So my stepfather was given the task of finding one for him. Unfortunately, his only choices were WalMart and Mark’s Work Warehouse, and WalMart only had short-sleeve shirts. So he ended up buying one from Mark’s Work Warehouse. (And, by everyone’s account, they charged too much for it.) I don’t know why a short-sleeved shirt wouldn’t have done, under the circumstances; maybe it would have, and he was just buying what he was told, or maybe the funeral home had given explicit instructions. I don’t know.

My sister and her partner showed up around 7:00 or so, if I remember right—which I might not—and we stayed a while longer, before we finally called it a day, and left. My sister is a lot more emotional than I am, and a bit more emotional than the rest of the family, so there was a bit more crying when she was there, but it was to be expected, of course.

The funeral was planned for Tuesday afternoon, with a viewing on Sunday evening, and further viewings on Monday afternoon/evening. Unfortunately, Andrea and I hadn’t brought clothes appropriate for a viewing or a funeral, so we had to head back to Toronto, for the night, so we could pick up the appropriate attire. (Travel: ~200km; total so far: ~400km)

On Sunday, we drove back to Grandma’s house. (Travel: ~200km; total so far: ~600km) At some point, we must have called around, to let people know where we were, and that we wouldn’t be at work on Monday, etc. I don’t remember most of that.

The viewing Sunday evening was fine. I met a lot of people, and stayed by Grandma’s side most of the time. She was feeling a bit dizzy, so my main job was really to make sure she sat down as much as possible, but of course that was an unlikely task; every time someone new came along, she popped up to greet them, out of habit. But she was fine. In a strange way, it was great to see her meeting the people as they came in. With rare exception, she knew every name, and a word to say to everyone, and did a fine job. I love and respect her, and the viewing added to that.

On Sunday night, Andrea and I had to head back to Toronto again. Andrea had a plane to catch on Monday, for a conference in New York. So we drove back. (Travel: ~200km; total so far: ~800km) She felt guilty, for not being able to attend the funeral, but of course everyone understood completely, and there was no need to feel guilty. But I know how she felt; if I’d been in her shoes I probably would have felt guilty, too, even though it was unjustified.

On Monday, I drove back to Grandma’s house. (Travel: ~200km; total so far: ~1,000km) About halfway there, I realized that I had brought my suit—for the funeral on Tuesday—but had forgotten to bring the shirts to go with it. They were conveniently hanging on the knob of my bedroom door. (Say it with me now: So that I wouldn’t forget them.) Luckily, my uncle had brought some extra shirts, so he lent me one, for the viewings on Monday. Between the viewing on Monday afternoon and Monday evening, I managed to get to Mark’s Work Warehouse, to buy myself another shirt, to wear with my suit for the funeral. Which means, if you’ve been following along, that I would be wearing the same shirt to Grandpa’s funeral that he would be wearing. At least I had a different tie.

As a side note: We were looking through Grandma’s photo albums, for pictures we could put up of Grandpa at the funeral home. We found one of him wearing the top half of a suit, with blue jeans. The story behind the picture was that he and Grandma had been attending a wedding; she was wearing her wedding clothes, and he was bringing his, and he kept telling her to hurry up, hurry up. When they got there, he realized that he’d forgotten to pack his suit pants with his suit, and was forced to wear the jeans. We had half-heartedly joked that we should wear jeans to the funeral, in honour of him, but we didn’t.

Again, my self-imposed job was to stay with Grandma at the viewings, and again, in a bizarre way, it was just nice to spend time with her. I think there were some people there who were a little aghast that she kept touching him in the coffin, straightening his tie, etc. But I had no problem with it. I was touched, and I still get a lump in my throat now, just thinking about the tenderness of it. I’m sure I would do the same, if Andrea passed away before I did, and was in an open coffin at the funeral.

On Monday evening, I didn’t have to go back to Toronto. I did, however, go back to my mom’s place, instead of staying with Grandma. (We felt—and she did too—that she needed some time to herself.) So I drove back there. (Travel: ~100km; total so far: ~1,100km)

On Tuesday, we all got up—on time!—and made the trip back to Grandma’s. (I wasn’t driving, this time, so I won’t bother to record the mileage…) Although Andrea wasn’t able to make it, her dad and sister were planning to come, which Grandma really appreciated. But I was pleasantly surprised, when they got there, to see that not only had they come, but they’d brought another uncle of Andrea’s, and my pastor! I thought that was really above the call of duty, and I was very touched, and appreciative, that they came. (And, actually, I was glad they were there at all; I’d given Andrea’s dad instructions on how to get to the funeral home, and I realized on Tuesday that they wouldn’t work, because there was construction. Luckily, however, he was ignoring my directions, and had got directions from MapQuest, so they were fine.)

The funeral was very good. Although the presiding pastor was United—and, judging by conversations before the funeral, very United—he did a good job with the service. My cousin also did a good job, when he gave a bit of a speech on behalf of the grandchildren. (There had been some debate, beforehand, as to whether he would go up and say something, or I would, or we both would. I would have been fine doing it, since I don’t mind public speaking, but on Monday he began work on putting his thoughts down on paper, so I figured he could just go up on his own. I didn’t want to wriggle out of any responsibility which might have been mine—as the eldest grandchild—but neither did I feel that it was a responsibility, so I was fine with him doing it. And he didn’t seem to mind either, so I didn’t feel I was putting a burden on him that he didn’t want. We all contributed to what he was going to say, so he really was speaking on behalf of all of us.)

I don’t know why I didn’t cry. There was no reason not to, and a few times I felt the tears come to my eyes. I even thought to myself about the shortest verse in the Bible (“Jesus wept.”, John 11:35), which Grandma had been talking about the day before. You have to remember the context of that verse: Lazarus has died, and Jesus is on his way to the tomb. He knows that He is about to raise Lazarus from the dead; really, there is nothing to be sad about. And yet He wept anyway. Partially, I believe, because He was troubled by the mourning of those around him, and partially, I also believe, simply because death is sad, even for the Christian, who will die on this Earth and wake up in heaven. In any event, if Jesus wept for the dead, even the temporarily dead, then there is ample reason for me to weep for the dead. But for some reason, the tears never came. I didn’t hold them back, but neither did they spill forth of their own accord, even when I thought they would.

There was some worry about rain, on Tuesday afternoon, because the sky was threatening, but the timing was near perfect: We got to the cemetery, the pastor said what he needed to say, and just as he finished, the skies opened up and the rain fell. People got a bit wet as they went back to their cars, but it wasn’t bad at all.

After the interment we went to the Legion hall, where sandwiches and snacks were served. The pastor who had done the service had to leave, unfortunately, for another engagement, but my pastor was willing to give thanks for the food, before it was served. Unfortunately, we didn’t really introduce him, before he did, so nobody knew who he was. (And even if we had, what would we have said? “This is the pastor of the church Jack’s grandson David attends in Toronto”?) But a number of people mentioned to me afterwards that they liked his prayer, so I guess not knowing who he was didn’t matter too much.

After the “lunch” at the Legion hall, many of us headed back to Grandma’s, where we had beer and other drinks available, and the family spent some time together. Nobody got rip-roaring drunk or anything; we just had a few drinks, and enjoyed each others’ company, and silently, internally, grieved our loss. One uncle spent a little too long saying goodbye to Grandma, which upset her a bit; he’d lost his own father a while before, and the funeral obviously brought back the memories. I tried to distract him away from her, and get him talking to me instead of her, but I was unsuccessful. It wasn’t too bad; just drunk talk. But still, I’d rather if he’d found someone else to give it to, rather than Grandma. (And, luckily, my sister’s partner had spent much of the afternoon with him, and done a very good job of keeping him entertained and/or quiet. So he is to thank for the fact that this uncle didn’t spend more time upsetting Grandma.)

We headed back to Mom’s Tuesday evening. Tuesday night, since I was in the area anyway—and still hadn’t given Jer and Terilyn their baby shower gift—I gave them a call, and asked if it was alright for me to come over. I hadn’t given them any warning that I was in the area, and of course I expected them to be tired, what with the new baby and all, but they were very happy to have me over, so I went, and spent some time with them. I held Alexis in my arms, and didn’t break her or anything. (That I know of.) I was also pleasantly surprised when they asked me to be Alexis’ god father. I don’t know what’s involved in doing that—and what little I thought I knew turns out to be incorrect—but whatever it is, I’ll do my best. I’m very touched and honoured that they’d want me to do that for them, and for Alexis.

On Wednesday afternoon—after sleeping in past noon—I made the drive from Mom’s back to Toronto. (Travel: ~300km; total travel: ~1,400km)

This was a very matter-of-fact post, with a somewhat emotional title, which is appropriate. I’m not an emotional man, but I’m close to Grandma, and was close with Grandpa, so obviously his death is affecting me. So I’m currently experiencing grief at his loss, but am also somewhat emotionally empty. Because we’ve all been so busy, over the last couple of days, preparing for and attending the funeral, we haven’t had time to grieve—as is always the case, with funerals—so his death isn’t real to any of us yet. Wednesday was probably the first day it really felt real to Grandma, that Grandpa was gone. Just as it was for me.

My Grandpa’s name was Jack, and my Grandma’s name is Shirley. Jack and Shirley. As I was growing up, I never heard the word “Jack” unless it was followed by “and Shirley”, and I never heard the word “Shirley” unless it was preceded by “Jack and”. The only exception, of course, would be if they were talking to each other, because they had no problems with communication. They had a good marriage, they were good parents, and from what I could tell, they were good friends, to their friends. Their marriage served as a model to many marriages around them, including, to a certain extent, my own. I hope to be a good husband, as Jack was to Shirley. Everyone loved Jack and Shirley, and everyone loved spending time with them.

And now Jack is gone, and it’s just Shirley.


Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss Hunter.
Loved reading this blog.