Monday, September 28, 2009

Farewells


One of my Grandpa Ed's paintings, one of my favorites. The original hangs in my grandparents' living room.

Fall is here, strong and brilliant. It's the part of the cycle that tugs at the hems of our heartstrings, reminding us that we can't ignore the less joyous parts of our lives forever, that there has to be sorrow in order for us to appreciate our joy, and that we will eventually have to let go of this world with all its named things, and return to a wordless existence that doesn't recognize petty ownerships, but perhaps does recognize love, spiritual tribute - those truths that extend beyond the corporeal, if you believe in such a thing.

The season is hitting me hard, this year. I have been, truth be told, enjoying the crispness in the air and the faint hints of changing seasons quite a bit, though thinking more of hayrides than subways while I do so. But today was a sad day, and brings together all the sorrows that have been lingering, banished some as petty, and betted others as necessary woes.

I lost my grandfather today. I don't know how else to put it...my heart hurts. But I am truly relieved that he is no longer suffering.

In June, he developed some symptoms that presented like pneumonia. It turned out to be lung cancer. An extremely aggressive, fast moving, and nearly asymptomatic type, which I am told has been more or less directly linked to Agent Orange, to which he was exposed while working as a medic in the vietnam war. He went from being fine, to thinking it was pneumonia, to finding out it was cancer, to learning that it had metastasized too much for surgery to be worthwhile, to trying chemo, to finding it was having no effect, to hospice care, all in a matter of weeks. And today he's gone.

I'm sorry that I didn't get to see him before he went. But I am also so glad for all the times did get to see him, and hopefully remind him of how much he meant to me. I am extremely grateful that Cadence got to meet him, even if it was a brief visit, while she was very young. He was always a steady, silent presence when I was young, intimidating in an almost thoughtful, curious way that reminded me almost of playfulness. I remember his hugs being strong, and warm, but somehow, like a gentle giant, like he could squeeze as hard as he could and it wouldn't hurt me. I don't remember him talking much, but whenever he would speak up it was with such interest in life it made me wonder why he was so quiet. I remember assuming he was very shy. But then he'd create these amazing paintings, drawings, and it was always so much an extension of himself, that he was sharing in some vulnerable way, but had so much truth in it I wouldn't know how to respond. I remember his art studio in the basement, how his smell lingered even when he wasn't there, and how it seemed like a scary, but magical place. I remember how he would encourage us to explore, to fill blank spaces, and always seemed genuinely impressed with our creations, which always, in turn, genuinely surprised and excited me.

I remember how you could hear him snoring all over the house, even downstairs, and how that was somehow remarkably comforting - even though it was usually during the day, since he worked the graveyard shift at the nursing home.

I remember how on one level he always seemed like a fish out of water when he came to the city, or encountered new subjects, but on all the rest of the myriad levels, he was soaking in everything there was to absorb, and his apparent absent-mindedness was just his lack of attention to the superficial happenings in the room. We may have laughed, but I think that he was actually lost in the wonder of whatever it was he was discovering. Whether he ultimately liked something or not, he always let it affect him somehow, first.

I remember his laugh. I remember his breath, somehow always expressing things that were living within him, if not otherwise expressed. I remember how infectious his enjoyment was.

He was relatively young, and went so quickly...it's so hard to imagine my life without his presence. I've been so far away for so long, and yet, knowing that my grandparents - all my family, really - are there has always been a grounding feature of my life. I love them dearly, and I know that his passing is going to have a lasting effect on my life. As well it should, I wouldn't have it any other way; he meant enough to me that, were his passing to be but a blip on the radar...well, it wouldn't even be a possibility without entirely rewriting who he was, who I am, and how our lives intertwined.

I have always been proud of him. And that pride, and my love and respect for him, have not at all died with him. They will live on, into future seasons, germinating future life, and keeping him with me in spirit if not in life.

I think the best way I can honor him and his memory is to remember my own art, to press on with the exploration and filling space, and sharing those powerfully vulnerable moments that make artists artists, and to dedicate a small portion of that life to his love, encouragement, and his ever gentle, ever caring spirit.

My Grandpa Ed, my cousin Meghan and myself, I think we were around 4 in this photo. Note the corner of the painting behind us.

Goodbye, Grandpa. I love you so much, and I miss you, terribly, already.
Peace.