Sunday, February 26, 2012

For Grandpa

This weekend was full of lots of family time and was extremely exhausting. Good, but definitely exhausting. Emotional days followed by late nights with sisters, means I feel like I need a few days to recover. I want to get a post done though, or I know I'll never get around to it. And there are some memories I would like to make sure I get down.

My grandma Craig died back in 2001. She'd had back surgery that she never recovered from, followed by a stroke, and then just a series of problems over the course of a few months. I spent a few hours with her in the hospital one day. The plan was to give my grandpa a break from being constantly by her side, but he still stayed not wanting to leave. The day I was there my grandma was in a lot of pain. I tried to help rub cramping legs, but I'm not sure I gave her much relief. That day ended up being the last day I saw her before she passed and part of me has always hated that it's the last memory I have of her. That memory is how I picture her, in pain and uncomfortable.

When my grandpa had to be put in a care center, there was a part of me that didn't want to go see him at all. I didn't want that to be my last memory of him. I will admit there was also a level of laziness involved there, but the thought of my grandma was always in my mind. So I didn't see my grandpa that much over the last few years. On the 10th I got a call from my sister that I had long since expected, that my grandpa's nurse felt he wouldn't last much longer, and to come and say goodbye. The memory of my grandma flashed in my mind, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to actually say goodbye. There are so few times in death that you actually get that chance.

As I was getting ready to head over I knew that it had to be close to when my grandma died because her funeral had been on Valentine's. I pulled up her obituary to check, and yes, she had died on the 10th, 11 years earlier. The thought of my grandpa passing on the same day as my grandma had a sweetness to it. I guess that wasn't meant to happen though, because he did hang on for a few more days.

I sat beside my grandpa's bed and was surprised at how well he looked to me. He definitely didn't have the, just about to die countenance I had prepared myself for. Instead he opened his eyes and said hello even though he wasn't sure who I was. I held his hand which was resting on the bed and instead of me comforting him, he patted my hand while I sat next to the bed. He acknowledged a few people as they came in, but mostly just rested. The only outward sign of struggling health was a bad cough. After staying for awhile I went to give him a kiss goodbye and he woke up and kissed me back. I went to the end of the bed while my sister said goodbye and waved to him. My grandpa looked me in the eye, and winked. And I left with the perfect closure. Not a bad memory of failing health, but a smile brought on my a gesture that showed me even though his mind and health were gone, enough of him was still there to reach out and say goodbye.

While at the care center saying goodbye I was talking to my aunt who was there, and we were talking about the significance of the day and my grandma's funeral. My aunt told me that after my grandma's funeral her daughter, who I think was about 7 at the time, turned to her and said, what a beautiful day for a funeral. A little confused my aunt asked her what she meant. She said, well Valentine's Day is a day to think about all the people you love, so what a beautiful day for a funeral. A few days later Valentine's Day had rolled around again. All day there was part of me that felt like my grandpa would go that day. Or maybe I just liked the significance if he did. I went to bed about 11:30 that night and immediately started crying, I knew my grandpa was gone. It was just over 30 minutes later when the nurse went to check on him, and he had passed away. Because it was pass midnight when they checked, he officially died on the 15th. I'm not convinced though. I'm not sure what happens when we die, but I don't have a problem believing my grandpa left on Valentine's Day to be reunited with the love of his life.

We had a beautiful service on Saturday full of lots of great memories. Some I was familiar with, and some were new. It wasn't surprising to me, but I was proud to hear stories of my grandfather going against the racist norm that he grew up around in the deep south. I felt pride in hearing stories about my grandfather encouraging his children to question the world around them and not to accept things just at face value. Next time my boss gets on me for stirring things up I want to tell him, sorry it's in my blood.

My grandpa had a passion for the written word, and although I can't say I give it the attention I should, after hearing many more great stories about the love my grandpa had for books and reading, it makes me want to re-commit to having that be a meaningful part of my own life. And to make sure it is one I help pass down to the next generation. I definitely owe any interest in Shakespeare to my grandpa and the memories of him explaining the plots and characters around the campfire before going to see the plays at the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. I will miss having that.

My grandpa had specifically requested that he have bagpipes at his funeral. I remember him talking about it way back when I was in high school and played in the high school pipe band. I never owned my own set of pipes, so after high school, my pipe playing days ended. I had wished to be able to play at other funerals for my other grandparents that had passed away in earlier years. I was never in contact at the time though with friends that still played, and doubted if I still had the skills to even attempt such a thing. I'm now back in contact with my best friend from high school Becky, who does own her own pipes. Upon my grandpa's passing, I asked her if she would be willing to play, which she agreed to do. There was a part of me that wanted to try, but really doubted that there would be any ability left after 17 years. Becky sadly lost an aunt later that week, who's funeral would be the same day as my grandpa's. She wasn't sure if she would be able to go because it was out of state, but I didn't want to take the opportunity away and felt it was the push for me to maybe try it out.

I was surprised that I was in fact able to remember the fingerings to Amazing Grace, and did better than I had expected after such a long void, but was definitely far from being able to play in front of people. I had a few days to practice and try and build up some stamina. On Friday while practicing I was feeling a lot more confident. I was no where near the ability I'd had back in high school, but felt like I at least wouldn't embarrass myself. After the funeral I headed down to the cemetery to get warmed up. The wind had really picked up which had also caused the temperature to really drop. Two things that in no way help playing an instrument outside. The time came for me to play and honestly I've pretty much blurred the memory except for the fact that the low note I was struggling with while warming up because of the weather, did not play. But besides that issue, I made it through. The family was all very appreciative of the effort, and knew my grandpa would have appreciated my playing, even if it was less than perfection. I imagine if my grandpa had been there I would have gotten a wink, a slight shrug of the shoulders and a whispered, sometimes that happens.

I also have to mention the beautiful casket that my mom helped arrange. When my little sisters moved to Kanab, we noticed on the first trip down to visit, a sign for a woodworking place that among other things, made caskets. Little did we know then, that a few years later, my mom would be driving down to pick up the hand-made pine casket for her father. They did a beautiful job and I'm sure my grandpa would have loved the simplicity of it.

Saturday night my family went out to our favorite restaurant, Bombay House. I found it very fitting because it was my grandparents who introduced us to the wonderful restaurant and owners. And it felt like the perfect ending to the day. Later that night my sisters and I all sat on the front porch, in the freezing weather, singing songs. Singing was another important tradition that is in our family because of our grandparents. And I know it is something that will forever remind us of the wonderful grandparents we had.

My mom's generation was missing my aunt and uncle who are serving an LDS mission in Brazil, but my generation had all 21 grandchildren in attendance. Can't say this is the best picture ever, but hey, we're all there! Not sure when that will happen again.

My grandpa was a wonderful man, who leaves behind a full legacy. I don't remember ever hearing an unkind word, or a raised voice from my grandpa. He was one of those people that made you feel special, just from being around him. He lead a full life and was the kind of man that makes me want to live a better life to emulate the example he was for our family. He will be missed beyond compare, but his memory will never fade from those lucky enough to have know him. I love you grandpa. Thank you for the life you lived.


Marty Wombacher said...

This is a great tribute to your Grandpa and to your family, Kari. Good for you for playing the bagpipes at the cemetary.

Britta said...

Beautiful, Kari! I loved every single memory I heard of him - it just reinforced what a wonderful man he was and you are right, I think you would have had a wink from Grandpa at the funeral. That and a big hug - I was so proud of you!

Grampi said...

Thank you Dear Kari; there are numerous things you expressed here that welled me up with emotion. Your photos are also touching; but none more so for me, than the Last Loving Clasp.

Maiken said...

Well said, Kari! I was thinking after the funeral how no praise of Grandpa was untrue or exaggerated.

Thanks for bringing your camera that last time we saw him. It was a really nice good-bye.