I’ve been thinking about my grandparents again lately. It seemed like the two summers preceding the one we are in now were almost identical: our family away on summer vacation, getting home and finding out the news that a grandparent is dying, funeral a week later.
We got home from our summer holiday on July 25, 2008. I remember the night before talking to my granny from a payphone by the swimming pool at Diefenbaker Lake. That was the last time I spoke to her before the stroke she had on July 26th, the evening after we got home from our holiday. She passed away holding my handing and moving her head in my direction as she let out her final breath on the evening of August 7th.
July 28, 2009 was two days before we were scheduled to get home from our three week-long holiday. It also would’ve been my grandparent’s 68th wedding anniversary, but it was grandpa’s first July 28th without his Marjie. It was also the day grandpa would get the news that he had very large cancerous tumour on his lung. The morning after we got home, I went to my parents’ house (where he’d been living since granny passed away), put my head in his lap as he ate breakfast at the table, told him how much I loved him and didn’t want to lose him, and he put his arms around me as we both cried over the realization that he wouldn’t be with us much longer. He died on August 5th surrounded by his children and me with my hand feeling the last beats of his heart.
I had been scared my whole life of losing my grandparents. My dad’s parents had died, each of cancer, when I was 5 and 10 years old. Young enough to remember, but still too young. I remember in university telling my grandparents how I didn’t want them to die and how much I’d miss them, and they reassured me that they weren’t going to die (any time soon, anyway). But still, there’s always that feeling of fear that you’re going to lose the ones you love and the wondering about how it’s going to happen.
But I will never forget the feeling I had the night that my mom called me from the emergency room telling me that granny had just had a massive stroke. In place of the fear that always sits there under the surface, there rose up a kind of resolution. “This is what is happening. I am going to face this.” (The only other thing I can equate it to is that scared feeling that lives with you for the last weeks of your pregnancy as you dread the impending birth only you can go through, but when the time comes the fear leaves you.) The seem feeling happened the day that grandpa died ,and before I was even out of bed in the morning my dad called to say that grandpa had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. “This is it. This is how it ends. But I’m not afraid.”
So much of life is spent fearing those moments — the moments of death and separation, and even birth. The moments that are filled with pain and uncertainty. But when I think about the birth of my children and the moments when my grandparents’ died, I realize that that is where the living happens. All of this every day stuff that we do, making meals and driving around and going to work, are like the shadows that only occasionally get eclipsed by real moments of living. The moments where sacredness and beauty are felt because they are passing into and out of being, where we truly get a sense of their impermanence and the preciousness that comes from impermanence.
These are not the moments to be feared. At least not in the “scared” sense. These are the moments to stand in awe of and to feel the honour that goes along with being part of the rhythms of life as we come to be and pass away in all of our wretched beauty.