Again, I’ve been away for a while.
My grandfather died on Friday, May 9. Zach and I had planned to head to Walla Walla to visit him over Memorial Day weekend, but my mom called on Thursday and said she thought we should go sooner. I took a last minute day off and Zach and I started our drive east about 8:30 Friday morning. We arrived in a very warm and sunny Walla Walla around 1:00 and did our greetings. My mom and her sisters Cherie and Gini were already there and so was my cousin Adrienne. Grandpa was sitting in his favorite chair in the family room where he could see the backyard and his favorite feathered friends (he had installed feeders and houses in various places around the yard to welcome both birds and squirrels). He was having a hard time breathing and had folded himself over onto a pillow on a tv tray to open up his airway. He said hello to me and asked how I was… I did the same for him and he let me hug him. After pleasantries with everyone else were out of the way I sat myself down at the kitchen table to do some work.
While I sat and typed Adrienne sat with grandpa in the family room. I could see her holding his hand. At one point he looked at her, she told me later, and the fear in his eyes scared her. I heard her tell him, “it’s okay”. My grandmother came in after a while and stood next to his chair. He looked up at her and said, “I don’t know”. She said, “I don’t know either Aim. I love you.” He told her he loved her too… something I had never heard him say before.
After a while Adrienne and I went outside to join Zach and Gibson and Pete romping in the backyard. The weather was amazing and it felt good to have the sun on our skin. Sometime between 4:00 and 4:30 Cherie came onto the porch, arms waiving, saying that he was gone. My grandma said later that she felt guilty that she hadn’t been sitting with him, but the truth of the matter is he had taken care of everything he needed to take care of and he wanted to be alone to die with dignity. In life he wasn’t someone who liked to be fussed over or made a big deal of. He wanted this to be the same. He had told my grandmother goodbye and that he loved her and then he wanted to take care of business on his own.
The funeral was scheduled for the following Thursday and Zach and I decided to stay in Walla Walla until then. There wasn’t much we could do, but it was nice to know that we were there in case my mom needed us for anything. I tried to help put together take-aways for the funeral, we had to shop for clothes for the week and for the services, I worked every day to try to keep up with things, we spent a lot of time with grandma and family.
My grandparents met when she was 15 and he was 18. They knew each other for 70 years. Some people don’t even live 70 years and yet these two were lucky enough to know the love of their life for 70 years. That’s amazing to me. She was staying in his mother’s boarding house and when they got married she moved from the boarding house to his house and they started a family. She raised four girls and two boys, all of whom have homes and careers and spouses and children of their own now. For the first time in her 85 years my grandmother lives alone. What a challenge at any age let alone 85 to learn to be alone – to get used to sleeping in silence, to figure out how to shop and cook for one, to care for yourself rather than spending your time caring for someone else. I hope that this experience will be one of growth and joy for my grandmother. She loves to knit – she makes knitted breast replacements for women who have had mastectomies, she loves to garden – her yard is always beautiful and she’s active in the rose society, she has friends and a large church community. If she decides to move closer to her children, many of whom live in Vancouver and Portland, I look forward to taking her to knitting group and to having her give me pointers on my landscaping.
At the funeral reception people were swapping stories about grandpa and my aunt Ann told a joke that I remember hearing more than once from him. The names have been changed to protect the innocent – and my innocent, I mean you, the reader. I’ve tried to make this a little more PC for this post. I love this joke and I hope you think it’s as funny as I do:
A woman was driving down a long desert highway and came across a hitchhiking woman. She stopped and picked her up and they drove in silence together for a long time.
Finally, the hitchhiker asked the woman about the contents of a paper bag sitting on the backseat.
“That’s some old crow that I got for my husband,” the driver told her.
The hitchhiker replied, “good trade.”