Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lucky in Death

My grandmother on my father's side is dying. She has cancer. Cancer will have taken both of my father's parents, and I can't say that I feel anything but disgust with the illness.

I barely know her, my grandmother, a result of her living in a supremely rural section of the Finger Lakes region in New York state, a good 8 and a half to 9 hour drive from here. I remember the first time I visited, back around when I was seven or eight, and complaining about the "blah" of it all; empty, rolling hills, the very rare farm, and if you're lucky, maybe one other car. She lived in a centuries old house, damp, musty, lots of dark earthy tones, a partially finished basement, and a sprawling yard that backed up to the woods; I would race an older cousin to the tree line. I burnt my fingers there on an old fashioned stove, unthinkingly resting my hands on the scorching hot exterior while talking to family members I did not know. My mother rushed me to the bathroom to run cold water on my hands. I spent the rest of the day inside playing Mario Kart and F-Zero on the SNES with older relatives. I never won.

I've seen my grandmother face to face all of two times in my life, and can count on my two hands the amount of times I've talked to her on the phone. That's probably a failing on my part, not reaching out to her more. She was, and I quote, "on cloud nine" when she received a letter from me shortly after my birthday earlier this year. Now I send her one last letter, one last chance to share with her some of my life, before she passes away. It's an easy letter to write but a hard one to finish. I can not adorn it with "I hope to hear back from you" or "will talk to you again soon" because there will be nothing again.

My dad said his final goodbye to her yesterday, after having spent four days with her, then drove back home, arriving at about 11pm at night, tired, and sad. When he first called me, on Monday, he was crying. I had never seen or heard my dad cry before. I'm 26. I had been with him and his father when the latter was bedridden and dying of cancer, about 16 years ago, but my father, who never wears his heart on his sleeve, did not cry then, or if he did, I never saw it. To hear him break over the phone was pretty devastating, in part because of the strangeness of it all.

But I and my parents are at that time. Grandparents are old, into their late 70s and early 80s, and death becomes something that we all have to deal with. I have been lucky, in many respects, as nobody I have been close to has passed away. This is buoyed in part by not really being close to too many people, but even amongst my mother's side of the family, who I see a half dozen times a year or so, everyone is alive and healthy and kicking right now.

And so, really, the sadness that strikes me is a result of the sadness my dad is suffering; he will soon be without parents, for the remaining 20-odd years of his life. It is hard to imagine what life is like without parents, especially considering the significant role mine continue to play, but I suppose it's something many people end up going through. He will press on, as he always does, and I suspect that the years and decades will go by once again without me seeing him shed a single tear.

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