I’m sitting across from my husband in our living room – it’s 9:28 as I begin this – and he has just finished making minute adjustments to his position in his recliner for the PERFECT “Time Magazine” reading angle. His relatively calm body tells me that he’s finally found it. That’s kind of how I feel at the moment. I spent a good portion of this day in that recliner watching “Supernatural” on his computer while I did some work on my own. Yes, it was a geeky and very technological day. But I did succeed in getting my semblance of a portfolio up on flickr and I feel really proud of myself.
I got the bug to put this together this weekend in the midst of a lot of internal and external chaos. I know you are thinking that it doesn’t take much for me to call it chaos and you are right. I have a low threshold. But I think some of it is bona fide: my grandfather is dying, is one thing. Sometimes my family feels like a complete mess, is another. And I am still blundering my way through my role in it all, is the biggest. After having cleaned my parents’ house and several phone calls and personal conversations about paint colors and choices with my dad I ended up not stepping one foot inside the old house to paint this weekend. He called on Thursday night to tell me that Grandpa’s heart was beating only 47 times per minute and functioning at only 30%. I can attest that Grandpa has little motor function and little will to carry on conversation. His shoulders are bony and if it weren’t for his rosacea and protruding abdomen he would look the way he’s never looked in all the time I’ve known him: frail. The four of us “kids” stayed to spend more time with him and I found myself thinking, “I can’t remember ever being alone with him.” It was weird. He had no one to talk for him, which Grandma does almost exclusively now. We did get him to tell us his favorite book of the Bible though he detests being asked questions. It’s Luke. And I was severely uncomfortable. I didn’t know where to look. Every sight in that tiny hospital room was depressing. I didn’t know who to talk to: him (which neither of us really wanted) or my siblings (who surely felt just as awkward as me). I just never knew death would be so awkward. I wasn’t there when my Grandpa Zigler died – or toward the end when he had to be carried – so I missed that part. Gone was the warm fuzzy feeling I’d had when I’d visited the week before and he’d called me back from the door to tell me to behave myself and take care of my husband. It just felt bleak and sad. But he did look us each full in the face and tell us he loved us and really, what more can I ask? I am at peace with my last living grandfather and this time I know I’m going to see him again. When I leaned in to give him a hug I aborted the kiss on the cheek I almost gave him and my lips brushed the loose folds of his neck instead. I realized after this visit that that’s probably the best it’s going to get on this earth. The best hope I have to know Robert Ray Swank lies beyond what either of us has ever experienced.
I’ve always wondered about those first few moments after death – as the dead person I mean. It’s the only thing no one really knows about. I remember Peter Pan’s brave avowal that “to die…would be a very great adventure” and that when my friend Angie’s sister Jennie died back when she was 11 and we were only 14, her parents’ last fear was that she had to go on alone without them for her guide. I think about what it will be like when I die. What my first conscious thoughts will be upon waking somewhere else. Will I be surrounded from the beginning or will I be alone? I recently listened to Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” while I was cleaning houses which I used to do but do no more, Thank God in Heaven. She depicts those moments as a blind flight from the pain and anguish of death which, afterward, only becomes clear in the memory. And I wondered if it would be like that. We do fear that most, do we not? The pain of death? It’s something most of us won’t escape and can’t prepare for. I wonder if it is there, in that final slog through terminal pain, where we experience our final sifting. Will we submit to it; press on toward what lies beyond having been refined enough to desire to set out on the joyous, painful path of becoming real (like in The Great Divorce) or will we let it decide us there must not be a God who cares.
Ahhhh, but onward and upward my friends. It doesn’t end there. I had told my dad I would stay this week in LaPorte for Grandma’s benefit because he decided to go on the senior trip my mom is chaperoning after all, having made his peace with his father. But after a day full of the stresses of family dynamics, I made the hard choice of coming home. I’m glad I did it. It was the wrong decision to have told him I could stay and I’m beginning to realize that everyone will be okay even if I’m not there to rely on. But it was not a decision made without a tearful (dare I say hysterical?) phone call to Henry. After a whole day with Josh and two more sitting in my apartment and working quietly, I am finally in a saner place. This evening I made Thai pork kabobs and onion cakes and brownies and we had a brainstorming session about our future and then we prayed and (forgive me for the run-on sentence) I do LOVE my life. Again. Again and again and again I do. Each time I come back to it it gets sweeter. I love my marriage and my business and my church and my building and my down comforter and our silly birds. And maybe I can’t get Josh to seek counseling or figure out how to make him happy or even get him to call me, but I can hope.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring —
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.–Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins