This is a February post from my blog, Some Moments about my Grandfather who passed away a month later:
So today I felt armed with enough clarity after listening to the guy on NPR who, by the way was so smart and decisive and tolerant all at the same time. I was in awe, because I get so self-righteous and angry when people don’t agree with me.
And then I called my grandfather. Change of plans. Of heart.
He lives in a nursing facility in Maine and has only months to live. To be honest, I have been putting off calling him. Each day, I wake up and think today is the day. I will call Papa. And then the day goes by and I don’t. I’m not a big phone talker and especially not with an old guy I have a ton of mixed feelings about, who can’t hear that well and with whom I have barely anything in common.
Meanwhile he is at the end of his life and his only granddaughter doesn’t call day after day because of laziness, cowardice and a kind of empathetic unforgiveness. I won’t know what to say. His speech is a bit slurred. He won’t be able to hear me that well. He was kind of a lousy father to my dad and aunt. So there. justification for not being compassionate. Justification for checking Facebook every few hours and getting caught up with some political discussion or a Youtube clip of John Stewart or some sensational news about what was said about this or that. For using the excuse that I have three kids who are always hovering around me when I’m on the phone fighting or asking me really important questions. (Isabel: It’s an emergency, really! This time it is. Really! Me: (holding my hand over the receiver) Is there blood?
Here’s the thing, I’ve been so caught up in all these big ideas, all of my arguments and anger about what is going on in the political and religious world, that I have ignored this tug on my heart for weeks and weeks. You all know how I love to talk about my heart…Well, I do believe that God has been reminding me everyday to call my grandfather. Some might say it’s guilt talking or just a surge of biological human compassion. But whatever you call it, I’ve ignored it. Several weeks ago, I thought that in addition to calling him, I would send him a box of chocolates, but then I would think, well, he probably doesn’t even like chocolate. And then another day would go by with me being passive and caught up in my own importance.
I called Papa and when I heard his voice, tears came to my eyes. And although I was able to go on talking to him without crying, I thought I might need to go crawl in my bed and cry a while afterwards. Do you ever get this feeling? Like discovering some old box in the attic or in the back of the closet that you just need to go through and spend some time with. I felt like I needed to spend some time with my grief, to get some stuff out. What kind of grief is this? Where is it coming from? What stuff? I’m not sure.
Years ago after my stepfather, John, had been with us for a number of years and after my dad, Butch, died, I decided that this guy who I had known for six years who was married to my mom would be my only chance of having a father and so I began to call him Dad. I willed myself to love him and try to get something from him, and it worked. Even though I can never go back and get what I need when I was a little girl, my decision to be his daughter worked. He was a gift to me despite a lot of angst along the way. But I didn’t necessarily see his parents as a gift. The closest I came to feeling like their granddaughter was in first two years of my marriage to Ole when we lived in New Hampshire and we would venture over to Maine in a November blizzard to spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents. My grandmother, who has since passed away, knitted me a sweater every time I visited and she would sit with me as she knitted and ask me questions. She nearly always frowned, but I knew she wanted me near her while I visited and so I did. I sat with her.
Papa made blueberry muffins every time we visited and had this Santa Claus look and comforting way of greeting me in the mornings—a deep voiced, Good Morning, young lady and a smile that made me forget for a moment what I knew about his treatment of my father when he was growing up. Still, the justice-seeker in me could not fully give myself over to being his adoring granddaughter but even without that fighter in me who says don’t love people who have ever hurt someone I love, he’s not the kind of grandfather you adore. I suppose because he has never been adoring or at least in no way I knew about. (Which brings up an interesting question: Can you adore without first being adored? Is it humanly possible? I supposed he never experienced adoration from his parents.)
Today, I was struck by this truth: that while I haven’t had a heart for Jack (Papa), God does and for a moment God transferred that to me. I think when Jesus instructed us to Love your neighbor as yourself, he also promised to help us to do it-the thing that seems nearly impossible most of the time.
A few weeks ago my dad and my aunt went to visit Jack. My father was moved by the condition that his father was in so he and my aunt set up some things for him that would make his life more pleasant these last few months. They arranged for a person to come everyday, give him a shave and take him outside for a smoke, the chef to bring him a drink in the evening and a meal that is less mushy and more flavorful. I’m sure my dad was not looking forward to visiting his father. I venture to say that he didn’t really want to go. And I think he was moved to care for his father in ways that he was not cared for himself as a boy. That is a miracle if you ask me.
Before I hung up with my grandfather, I asked if he liked chocolate – just casually. Figured he’d say something like, It’s ok but Susan liked it or that he wouldn’t hear me at all and it would end up being this annoying back and forth with me yelling in the end, DO YOU LIKE CHOCOLATE?
He said as soon as I had uttered the question: I love it.
And so I am revived into action in this time when I am tempted to hide and hold on to the excuse that I’m “overwhelmed” by being in a new place. I am reminded once again to just go ahead and listen to those quiet tugs of compassion. Just do it and you never know what will happen. It can’t hurt even if it is your own brain talking to you.
Off I go to order chocolate. Milk chocolate, he said. Ok, I can do that.
It’s a relief to feel more alive and dig into something that at first seems so small and insignificant, to dig into my own resistance and find joy and meaning. My opinions, questions, arguments, this election will wait another day.
Note: My family and I traveled to Maine last weekend for my grandfather’s memorial service. After the service, my aunt and father embraced, their shoulders pulsing in a mutual grief that went a little like this, I think: He was a strange old guy but he was ours. Later, my aunts best friend from childhood threw a lobster boil by the coast on her property. We cracked shells and slurped lobster meat and buttery corn on the cob. It was a beautiful and messy affair.
Now off to check the latest on the election front. A messy but not beautiful affair.