Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Pause to Remember

This time of year I always start thinking more about my late Grandpa. His name was Milo, aka "Mike," and he is my mother's father, my maternal grandfather. He has been gone now for seven, it's hard to believe. He died suddenly, in his sleep, three days after Plato was born. We hadn't even left the hospital with our newborn yet when I got the call from my mother telling me that Grandma had found Grandpa dead that morning, in his bed with a peaceful expression on his face.

The timing of his death couldn't have been much worse for me, but how selfish is that? At his funeral, I was strapped in tight to that postpartum hormonal, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived rollercoaster; at its complete mercy: no steering wheel for me. I remember sitting in the church trying desperately to hold it together by focusing on my squirming newborn. I did not need to hear what a wonderful man he was, loving husband, father, and grandfather. I knew all that in my very core; hearing it out loud would surely put me over the emotional edge.

One phrase, however, breached the walls of my hastily-spun mental cocoon. The priest's voice boomed, "...and most recently, great-grandfather to newborn Plato, whom he never got to meet but whose arrival he looked forward to greatly."

I lost it. I don't lose it often. And my "losing it" doesn't involve hysterics or theatrics. It's a forced loss of control, a trait I cling to fiercely. Losing my desperate grip on my control, I cried, hard but quietly. The effort of trying to control such a raw and powerful emotion left me unable to inhale, instead gasping in great, echoing, hiccup-like breaths; which turned heads, garnered sympathetic looks, and sent me spiraling into uncontrollable sobs. The worst thing anyone can offer me when I'm upset is compassion.

I couldn't wait to get outside, to the cemetery. I gulped the humid air. Barely cooler than my lungs, it offered little relief. The crowd around me, simultaneously sympathetic and curious about my infant, was inevitable but unwanted.

The graveside ceremony is a blur; I spent most of the time attending to the curious who wanted a peek or a cuddle with 6-day old Plato. He was a gem, alert and cooing at everyone who held him. After the graveside service, I walked to the grave to say goodbye. My eyes watered anew as I gazed at the headstone. I remember Grandpa and Grandma taking us by their burial plot to show us the headstone they'd had made. On his side was a farm scene, representing his life as a farmer. On hers, a desk with an apple and ruler, signifying her career as a second-grade teacher. At the time I just thought it was creepy: the names with birth dates and empty spots for the death dates. In a moment of clarity, I was suddenly able to appreciate the significance of the earlier visit to the grave. He was showing us how he had made arrangements in preparation for this very day.

My Grandfather was a planner. Of course he had planned much of his own funeral. It was his nature. He was forever reading Consumer Reports and having discussions with my father about the latest products. He never had the internet. It's probably for the best - I'm certain he would have been addicted! I credit him heartily with my own appetite for knowledge, but where I am hungry for it, he was voracious. Five years before he died, he had a devastating stroke that left him essentially paralyzed on one side. His mind was quite intact, however. After the stroke, he had been researching stroke treatment advances, particularly the area of stem cell possibilities. Every time he would see his doctor, he would ask hopefully, "How are they coming on those stem cell studies?" Alas, there was never any good news. Seven years later, they are still not, to my knowledge, doing stroke therapy with stem cells, but he would be excited to know that they are doing studies with autologous stem cells (from a person's own body) and tissue damaged by heart attack. A stroke is a brain attack: brain tissue can't be far away.

Before Plato was born, Grandpa asked all kinds of questions about my pregnancy. He was fascinated by the ultrasound pictures I showed him. His mind seemed to be slowing down a bit, but that couldn't squelch his eternal curiosity. The last words he said to me were, "Take care of my great-grandson," as he hugged me across my burgeoning belly from his wheelchair with his good arm and kissed me on my cheek with his drooping mouth. His eyes were still sharp and bright despite his broken body, and they sought mine as he said those words, making sure I understood him clearly.

The day after I delivered, my parents went to visit Grandpa, and brought pictures of Plato. He asked about the birth, digging for the details, and scrutinizing the pictures carefully. Looking back, I wonder if he knew subconsciously that he would never meet his first great-grandchild face-to-face?

My Grandmother came to me on the day of her husband's funeral and actually comforted me. She, who had lost the man she had been married to for over 50 years, put her arms around me and held me. She held Plato in her arms for the first time that day, and remarked on the miracle of life, and how sad yet amazing it was that Grandpa had left this life so close to the time that Plato had entered it.

To this day I feel there is a strong metaphysical connection between Plato and the Great-Grandfather he never knew. It may sound hokey to some, but I actually feel his presence at times around my son. Maybe he is watching over him, or maybe he is still curious?


Tiff said...

Hey, no fair making me cry at 12:45 in the morning. I have to go to bed soon.

Grandpa was a wonderful man. That was a great tribute to him. At least he got to see pictures of Plato, great-grandson #2 was born a little too late. (One week?)

As I recall, you were kind enough to lend me your son to hold for part of the service so I could attempt to keep it together. And I didn't have pregnancy hormones to blame.

Monnik said...

This is a beautiful post, G. Wonderfully written, and a moving tribute to your grandpa.

My Grandpa Bernie is not doing well. I will have to experience his loss soon, and I'm just dreading that day.

Tiffany said...

What an amazing post. It sounds like your Grandpa really made an impact on people. I hope that his memories are ever present in your household.

Thank you so much for your support. It has meant so much to me. I hope I can repay that kindness.


BlueBella said...

What a wonderful post. I'm sure your Grandpa is with Plato and you as you sense . .. family connections like that are never really broken.
HUGS doll . .but not tear causing hugs :)

Carolann said...

I just stumbled onto this piece morning. It's amazing! I can just see Dad bragging to the others in Heaven about his talented granddaughter and her flattering composition about him. He not only sought out knowledge, he loved sharing it with others. I remember many stimulating (and occasionally conflicting) conversations, most of the latter in my mildly rebellious teenager days. And I can still see those twinkling blue eyes...

He has left us with wonderful memories and lessons. I guess that's what we all hope for when we finally leave this earth. You are not alone in feeling his presence, as I have been searching for something we are in need of out on the farm and, almost magically, it will turn up. Some might attribute this to his being a "pack rat" and never throwing anything away, but think I prefer to hold on to my explanation.

Reading your recollections was both beautiful and comforting. I am so thankful to have the close, supportive family that we do.

I love your blog, as well as my #1 niece.


Carolann said...

Just to be clear, #1's meant chronologically. I love, and am very proud of, all my nieces. ;-)

SUV Mama said...

Sure, go throw in a serious post like this. You caught me unawares, woman!

Amazing tribute, your grandpa sounds like he was wonderful.