Peace Is On The Rise

It has been a crazy few weeks, to say the least. On the evening of March 10th, I found out that my grandfather was in the hospital dying. The dreaded ‘c’ word– cancer– had overtaken his body, spreading from his prostate into his lymph nodes and– tragically– his brain. Mere hours after he had been admitted into the hospital, long before Marty and I were even able to get to Calgary, he was gone. A tumor– covering close to 20% of his brain like snaking, suffocating ivy– is what officially took him away from this earth.

This is a photo my grandpa took of himself for a camera course shortly before he passed away. Spooky, no?

At least it was quick. At least he was surrounded by family when it happened. At least there was no pain.

Grandpa smoking beside the first of his many children

I spent over two weeks at my grandma’s house, first helping out with the funeral plans and later watching over my grandma and aunts like a regular Florence Nightingale. I designated myself Queen of My Grandma’s Kitchen, and for weeks I prepared my extended family nurturing soups and nourishing bowls of morning oatmeal. I’ve never cooked so much food in my life! True to my Almost Vegan self, I roasted several organic chickens for a crowd and even ventured to make my grandma’s dogs raw dog food. (A word to the wise: using a food processor to blend hamburger meat and LIVER is not for the faint of heart, and especially not for the Almost Vegan Faint Of Heart.) Heh. During that two week span, I transformed from somebody who was secretly wary (and even a bit petrified) of my grandpa to an open-hearted goddess of love and understanding for that particular branch of my family tree. I am back at the lake now, safe and sound, but I am definitely a woman changed.

Newsflash: My Grandpa was good looking! Consider me shocked.

My metamorphosis started with a dream.

In the wee morning hours of March 12th, I bolted awake in bed, finding myself reciting the final words of the Lord’s Prayer. Out loud. In the dark! Only moments before, while I was still asleep, I had seen a circle of women holding hands and chanting the Our Father together. When it came time for the final verse, they summoned me over. “You have to say this part”, they said, but I was warm and cozy underneath my blankets. (Besides– godless heathen alert!– I wasn’t certain I would even remember the final words to the Lord’s Prayer. Yes, I had been raised ultra-Catholic, but it had been well over 10 years since I had recited any officially-sanctioned prayers.)

This photo pretty much sums up everything I thought I knew about my grandpa: cowboy hat, crucifix, enthusiastic fist pump, and the Lord Our Shepherd in the background. πŸ™‚

There was no way I was going to say anything for the women in my dream. Sorry, ladies: No late night Lord’s Prayer for this sinner.

“You have to say this part!”, they demanded again, this time more urgently. “Now!” So I woke up and whispered, For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Now and forever, Amen. I scanned the bed in embarrassment to see if Marty had heard me, but luckily he was still fast asleep beside me. Then, knowing how uncommon it was to find myself roused from my slumber by a prayer, I quickly checked my alarm clock for the time. It was 2:52 am.

This photo ALSO sums up everything I thought I knew about my grandpa. His own caption for the pic is "Me reading bible". Yep. Reading the bible... on the deck... practically nekkid. Oh, Grandpa! πŸ™‚

I found out from my mother, mere hours later, that my grandpa had passed away during the night. Do you want to hazard a guess re: the exact time of his death? Uh-huh. It was even adjusted across time zones– 3:52 am Mountain Standard Time, or 2:52 am Pacific Standard Time. Leave it to my grandpa to beckon me back onto the Catholic Path with his last earthly breath… (I called it Grandpa Shaktipat, a decidedly un-Catholic way of understanding what had happened to me and what it all meant.)

Grandma and Grandpa. My mom looks EXACTLY like my grandma in these shots!

It sounds cheesy. It seems cliche. But after that dream, my heart opened up like a flower in full bloom. I reconnected with my family members (dozens and dozens of them) and finally felt the peace associated with not judging them or trying to distance myself from them. I was awash with grace. I cared for my family members, both in the physical sense– making sure that the legendary family home was clean and that healthy food was always on the table– and in the emotional sense, too. Most of the tears I cried in Calgary boiled over not in sadness over my Grandpa’s absence, but in love and compassion for my Grandma, who had been with my Grandpa since she was only 15 years old. Her heart had been broken, and my own heart broke in empathy for her.

Only the best photo in the history of the universe! Can you believe that this is my grandma and grandpa? He was 17 in this picture; she was 15.

A year later, in Golden BC

Terrible circumstances are what brought Marty and I over to Calgary, but the tragedy of losing my Grandpa– the undisputed, often terrifying head of our family’s household; the God-fearing, Bible-loving Catholic with a big heart and a short temper; the usually-shirtless man with a permanent suntan and a generous gut– enabled us to form actual friendships with my Grandma, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and even my own sisters and parents again. My heart still aches for my Grandma, but for the first timeΒ in my life, I am phoning her regularly and enjoying our conversations together. We’re friends now! The two weeks I spent with her have literally changed me. Yes, I’m still the pro-choice, feminist, gay-marriage-supporting black sheep in the family, but the grace of god and my Grandpa’s spirit helped me to realize that so much more connects me to my family than sets me apart.

Grandma and Grandpa at their 25th wedding anniversary, unveiling the now-legendary pic of my mom and her infinite number of siblings. (My sisters and I have tried duplicating this pose in many of our own pics.)

RIP Grandpa: October 20, 1937 to March 12, 2012

Totally unrelated to this post: Apparently WP is blocking some people from commenting on this and other posts. If you have been trying to comment but find yourself facing the stone-cold wall of WP disapproval, please e-mail me at:

dana (DOT) zonapellucida (AT) gmail (DOT) com

and I’ll see what I can do. Thanks!

49 responses

  1. Send hugs for your loss. Thanks for sharing all of this. I’m sure some of the feelings are still raw, but it is so good to read you feel changed by your new-found understanding. Sometimes its weird what makes us grow.

    How cool you got “tapped” into a bit of prayer by your grandfather’s crucifix, no doubt πŸ™‚ When you first wrote you bolted awake at 2:52 in prayer I just knew you’d be telling us that’s exactly when he passed. No surprise there. πŸ™‚
    Hugs,
    Susan

    • Thanks, Susan. I forgot to mention that when he passed away, my aunts were actually gathered in a circle around him in the hospital room, holding hands and saying the Lord’s Prayer together. It makes me smile to think that my grandpa came to *me* at this time. (Some of my other family members were actually jealous and frustrated that he came to visit the “heathen” and not them. Mysterious ways, indeed!)

      I never really had much of a relationship with my grandpa, so I feel like I’ve been mourning the loss of a concept more than a person. Besides, knowing how hard it was for me to spend a measly week apart from Marty (he went home on the 21st, I came back on the 27th) made me truly appreciate how deep the loss of my grandpa would be for my grandma. I think my grandpa came to me in that dream to open my heart to my grandma. She needs a lot of love and care right now.

  2. Dana, this post was so moving, I am in tears. Those pictures are priceless. Your grandfather had movie star looks! I got chills reading about your vision of the lord’s prayer and waking up at that exact moment. A similar thing happened to me when my dad died. It’s incredible the connection we have to our family members. How wonderful that you and your grandma will now be able to forge a new relationship together. Even though you’ve just experienced a terrible loss, I can feel your positive spirit through your words in this post. Almost like a new beginning in your life. I hope you and your family can only grow stronger and more connected now.

    • Thanks, Darla. I’m feeling really positive about the whole experience, and spending two weeks with my grandma was so special. I cooked for her and my aunts every single meal, and it felt good knowing that I was nourishing their bodies (as well as their spirits) with all the best I could possibly give.

      One of my favourite memories from this trip was making my grandma a homemade tomato soup. She is on a very restricted diet when it comes to sodium, so she hasn’t been able to enjoy any tomato soup for the longest time– everything you could buy in a store or restaurant would be loaded with salt. Anyway. I cooked her a salt-free version and she ate three bowls for dinner! It touched me so much, I didn’t even know how to react. πŸ™‚

  3. Oh, Dana, what a dear and moving post. I’m sorry about your grandfather, but so grateful that his death has broght you closer to your family and given you a renewed sense of peace. Blessings to you, my friend. This is a lovely tribute!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Thanks, Kathy. I was telling Marty that my grandpa’s passing was a true miracle, if only because it helped my extended family put their differences aside and try to get along for a solid week. (Usually, the family is at war with each other, bickering or not speaking to at least one other member for considerable lengths of time.) It was great to finally get along as a family unit and to discover new sides of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and of course– my grandma. I feel at peace with the whole experience and know that my grandpa would have loved the joyous get together in his honour. πŸ™‚

  4. I’m sorry about your grandfather, but so happy that you’ve found peace and a heart-connection with your family.

    Love the photos. You have a wonderful collection. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Robin. I spent a good chunk of time at my grandma’s trolling through their photographs. The family liked to call my grandpa the paparazzi because he took so many photos, but what a blessing to have them all in place now that he’s gone! He even scanned all of his older photos, so there were digital copies of EVERYTHING!

  5. Wow! How insane is that!
    I feel a lot of that family distance – they’re thousands of km away, I have nothing in common with them, I never see them… It’s quite amazing how this dream, and this gathering, brought out so much openness and love!
    These photos (and their captions!) are great, by the way! Your young grandpa looks like a movie star!

    • Doesn’t he look like a gorgeous hunk of star? I was SHOCKED to discover how good looking my grandpa was! (My mental image of him was always heavy-set, shirtless, and upset about something. Even in the eulogy, when my aunt was listing some of his favourite one-liners, “BLOODY HELL!” was one of them. Classy!)

      A lot of healing took place in the days leading up to his death (and afterwards too, of course.) Even though I don’t think my extended family and I will ever agree about a lot of “social issues”, it’s nice to know that we’re all warm-hearted human beings at the core. It was nice to connect with that part of everybody.

  6. That’s a great story with wonderful photos to boot (including the spooky first photo!)

    I am really amazed that you were awoken right at that time. It’s freaky, cool and odd all at the same time. Really in awe… Do you normally have vivid dreams?

    • I dream a lot and can usually remember them afterward. Not all of my dreams are super intense, but this prayer dream wasn’t the first really vivid dream I’ve had (at all). What set this particular dream apart was the prayer. I can’t recall EVER dreaming about Catholic prayers before, especially verbatim like that. That’s why I checked the clock. It didn’t surprise me to learn that that’s when my grandpa had passed away, but I WAS surprised to be included in his “dying breath” moment. (Seriously. I have more than a dozen cousins, more than a dozen aunts and uncles, and there’s even 7 great-grandbabies around at this point. It’s a bit perplexing to me that I was the only person in the fam to have a dream like this.)

    • Much appreciated, Laura! I’m truly impressed at the number of great things that have sprouted up from this one tragedy. Like I say, I think my grandpa would be THRILLED to know that the whole family came together because of his death (and spoke to each other! For over a week! Like civil human beings, even!) I never though my g-ma and I would be “pals”, too, but we are now, and for that I am so thankful. πŸ™‚

  7. Sorry for your loss but glad you’ve found some positives from the experience.

    Your grandfather was a good-looking man. Like really, really good looking. It’s always surprising to learn old people were once stylish and dapper.

    • I know, hey? I practically fell over when I saw these pics, and I secretly didn’t even believe they featured my grandpa until I noticed that all of the photo captions had his name and age on them… Now THERE’S a man that could have used a decent smoking jacket!

      Here I was, silently cursing my genetics all these years. Who knew I should have been thanking the Great Looks Gods all this time? (Note to self: start cursing the gods for not bestowing more of my grandpa’s great looks onto me…) πŸ˜‰

  8. Such a wonderful post Dana! I too am sorry you lost your grandpa, and am also happy for you that you’ve been able to reconnect with family. And how gracious of you to take care of the entire group! *hugs*

    • Cooking was one thing that I truly felt I could give from my heart. I love to be in the kitchen, and knowing that my whole family was well-fed and well-nourished was very important to me. A lot of them had never experienced “my” way of eating before, but I’m happy to report that nobody went hungry, felt deprived, or flat-out refused to eat what I set out before them. (I was worried about things like hummus and fresh guacamole. Personally, I can’t get enough, but I wasn’t sure how the fam would react. I think I converted dozens of people to the wonders of whole food spreads! πŸ™‚ )

  9. Loved your tribute to your grandfather, and how well you describe the intricate emotional threads woven into a large extended family… Your grandparents look like they were happily married for a very long time and it’s so wonderful that you could be there for your grandmother and are staying more in touch with her now, too.

    • The eulogy said it perfectly: my grandma and grandpa’s relationship “started as a love affair and ended as a love affair”. They spent about 25 years warring with each other in between the beginning and the end, but they were the best of friends otherwise. πŸ™‚

  10. I recently lost my grandfather. It is a sad time but looking back at a long and wonderful life he had make me feel a little pain.

    This is a great portrait of a man’s life. I loved it.
    Tim

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Tim. I’m sorry to hear that you also lost your grandfather recently. There will always be sad feelings, no matter how long or well a person lived before they passed away. My thoughts are with you as you deal with your loss.

  11. Oh Dana, what a beautiful post and tribute to your grandfather. We lost my grandfather about ten years and my grandmother last year. I do remember the ache you feel in your heart for your grandmother after her love passes away, you want to hug and make it better and just do more than you know you are able to do. I am proud of you for commanding your grandmother’s kitchen and forming bonds with your family. I am happy to see you back in the blog world too, we have missed you xx

    • Thanks, Christy! I missed being in the blog world, too, but real-world interactions kept me out of cyberspace for a while. (Though I DID show my grandma my lighthouse post and helped cheer her up a bit with the photos of Misery.) πŸ™‚

      I’ve only been with Marty for 8-ish years now, and the thought of losing him totally devastates me. (I totally bawled at the airport when he left 6 days before I came home, too.) I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a partner that had consumed your life for nearly 60 years! My heart truly goes out to my grandma at this time.

  12. Oh Dana, I’m really sorry to hear about this. I am glad to hear that you seem to be handling it fine and have bonded with your family. Recently I heard someone say that they have seen death in families bring people closer together. I believe that does happen sometimes and your family seems to be one of these examples.

    • It sounds terrible, but the bonding might not have taken place (at least not to that extent) if my grandma had passed away first. Everyone really made an effort to be decent for my grandma’s sake, because she’s always been the peacekeeper in the family.

      I was an absolute mess when my grandparents on my dad’s side passed away, probably because I had an ongoing relationship with them throughout my life. I wasn’t as close with my other grandparents, but now I feel fortunate to have finally developed a relationship with my grandma. Better late than never, I suppose…

  13. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Now and forever, Amen.

    Oh, Dana, this post is so raw and beautiful and scary and sad and energizing that it takes my breath away. The way you told this story has the power to open all our hearts, too.

    The amazing dream. The Queen of your grandma’s kitchen, cooking, cooking. The way you and your grandma have forged a friendship. The way your grandpa’s death changed you. How love can emerge from death.

    How the lines of that prayer can be understood to be something bigger than your grandpa, the Catholic church…how our hearts can keep growing bigger.

    blessings…

      • Isn’t it? My grandpa LOVED taking photos and even enrolled in a number of continuing ed courses to learn more about cameras and Photoshop, etc. When I was searching through his archives for some special pics, I stumbled upon this one and got the chills (in a good way).

    • Aw, thanks Kathy! My grandpa’s passing really allowed me to see how interconnected we all are (as well as how meaningless the things that supposedly ‘divide’ us truly are). I’m so thankful to have had these insights. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you so much for this kind comment! I really appreciate you taking the time to stop by. πŸ™‚

      The abiding feeling in my heart right now is peace– not sadness. I think the positives of the whole experience have outweighed the sorrow by far, and for that I am so thankful!

  14. That picture of your grandparents in “jail” really IS the best photo ever. But the one of him walking down the street as a young man – hubba hubba!

    I’m so glad you got to reconnect with your family for an extended stay. The older I get, the more important I realize those ties are in our lives. RIP Grandpa.

    • First of all, Peg– wasn’t my grandpa DREAMY? I can’t get over those shots!

      Secondly, staying for a longer time at my grandma’s house was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. The healing that chorused through my heart the whole time was truly profound. I’m happy that I got a kick-start on learning this lesson sooner in life rather than later.

  15. I don’t think I can say anything different than what’s already been said – I was filled with love from your description of waking from the dream of women holding hands while reciting the Lord’s Prayer and delighted for you that you’ve rekindled (or perhaps kindled is more accurate) a relationship with your grandmother and especially that FOOD held a starring role in your journey. Like you, I’ve only been with my husband for twelve years (almost 10 as a married couple) and I couldn’t imagine losing him… Recently, I had to explain to our three-year-old that we wouldn’t be seeing our aunt’s dog anymore because the dog had been killed in an accident and the concept just wasn’t sinking in. He kept asking me, “We see Cooper, Cooper get better?” and I couldn’t help being incredibly grateful that I wasn’t having to discuss the loss of his daddy or mimi or his mi nana (our nanny) or any of the other special people in his life in the sort of ad nauseum way that little children fixate on things that intrigue them.

    This piece stands as a lovely tribute to your (very incredibly handsome) grandfather and the way a good life truly can reach out beyond death to heal those family who are still living. Thank you for sharing with us all!!

    • A sordid confession of mine is that I cried WAY HARDER and WAY MORE when our dog passed away than when my grandpa did. 😦 The two-year anniversary of losing her (our dog) took place while I was still at my grandma’s house (March 22nd), and I spent a good chunk of the afternoon weeping for her… (It just goes to show the relative closeness of our relationships, though– “kindled” is a good word to use, because I didn’t have much of a relationship with either of my grandparents until my grandpa passed away.)

      Our 5-year old niece is just shy of being able to understand what happened to Grandpa (her great-grandfather). She told my sister that instead of seeing Grandpa with our eyes, we have to see him with our hearts now. Everyone in the room broke down in tears when she said this, but she had no idea how simple and profound her words were…

      • Beautiful, these small children’s words and how they can really comfort us so profoundly. I didn’t cry at all when my grandfather passed – I really just felt grateful to have known him at all among a vast sea of children and great grandchildren (afterall, I was “just” a step-grandchild, though I’d known him as grampa for all of my memory), remembering his kindnesses and what always felt to me like his quiet strength. I shed buckets of tears over my husband’s cat, Punkinhead (a.k.a. “Kitty”), who passed while I was pregnant with our second son. That loss was greater for our immediate family because he’d been with my husband for 18 years and a part of our relationship since the very first day. One of the very few times I’ve seen my husband cry. :*)

        We all process grief, loss and people/animals’ passings differently; it’s nothing to feel badly about. *HUGS*

  16. Dana, you are certainly very special. Your life wasn’t forged without the people before you going through the fire themselves. Faith is so binding – as evidenced by your dream. We (not referring to you) can fight faith all we want, but when it comes right down to the end, that’s what’s left. Great post, my friend.

    BTW, grandpa was such a stud. And grandma was a looker, herself. Those saddle shoes, the white t-shirt, ah … the good ol’ days. I love that era!

    I wish all the best thoughts for you, Marty, and the whole family!

    • Thank you for the wonderful comment, MJ. I spent several (teenage) years fighting faith in general, then I realized that I was only upset about very specific clauses and dogmas in the religion of my upbringing. (My biggest beef was with the homophobia. Blanket hatred of people is NOT COOL, and “loving the sinner, hating the sin” didn’t make it any better in my books.)

      Anyway, I have since maintained a very (though quiet) spiritual existence, and I think it was partially my openness towards the divine that allowed me to connect with my grandpa through that dream. I also went back to mass several times during my stay in Calgary, and what comforted me the most there was seeing how much solace my grandma took in church.

      My favourite, religion-related quote from the past two weeks came from my grandma, too. I wasn’t there at the time, but apparently soon before my grandpa died, she looked him in the eyes and told him: “If there’s no heaven, I’m going to be VERY UPSET with you!” Spoken like a true believer. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks! It was a wonderful and warm and eerie experience, too. I’m glad I was able to convey the different, swirling emotions of the situation here in this post.

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