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