30 April 2011
Goodbye Paw Paw
In April, my grandfather passed away. I struggled to write about it for months, and in the meantime the rest of my blogging ceased.
I took a red eye flight home on a Sunday night after learning he was being taken to palliative care. I remember foggily sitting at a counter in an airport Subway, trying to eat something on an early morning layover in Minneapolis. I was perched on a tall stool, my legs swinging like a kid, watching people bustle along on their way to wherever. Watching life go by.
I was in North Carolina for a week, what I would consider now to be one of the more important weeks of my life. I was so fortunate to be there with him, my grandmother, mother and sister for hours everyday. I felt so thankful just to sit quietly and watch him sleep, his favorite swing music playing in the background. He passed away on Saturday, April 30th at 5:29am.
My grandfather was married to my grandmother Charlie for 63 years. They met in Winston-Salem, NC and for him, it was love at first sight. They married in 1947 and had two daughters. They always inspired me, growing up. Even through 63 years, they remained passionately in love. Everyone asked them what their secret was – my grandmother just smiles, places a hand on your shoulder and tells you it's mutual love and respect that matters most. Having watched them together my entire life, I would also add to that the importance of a sense of humor. They laughed together all the time and made it seem like those 63 years were a total fucking blast. But they were also unabashedly romantic, going on dates and to dance clubs even into their 80's.
Watching my grandmother saying goodbye to him after a lifetime of love was one of the most heartbreaking, but also heartwarming, things I have ever witnessed in my life.
There aren't really a lot of other experiences in life that can prepare you for witnessing a loved one pass away.
I spent a lot of time just feeling, taking things in moment to moment.
For so many years now, I've only ever returned home during the winter holidays. It was almost a shock to see North Carolina in the spring again. When I finally made it home to my mom's house after a long night of travel, I laid down on a bed by a window. I meant to fall asleep, but I couldn't stop staring up at the trees as they bowed in the wind. Spring wasn't yet in full effect in Portland, and after two years in New Mexico I was spellbound by how green everything was, how broad the leaves on the trees were, how fluffy the clouds, how soft and cool the grass. Suddenly all these strange travel-by-moving adventures from the past several years took on an entirely different perspective. On the car rides to and from the hospice, I would roll the windows down and take in the warm breeze and the sunlight and the blur of the green pastures rolling by. I felt like a sponge, breathing life in, every moment that I could. Every bit.
I spent a lot of time thinking about family and what it means. How it feels to know you're bound by blood and by love. How deeply important that is.
I'll never be able to put it fully into words. But these are some thoughts.
Grandpa, we love you so much. You'll live on in everything you taught us, in the way you loved us and protected us. You're forever in our hearts.