Bittersweet Symphony, This Life

In case the date tacked onto the end of the post is in too small a font, it is December 5th, 2008.  In just a couple of hours, the 20th anniversary of my grandfather’s death will come to pass.  And later into the evening tonight, my husband will officially turn 38.  Talk about being caught in a moment where you’re celebratory and mournful at the same time.

It was sunny and cold outside, with a variable wind, much like today.  I got to leave school partway through the day for an appointment with the ENT specialist for yet another ear infection, and since it was my mother who usually took me, I was surprised to see my father’s large 4-door pickup parked in the school’s loading zone.

I climbed into the back and asked where mom was.  My little sister in the front seat said she was at the hospital with Poppie, who had had a heart attack, and even though I had not yet been conditioned to look on the bleak side (I was only 11, after all), something inside me already knew: he wasn’t going to make it, and I wasn’t going to see him again.  I asked them if he had survived, and they said they didn’t know yet.

I don’t remember much after that.  I can’t even remember when I heard the news that he was officially gone.  My memory fast-forwards to that evening, where my mother was very shaken and tearful, and so were the rest of us, and we were trying to cope with the fact that the world as we knew it had dropped out from under us.  I remember the funeral and the tearful-but-trying-to-be-upbeat festivities that surrounded it.  There were the dozens of cookies that had been baked on his last weekend with us, and when it came down to a choice between having to laugh or having to cry, we did our best to laugh.  We remembered the good times and his wonderful personality.  I figured I’d pay some homage here.

First off, my grandfather was one of those gentle giants.  A big, smart, quiet guy who was raised in the Deep South on corn and rice.  He had thick glasses He had the biggest heart that ever lived.  He devoted his entire life to my self-centered grandmother, on whom the sun and moon rose and set.  He put up with everything, including that which would drive anyone else off the face of the earth.  He also dearly loved his children–my mother and my aunt.  He had a special spiritual connection with my mother, always knowing exactly when she needed a hug, and that carried over to me as well.  Intuitive eyes behind thick coke-bottle glasses missed nothing.  He was very sensitive; a REAL man always likes cats, and he did.

I admit that as a dumb kid who knew nothing, I didn’t treat him that well back then.  I realized what I had in a grandfather like that, but I didn’t appreciate it or respect it nearly as much as I should have.  And for that, I am sorry.  I wish I could go back and do it all over again, reconnect with him now and set things right, to help him the way I now know how.

Fast forward 20 years.  There is now a lot of sweetness thrown into that bitter mix; I now have a reason to celebrate, because it’s my husband’s birthday.  We just got married, and the funny thing is, when we met and started to fall in love, I realized how strongly he resembles my grandfather.  Not entirely, of course, but in many of the mannerisms and especially the eyes.

Unfortunately, I’m a little bit too much like my grandmother, (who is a good lady truth be told, but not someone I really want to emulate.  We’re not actually all that similar, but I’d like to be even more different.)

My husband is a giving, caring man who might grumble at the prospect of having to do a particular chore or about anything else, but he sucks it up and does it anyway.  There is a lot that he does that he doesn’t want to do, but takes care of so that I don’t have to worry about it.  He really does take care of me.  He listens to every rant, he takes care of every odd and end, he does every possible favor, and he empathizes and sympathizes with all of the uncommon stressors that often plague me.

He is also a real man; he loves cats.  They are his children.  We don’t even want any human children at this point; we’re satisfied with the furry ones.  He hugs them, pets them, and gives in to their every quirky desire.  He is also a real man in that he is not incessantly glued to every sports game on TV; in fact, he doesn’t even watch sports.  He doesn’t care about them, or even like them.

Instead, he’d rather dress in costume and hit a local Ren Fest.  He’d rather people-watch at the mall.  Hell, he’d rather shop.  Yes, girls, he IS straight.  I know.  You hate me.

The reality is, even though I miss my grandfather and I wish we could interact again on the physical plane (at least, sometime soon), I no longer mourn his death.  Instead, I make the effort to celebrate his life, the fact that he lived on this planet and we got to experience his presence and who he was.  Along with that, I celebrate the life of my husband, and all that he is, with all of his strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and uniqueness.  I wish that those two could have met, and my heart aches with the idea that they can’t–at least, not yet.  But to have known both is truly a gift.  It’s deep and mushy, but it had to be said.

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