Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Life Well Lived

It's late and I sit here a full week after my grandmother has been laid to rest.  Sure, all of our grandmothers and grandfathers are destined to pass, afterall grandparents are old.  Old people die, blunt, harsh, true.  Nursing homes and convalescence centers are filled with them.  Many of them forgotten.  Some have regular visitors.  The very wealthy ones live in "assisted living communities".  Regardless, they are all marching towards the same end, an end that seems an eternity away to someone such as myself.  So the passing of my own grandparents should be natural and expected.  But it dawns on me, I do not consider my parents "old" and they are grandparents. Relativity brings perspective to bear but relieves none of the sense of loss.  Regardless of the fact she was 80, regardless of the fact she was in the late stages of alzheimer's, her time on this plane was not complete by my selfish estimation.  Why?  Why was she timeless to me?  Was I in daily contact with her?  Was she a part of my daily prayers?  Did she regularly visit?  Did I have regular contact?  Sadly the answer to all of these questions is "no".  Then why?

My grandfather passed a full thirteen years ago.  With his passing, I watched my tall and elegant grandmother wither to an echo of her former grace.  The loss of her soulmate was evident in her very countenance and in the very manner in which she continued to live her life.  The kindness of her smile never left her face but the warmth was sadly hollow.  A woman who I recall trekking through the U-picks for berries became a solitary shut-in, never leaving her property.  This is not an indictment, simply the facts.  When Glen Benson died, most of Mary Benson did too.  Sadly, though, I did indict her for this.  But in examining, I've become less critical of this because I think I've started to tap the tip of the iceberg that was the soul entwining love they shared. 

I used to think that grandma stopped living when grandpa died because he was her rock and when he passed she had nothing but I've since realized this to be erroneous. In the decades of photos of her the constant I see in her eyes is tranquility and elegant quiet grace. I now realize he was the energy and she was the rock. He was the headstrong horse and she was the soft hand reigning him in.  He was the strength, make no doubt about it, he was the drive, but she was the constant, the unwaivering.  In this I've come to a closer understanding of the inseparable nature of my grandparents and why so much of my grandmother disappeared when my grandfather left this earth.

The funeral home that interred my grandmother put together a collection of imagery from photos that my aunts supplied and with those created a slideshow with a moving musical score that is touching to say the least.  From those images, I saw a whole new dimension of my grandmother that I wish I had investigated while I knew her in life.  I say "knew her" because even those caring for her did not have much of her recognition in the last months as the progression of the disease stole memory and brain function.  It was honestly about a year ago that we last had cogniscant conversation and even then she drifted.  Prior to that I wish I had explored the depth of her. 

From the pictures, I see a radiant, beautiful girl from an enormous family.  She would turn heads today and I watch as she becomes smitten by a chiseled and good looking young man and both of them fall hopelessly in love.  It's tangible.  You can feel it, almost smelling perfumed hair and aftershave in a manner that no camera phone of today would ever capture.  You watch as they pose for portrait after portrait, knowing they are documenting their youth in the only known media for doing so at the time.  They "pretend" to be movie stars but in fact, possess far more elegance and machismo than any of the red carpet peasants of today's tabloids.  Photogenic to a fault and never sparing a smile for the lense how many hundreds of photographs must be in the archives of those shoe boxes.  First one baby, then three, then five.  Then a grandbaby, then five, then ten.  Buzzcut hair, long hair, perms, buffonts, plaid, leisure suits, jeans, blouses.  1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, lives fully lived.  One can feel the bitter winter cold, the warmth of summer days, smell the lilacs on the bush in the lawn that has long since been cut down, hear the cattle that have long since been sold.  Barns have been razed, burn piles turned to hotdog fires, abandoned cars to childrens' playgrounds. 

It has become evident to me that the two of them truly were inseperable, that they never did belong apart from one another.  In a tragic manner, part of me wishes that she should never had never had to have suffered on this earth without him, that somehow she could have left when he did.  But I know her trials are over and that she is now before her Savior with her husband.  I know I will see them again and when I do, I know I will see the radiant beauty of the youth of their spirits, which was ever present regardless of the failing of their flesh, and that is ultimately what is beautiful about them, about each of us. 

I've spent a great deal of time in thought this past two weeks since my grandmother's passing.  I've not really shed a tear and this bothers me somewhat since I shed many at my grandfather's passing.  I think I am far more at peace and far more happy for her release than I was when my grandfather died..  When grandpa died, it was my family's first real experience with death and it was the end of an era of close knit family bonding.  This is also and end of an era, but in the ending, the torch is being passed to us of the next generations.  We've been given a tremendous heritage, we've been shown the way.  We can follow in the steps of great and Godly ancestors or we can live unto a selfish and inconsequential nothingness.  I have two grandparents who are both before their God today with forty-plus decendants and very many of them following in their steps toward the same end.  I can only dare to do better.

I'll leave off with a quote that I find applicably poignant.

"As a day well spent brings happy sleep so a life well lived brings happy death"  Leonardo Da Vinci

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