Thursday, March 10, 2011
I had just had my third child, when my grandfather began to go "down hill". It was a Tuesday night, and I was planning to take the baby to see him at the rehab facility (physical, not dependency) he was in that Friday. My intention was to introduce him to his new granddaughter. My mother called, bawling, because he had been taken to the hospital and apparently, he was dying.
My family lives in Louisville and I decided to go the next morning to see him. I woke up early, got on the road with the baby, and was basically racing to get to see him and show him little Eva before he died. I was hysterical the entire way and I made it there in 2 1/2 hours. It normally takes 31/2.
My Papaw was very country, but like most men of his era that had lived through the Depression - he was extremely intuitive and practical. The world was so small and connected when he was growing up that he actually received birthday cards from FDR when he was president, because they shared the same birthday. This always intrigued me, and still does today. My grandfather used to laugh and say, "the funniest part is that I would just read them and throw them away."
His refrigerator was always stocked with coke, pickles and Hershey bars because those were all of my favorites. He took me to Nascar races and I still remember the roar when the race cars would pass the stands. He would laugh because I covered my ears and then he would buy me an A.J. Foyt trucker cap.
I know this all seems like one big redneck recovered memory, but it's not like he was blown to bits in a meth lab explosion. It's just that as I get older, I realize that what a child really appreciates about a relative is when they spend time with them. A child can tell if you are dialing it in - every time. My Papaw never once dialed it in. He was attentive, kind, humorous and you could tell that he really enjoyed being around us.
Whenever I was older and had moved away from Louisville, whether Brad and I were living in Dallas or I was visiting with the kids from Columbus, and I would come into town for a few days at a time, Papaw was always in the driveway when I got there to welcome me home. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes I would sigh when I saw his car, or he called to make sure that he didn't miss me during my visits because I felt like I was being "pulled in too many directions."
So I get to the hospital and I am exhausted and drained. I race to my Papaw's room and my mother is sitting there in the room with two people who looked like they just stepped out of the movie "Deliverance".
I had made it. My Papaw was lying there and my mother looked grief stricken and far away, and the two characters from Deliverance were carrying on a conversation like they were waiting for their bus to come. When I say that they collectively spoke for a half and hour without taking so much as a breath, I am not exaggerating. Now I love the South, because I am from there, but there are some parts where they must go to some special school where all they do is teach them to fill dead air space. I suppose you can specialize in centering every conversation around yourself, because the two of them seemed to have graduated with honors.
I am wanting to scoot my chair up to my Papaw's bed and tell him how special he is to me and introduce my new baby to him and those two won't stop yammering long enough for me to even focus on the situation in the room. I was taught to be polite to adults, and especially relatives, so I find myself actually asking them questions about their ignorant, pointless stories.
"So, you are Papaw's brother and this is your son's wife?" I say as my mom stares into space.
"Yea, we grew up in butcher holler and used to skin squirrels with butter knives together," or whatever the hell they were saying to me. I wasn't listening.
"...so now that Gayle has died, I'm the only brother left in Carrolton."
"What? What did you just say? I was shaking.
"Gayle..your Papaw..now that he is dead.."
I turn to my mom who is now paying attention. I have sat next to her in this room for over forty-five minutes waiting for these complete strangers to leave so I can say good-bye to my grandfather, thinking he is ALIVE the whole time. In the last four hours, she could have called me on the way or how about nudging me as she cocked her head toward my grandfather, mouthing the words "dead" while she pretended to strangle herself? A note, perhaps? Anything! Anything! I could imagine a thousand different scenarios how she could have let me know that I had not made it to my grandfather in time during their incessant, inane bantering.
I was furious and grief stricken at the same time. Tears began streaming down my face as I began to hyperventilate. Now I am a mother of three girls and I know better than anyone that it is always the mother's fault, but in this instance, I could not say a thing because as distraught and confused as I was, my pain could not hold a candle to hers. Sometimes you've just got to shut up and take one for the team.
"Oh my Gawd! You didn't know Gayle was gawn, didya? Ja hear that, Pa, she done be sittin up in here thinkin her Papaw still livin' and all. Can't you see how pale he is darlin'? He ain't breathin' no more."
I had spent enough time in Crazysburg. I was DONE. Suddenly, some sort of transitional person came in and she was explaining how they were going to transfer my Papaw to the rehab wing because he was doing so well and "shortly thereafter he would be discharged."
My mother and I started to laugh uncontrollably. What two minutes ago, had left me utterly disillusioned, was suddenly hysterical to me. It was one of those moments where everything is so awful, an inappropriate emotional response is somehow triggered and then it becomes even more humorous because it is not only inappropriate, but it is also this incredible release.
"What's goin' on, Pa? I think they've lost their minds. They seem rabid or something."
The nurse was beyond confused. I was beginning to lump her in with Deliverance.
"Are you going to tell her or should I?" my mom sputtered, in between guffaws of laughter.
"I can't," I managed, "I just...found...out...myself!" I could not contain myself anymore and I began to laugh the laugh of the maniacal.
My mom seemed to compose herself long enough to explain, "Honey, my dad's next stop is not on this Earth."
The transition person turned red, apologized and left the room. I stood up and asked my annoying, distant relatives if they would leave the room. My mom, my new baby and I sat there and held hands until they took her Dad away.
This man was genuinely interested in everything I was doing my entire life, no matter how mundane. How many people in your life can you say that about? I believe that the best way to honor someone you love is to somehow try and emulate their best qualities while living your life in a way that they would be proud of. My intention is to have my refrigerator stocked with the treats that my grandchildren love the most - even if it is the ideal recipe for a stomachache.
Now I can write all day long, but I cannot speak in public. (I realize this is going to be something I am going to have to overcome when I am contractually obligated to do readings for my worldwide book tour.) I could not sleep the night before my Papaw's funeral because I kept imagining what I would say if I were to deliver his eulogy. Now, I don't know if it is because I do not live in Louisville anymore or that I was surrounded by all of the people who were in one way or another involved in raising me or what, but I felt childlike in the moment, and I could not muster up the courage to stand up in front of all of them and convey what my Papaw meant to me.
So this is for you, Mom. This is the eulogy I could not deliver for my beloved grandfather. Now when I email this to you, the words Gratuitous Guidance will have a line under it and you will then click twice on the link. I said "link", Mom, the thing with the line under it. LINK! It will take you to my blog! NO, you will not get your identity stolen. Oh, forget it, I will print it out and mail it to you.
I think it's important to always have in your closet an appropriate black dress and a black suit for funerals and wakes. I am old school on this subject, but I believe that you should never be tugging on the hem of your skirt or feeling self-conscious about your neckline when you are paying your respects. Just sayin'.