Thursday, August 16, 2007

Know Your Role

I am back in Smalltown after spending about a week at “home” in Wisconsin that was less than fun, although it did have its positive points. I was able to see my cousins, who I rarely see except on Christmas Eve each year. West Coast Cousin is a special events coordinator for a 5-Star hotel in California while her brother, Midwest Cousin, owns two pizza franchises in Wisconsin.

West Coast Cousin is a bit of an adventurer; she moved to Arizona for college. There she knew only two people. From there she moved to San Diego and who knows where she will move next. I admire her determination to live her life where and how she wants. For me “the Family” (headquartered back in Wisconsin) has an ability to influence my decisions, whether intentionally or not.

Midwest Cousin, although he has remained within close proximity to family headquarters, is also an adventurer; or maybe even a “gambler.” Running a franchise involves a lot of money and offers no guarantees, but it was a risk he was willing to take and now, after a lot of hardwork and financial investment he is slowly beginning to see the fruits of his labor.

Both cousins are admirable for these qualities.

Little Sister is the youngest of the "kids", so she is still making her way, although she has already shown signs of the “moxy” that appears to run in the family.

Then there is me.

While I was home, The Wise One, The Blessid Mother, and I went to the state fair. Every year that I have gone to the fair, for as long as I can remember, I have done two things – ate something greasy and made out of cheese, and submitted my signature for a handwriting analysis.

The Wise One commented that the analysis appeared to be a pretty accurate read of my personality, although he suspected some aspects of my personality that exist I may not share with my family.

I realized he was correct.

Unlike Little Sister, who will often have the same demeanor whether she is with Grandma or a friend at the bar, I am, in many ways a different person for my family than I am in my own life. I enjoy dancing and singing, I am not afraid to try new things and I can be rather pleasant (I think!) most of the time. But in the company of my family sometimes it’s as though I have not evolved all that much from the 14 year old I once was.

Why, I am not exactly sure. I think I feel like I know the role I am intended to play, and that is what I will do, for the most part.

Maybe someday I will feel comfortable being the same person for everyone, but I doubt it; I think people like that are very few and far between.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

So This is How We Say Goodbye

Today Grandpa died.

Mom called me the blessed grandchild, because I was in the hospital room with Grandpa when he passed; Dad and I were the only two people in the room to share in his last moments, and his last breath.

He was not conscious: at least not that I could tell, although Dad believed he might still be able to hear us. His eyes were open and his chest rose beneath the bed sheets intermittently with each breath - something Dad noticed. I sat down beside his bed and decided to tell him about my garden.

I think Grandpa liked to hear about my garden. He was quite the gardener himself, although he frequently indicated that he felt more like a salad chef for the deer that sampled his vegetable patch than a green thumb.

I told him the latest developments. Pocket gophers had decided to make dirt piles in my garden. Pocket gophers, I explained (more for Dad's benefit) live underground and dig holes, collecting the dirt in their checks then spitting it out in a pile designed to hide their hole. A friend told me he thought the gophers (which look like big chipmunks) had targettted my garden because the soil there was moist (watered daily by me) while the rest of the ground was experiencing a subsoil moisture deficit(blame that on mother nature). He thought the moist soild was easier for them to dig through. He offered to put traps in the holes (provided we find them beneath the piles) but assured me the piles were an aesthetic inconvenience, and the gophers were little more than a nuissance.

"I don't think they even eat vegetables," he told me. Because there was no evidence to the contrary, I left the dirt piles, and (I presume) the entryway to the gopher lair as well, in tact.

I explained this to Grandpa; he would understand, he might even be sympathetic - he had battled with his share of garden pests.

I thought I saw a flicker of some kind of recognition in his eyes, even if for a moment. I suppose it could be wishful thinking. I knew he wouldn't be able to offer advice, as he had before. Still, somehow I felt like he knew we were there and maybe he was listening.

After trying to find a better radion station for Grandpa, (the nurse had turned on the radio for him earlier in the morning) Dad approached the bed and noticed that evidence of Grandpa's shallow breathing had vanished. I noticed the flicker I thought I had seen in his eyes was also gone.

The doctor confirmed what Dad already seemed to know, and I was trying to believe -- even though his body was in front of our eyes, Granpa was gone.

The time the doctor declared him was 1 p.m., although he passed before then. When exactly, I am not positive. I am pretty sure I had my hand on his shoulder though, when it happened.

Dad commented that death came as a surprise in the sense that it came unannounced, even if expected. We humans seem to think that because death is such a milestone in our lives...our final milestone, that it should involve some amount of fanfare: "drumroll please..." Instead in its final moment, at least in Grandpa's case, death came quietly, without giving any obvious, immediate cue that this was the end.

It almost seemed fitting for Grandpa. In the way that I knew him, he wasn't a person who liked to draw attention to himself or make a big fuss.

I am happy for him. I know he is in a better place now. But I am sad for the rest of us. We have the human job of dealing with the void in the family that has been created by his departure. It's a void with no chance of being filled. That is really the hardest part, and that is really all that is left to do.