Saturday, November 14, 2009

In Memorium Grandpa Carey

You'll have noticed this year and especially over the course of the last few months that the quality and quantity of blog postings on UsAndCats has declined significantly. While I have no excuse for the dearth of posts during the first half of the year, the problem of the last three months is based entirely on my inability to finish this post.

On July 28 of this year my step-grandfather, Edward Henry Carey Jr. died of an aneurysm. In some ways this was the least and in someways the most shocking thing that could have happened. Regardless of how intellectually prepared for it I was, this was only the second time in my adult I had to face the death of a family member.

For the past ten years, grandpa had been given 72 hours to live at least a half dozen times. In 1999 I flew down from Salt Lake City to Bullhead City, Arizona because he'd been admitted into the ICU and wasn't suppose to make it through the weekend. By time I arrived he was happily smoking a cigarette in his favorite armchair, this being both his favorite hobby and the natural reaction of someone fresh from the ICU.

In 2001 soon after 9-11, another similar call came from my mother to me that I needed to get down there to say my goodbyes. This was followed two days later by a call from my grandparents telling me not to waste my time. It was a good moment for them to make us promise to come down for Christmas, which of course we did driving out of Utah County in the midst of a heavy snow, but that's another story. So it continued, each year we dared the sweltering heat of the Mojave Desert to visit them. Each year finding a frailer grandfather, further and further removed from the man who taught me how to tie my shoe, love computers, and saved my life.

In some ways I think the saddest part of growing old is that age rips from us our self-identity. Even at my age, I look in the mirror and the person looking back isn't me. Each of us is different in our mind's eye: we are thinner, less gray, less wrinkled (did I mention thinner?). The acuteness of this knowledge grew with each visit to my grandparents over the course of the last decade. I knew, and he knew, that the man slowly dying in that recliner was not his truest self.

Yet through the years he was always there in that recliner, and I took for granted that he always would be. The modicum of life that age had left him, seemed to me to be so much preferable than the long parting that death's icy hand represented. When finally he passed, all that remained were a few words wasted on the dead at the funeral, an obituary to encapsulate all his life's travails in a couple paragraphs, and the memories he left behind.

Is this all we are in the end, a few empty words and then an etching on a grave stone? I don't believe it. Our immortality is ensured. Here I don't refer to the death conquest of religion, though I do believe in that as well, but insofar that our lives are intertwined in the great web of humanity. No person lives in isolation of others to the point that their lives are unremarked upon. For good or ill, our actions this day will ripple down through the generations of men and women yet to come.

Sadly to many these platitudes ring hollow, for we live in a culture paralyzed with a fear of death. It is something we hide from ourselves in nursing homes, hospitals, and retirement communities. Like Hamlet before us most of us fear what lies in that "undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller returns" (Hamlet Act III, Scene I).

I do not fear for my grandfather however. He was not a religious man by any stretch of any imagination, but he was a good and decent man, who deserves more than a two paragraph obituary. So if you will indulge me, I will over the next few posts be retelling his life in a way more befitting his kindness and generosity. Believe me when I tell you it's a story that is much more fitting a novel (a smutty one at that) than most lives.


museumeg said...

I'm so sorry Stew! I've been watching my beloved grandpa get sicker and older and it breaks my heart. I will be devastated when his time finally comes although relieved that he is free from pain. I absolutely believe we live on in the lives we have touched. And the good you do honors your grandpa.

La Yen said...

That was beautiful--I feel the same way about my grandmother who passed away in May. I am still reeling, and she was 90. So it wasn't a shock.
And how do we confront that contradiction--we don't want them to suffer and be NOT the person who raised us up, but at the same time, we don't want to be without them.

Grandparents are the best.
I look forward to your stories!

Mrs Coops said...

Stew, that was lovely - I'm glad that you're posting about him, it will make a difference for you and for those who read it.

I look forward to hearing about his adventures - even the slightly naughty ones! ;)