I’ve seen death. I have mourned before. I have been at the bedside of more than a few of those dying, as a CNA and later, as a hospice nurse. I see death in the ICU, often brought too early and violently, or quietly, with those placed on vents and lingering. Death is always close at hand in my life, in my work. I have an established, somewhat comfortable relationship with death. That is something that I consider an honor.
But there is nothing like death to give one pause about life.
I learned at a very young age to attempt to live a life without regrets.
I went to your service Grandpa. I went down to a family I hardly know, one splintered and hurt and broken, to people I haven’t seen in more than a decade, and stood next to them on the beach where you’d requested your ashes be spread, in Barnstable.
It was a grey day, cold, and we were all there, trying to make sense of it. The grief and pained memories, the conflicts laid aside for just a moment. The color guard was there and I covered my head with my scarf and stood to one side, trying not to cry, but getting the sniffles anyway. Its the lacrimal ducts that funnel your tears down to your nose and make you all snotty when you cry.
Damn lacrimal ducts.
The bagpipes played and I thought for just a moment of how you would have loved that, how you loved Scotland and the woman that you loved from there. How that love story never really ended.
My uncle waded in up to his thighs and opened the box that held the rest of you, letting your ashes dissipate in the wind. Appropriate that you wanted to be burned, your body a betrayal to the very end. Its gone now and you’re free.
Down at the waters edge, I dipped my hands into the cold sea and touched them to my lips. Its a good place Grandpa. As good a place as any, because you are everywhere and nowhere now.
I realize that you never brought me here. I realize how much of your past you kept hidden from me. Perhaps to protect me. You never wanted the drags of the past to creep into our relationship.
I wander how many people would describe you as gentle, as a worrier who always fussed over them. As loving unconditionally.
Not many, from what I have experienced. And yet that is how I knew you. I keep inside myself the stories, the stories of you, the joy of you. I will be the keeper of those stories, of the knowing that, in a way, you made peace through me.
I’ll be fine Grandpa. But you always knew I would be.