We returned yesterday from a weekend trip to Wisconsin, not your ordinary 3 day jaunt for fun, as you might guess. As I extracted my bones from the vehicle at 7:30 AM, about 16 hours after I first folded them into the backseat of a Honda Pilot, I hardly knew what to do with the grateful rush of feelings that is HOME.
It feels like we have been grieving my grandpa for a few years, so that his passing last week was more of a rejoicing that he finally got his new body. It is such a strange mixture of grief for a loved one gone and relief for the caregivers left behind. Dementia had been stealing him away, the person who no longer knew who he was and often didn’t know who others were either.
This is Grandpa with his tractor, (photo credits to my brother-in-law) a few years before he started wandering away, getting lost, feeling the frustration of having his keys taken. He was always a sharp thinker, careful with his finances and record keeping. Suddenly he found himself going to the wrong bank, getting ready for church on the wrong days, reliving childhood memories, yet sometimes unable to remember his wife. It was heartbreaking, and if anything has made me grateful that we don’t have to live in broken bodies forever, this did.
I swiped a recent picture from a cousin’s Facebook wall. I think this was when my grandma had heart surgery this summer, and Grandpa walked the halls at the hospital and got lost. You can see the confusion in his expression. I loved that all the worry lines were gone after he died. He looked 20 years younger, more like the Grandpa who used to tear around with us, tickle us with his beard stubble, and take out his false teeth to give us a rather awful thrill.
While Grandma was in the hospital, someone overheard Grandpa quoting Psalm68:19, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.”
It was a random moment, but later they realized that it was the last verse he ever quoted.
For those of you who know my sweet Grandma, would you pray for peace to surround her as she adjusts to the sudden, extreme quiet? In a few weeks it would have been 65 years that they were married.
The weekend consisted of a lot of travel, a lot of wonderful connecting with beloved cousins, a lot of crying together in our mixed-up grief. The Miller clan is a very close-knit one, and my emotions got jerked all over the place. I was glad we could be there, all the same. I don’t enjoy the rituals of dying, and yet we seem to need them. It’s like a bookend to the rejoicing of birth, the mystery of passing onward and upward to another place that we, grasping, only vaguely comprehend. For those who do not grieve without hope, it is also a rejoicing.
P. S. The most dreadful moment came, even though I was on my guard, when I got the giggles. In the solemn quiet when everyone files past the casket for a final viewing, I watched the backs of the people walking down the aisle. Gabe and I saw him at the same moment: a young boy following his father and diligently digging out a wedgie enroute. When the left hand didn’t suffice, he helped rearrange his pants with the right hand too. I shouldn’t have ever stolen that sidewise glance at my husband. I shouldn’t have even let the first escalating giggle within a mile of bubbling out. I shouldn’t have listened to my brother making muted sounds that were almost the sounds of grief, but they weren’t. I scootched way down in my seat and tried to think sad thoughts, but that was the trouble. I had already overloaded with them. If you are not one given to messy, emotional giggle fits, you cannot understand how disagreeable they are in an Amish funeral. There was no excuse. But I did feel better afterward.