The Familial Prayer

As an afterthought to my recent musings, I think I'll catalogue all the ways my family's Christmas has sucked.

But first, let me dredge up something from my past. Long before I began writing all is well I kept my various musings recorded in random text files scattered around my hard drive. This one is called "Mental Cigarettes" and is one of the first things I wrote after the death of my Granddad in August, 2000.

Mental Cigarrettes.

I lost my Grandad today. On my mom's side of the family. Actually, he died yesterday, but I didn't learn of it until this morning, around 9 or 10 AM. He was, I think, one of my favorite people. He was a great man, the kind they don't make anymore. He was honest to a fault, controlling, belligerant, grumpy, and just generally an 'hostile elder' (as Crankshaft put it in todays paper). But I said something about him a long time ago that still rings true, and did for all of the 17 years I knew him. He was a burnt marshmallow. Well made, crusty on the outside, soft and mushy on the inside. Temepered by fire and filled with love. Of course, if you'd told him that, he would have laughed and said in his normal gruff, military tone "like hell I am!" and laughed. Or something remarkably similar. But you know, that if he'd heard that (mom may have told him about it,long ago, I'm not sure) I know he would have been honored.

He was, in essence, some sort of huge, grumpy Santa Claus, and if there was a Kris Kringle, I'd be a lot happier knowing he was like my Grandad than some smarmy, cheerful, gullible coot like he's portrayed in Coca-Cola Advertisements and children's films.

It's interesting, actually. It's like he choreographed his death. Not that you can induce a heart attack without some hard-to-find drugs and some serious work, but it seems as if he planned it. He was at my Uncle and Aunts house with his wife for the weekend, and a worry of ours (his especially, I'm sure, though he never voiced it) was that he didn't wish his wife to be alone with him when he died. That sort ofthing is trying, and while he was the type to impose anything he felt like on anybody, he also knew what it meant to worry about people you love, and didn't want her to go through that. It was a wonderful day, he was outside, he'd been productive, without destroying his already damaged and painful knees (he was Mowing with a riding loawnmower), and he'd just had a beer. No one was watching, so there was no embarrasing or tearful death scene (he would have hated that). He would have said it was "A damn fine way to go." and left it at that. When I think of him, dead or alive, it doesn't effect me much, but when I start thinking about the way he talked, and laughed, and what a great grandfather he was, it messes me up something terrible. Right now I can hardly see the screen, so I guess all these years of not having to look at my hands when I type are paying off. When I think about his actions, his mannerisms and his character, is when it really gets to me.

When someone you love and have respected for years dies, and it's someone you only see on a weekly or monthly basis, rather than daily, it's hard to really believe that they're gone, even when you know full well, logically, that they're dead. Your brain sort of cruises on autopilot calmly stating the facts and telling you "They are gone, you won't see them again." and your spirit, the part of your body you are actually paying attention to is sitting there, thinking "nah, it's just a longer stretch between visits now, right? I mean, he'll be back sometime, won't he?" So, you smoke Mental Cigarettes. I noticed these this morning when I got up and mom told me (much like her dad would have) that he was dead, in a simple sentence. I dealt with it them. It wasn't difficult, I just listened to all the facts and reacted the way that seemed natural. A little voice in the back of my brain was still shouting, of course, that I was supposed to break down, or be depressed, or something, but there were things to be done and discussed, so I smoked a mental cigarette by considering what would change in the coming weeks. He had offered to help me move to Macon, and that would now have to be changed. There would be a memorial service, maybe two, since most of his "buddies" still live on the beach in Florida. That would have to be scheduled for, planned around, etc. So I puffed on these things, and knew that I'd have to deal with the real part of my thoughts on the matter later. Which I guess, is what I'm doing now. It's almost 1PM, so I've only known for a few hours yet, and I hadn't cried until just now. And I guess, in my own, "manly" (*bitter voice in head* "ha!" */bitter voice*)way I've had my 5 minutes of tears for one of the greatest men I know and I'm allowed to go on with life now right. He would have told me to in his normal gruff way. "Go, sport, you've got a lot of work to do. You haven't got time to sit around morning old buggers like me." Those wouldn't be his exact words, but they'd be awful close.

I was lucky, I guess. I saw him last Wednesday, just four days ago. He was happy. I've had the honor of seeing him at least once a month (usually more) for the last year or so, which has been wonderful.

He would have been happy with the heart attack. He had Melanoma Cancer, and he was being carved on a few times a year,once a part of his neck, then the back of his head, etc. etc. He wouldn't have liked to die over the span of five years, waiting to see what part of him they'd have to cut out next. Over the last two or three years (since he discovered the cancer) he really had a good time. He went on a few cruises, enjoyed the company of his family and really refused to act like a dying man, instead acting like a man determined to have a regular, normal life. I don't know if he even had a recent will in order. The last one is probably 10 years old, at least. He wouldn't have cared much I don't think. He has a lawyer for a daughter, a lawyer for a son-in-law and a determined wife (already well-off from her own work) who will worry about all that for him. There, that was another mental cigarette. I guess my breaks finished. He wouldn't want me raving on for hours about him anyway, though I could, easily. He was the kind of person that every family should have at least one of, because they have a character that you can't find anymore. I loved him very much.

PAG, August 2001.

With that out of the way. . . My grandmother died last night.

We've been expecting it (generically) for a few years, and actually planning on it for about a week. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in the spring of 2002, (Has it been that long?) and ever since it's been the normal on-again-off-again battle that cancer always becomes. In mid-december I saw her at a party, she was feeling well and was very happy. It was a blessing for us all. But by the time morning came, she was having difficulty breathing again, and they returned to Philadelphia to seek further treatment. She's been there since the week before Christmas, and she died last night sometime in the early evening.

She was waiting for the New Year.

My grandmother was an amazing woman. She was an artist, with a professional specilization in watercolors that put her work in amazing places, including private galleries in Japan and on the national postage stamps for Bali.

We have several of her originals and prints here in the house and I deeply appreciate being able to relate to professional grade art not just in a disconnected sense, but also as a living effort put forth by someone I knew. She was entirely different from me in many ways. She had an irrespressible flair for the dramatic, which could be both good and very, very frustrating. She was very kind. She had wonderful stories and loved to tell them.

I do not know if it is a result of the fact that I connected less with my grandmother or merely the passage of time that makes it unimportant to me that I distract myself with 'mental cigarettes' as I did when I lost my Granddad. Maybe it is that I had so much more time to prepare (after all, my Grandfather was hale-and-hearty a scant 72 hours before his death, and I saw him in that state, but I have heard much over the last two weeks about Grandma in the hospital and about the plans already begun for a memorial service (my family is nothing if not pragmatic, sometimes to a fault).

But I loved her. She was my grandma, and I will miss her, of course.

In any case, her death taking place this holiday season was one of a handful of things that have made this difficult for us.

My grandfather's second wife (N.), has been having a rough Christmas. Her blood-grandchildren have gone a bit. . . off, and one of them is now in jail (and the family line is appearantly that we hope she stays there) and the other has been kicked out of her mothers house. It has made the christmas season a bit awkward for her.

Of course, my Grandfather's first wife (my blood grandmother) has been dying of cancer, and that has put immense strain on my immediate family since my mother has been part of her caretaking team for the last three years and she has had to spend lots of time with her. My mother came home a few days before Christmas and the day after Christmas she and I drove up to visit my sister in Nashville. My dad joined us later that evening.

In Nashville, we found out that my sister's husband is appearantly trying to give up on their marriage (my sister's second) and felt it would be too awkward to stay. So my sis has also had a difficult Christmas.

The next day, I returned here to resume work, and my parents drove on to St. Louis, but we had been speaking with my aunt and my grandmother's partner in Philadelphia and knew that things with my grandmother were degenerating rapidly.

Sure enough, within 36 hours of arriving in St. Louis, my parents boarded a plane and flew to Philadelphia (leaving a van full of their things in St. Louis) and have been there since Dec. 28th.

So my father's parents got to see their son and daughter only for a few short moments before their visit (planned for a full 5 days) was cut short. So I'm sure they are more than a bit dissapointed as well.

So, Christmas for my family this year, sucked.

To top all that off, I'm absorbing my loneliness like a sponge, and New Year's Eve (far more so than Christmas, which I never really shared with my Ex-Kawaii Girl) made me feel absolutely sick inside - as evidenced in some of my previous writing.

So you might say that live has been a little tough for us as a clan this holiday season. We'll get through it though. We always do.

In fact, in many ways, my Father and Mother and I will serve as the rocks of support and stability for our sisters, brothers, family and friends.

It is our way. We will steady the rocking of the waves, and sooth the storm that rages just outside the door. We will whisper the wind to sleep, and hush the mongrels snarling beyond the walls.

Be restful, and at peace. For we are here, and we will comfort you in your hour of need. It is our calling, it is our meaning, it is who we choose to be. It is what makes us who we are.

But when the mongrels are outside our walls, and the wind howls outside our door, who will comfort us? When the waves crash in upon us and the storm crashes in fury, who will watch over us? For we are lost without a greater power than ourselves.

God be with us, we beg of you. For we are without comfort or shelter or strength and we are in need.

Lord hear our prayer.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


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