Little over a month ago Logan's grandfather passed away. Around 10 at night the phone rang and it was Logan's mother on the line. Logan's parents were calling us from Denmark. His mother's voice sounded worn and tired, I immediately knew she had bad news when she asked me to put Logan on speakerphone. Gently I placed my hand on Logan's shoulder as he washed the dishes. I told him in a soft tone that his mother was on the phone and she wanted to speak to both of us. Logan's body stiffened, waiting for the blow we hoped would come years later.
Tears swam in our eyes as we heard his mother tell us that Grandpa Hal had passed away. His death, while not completely unexpected, has strangely affected me in ways I had not imagined. He was 89 years old, a family man, a man of integrity - a shining example of how to behave and live. His generosity was legendary. At his memorial I heard story after story honoring a beloved man. Nearly a hundred people of several generations came together to celebrate his life.
I only had three short years to know him. His love of life and his fighting spirit were a source of awe for me. When I asked him what it was like to be 89, he said that in the mirror he saw an old man but in his mind he was a young man in his 20's. Prior to his death he batted cognitive heart failure and had several bouts of pneumonia due to his weakened heart. On several occasions he was forced to use an oxygen tank to keep his body alive. He fought tooth and nail to get off the oxygen and refused to use a walker or a wheelchair. He had no plans on dying. In my eyes he was a warrior battling old age and death. He refused to resign into old age - a lion heart.
He was the first person I've lost in many years. When I was a teenager I lost three of my great grandparents - their deaths, while sad, were not memorable to me. I was already living in San Diego and had not seem them for some time. I was not informed of their deaths until later and was not invited by my parents to the funerals. Grandpa Hal's death was the first funeral I attended. He passed on Tuesday and we were in a car early Friday morning driving to Culver City. We drove through Los Angeles and were pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful, well kept Jewish cemetery amidst all the sprawl and gunk of LA.
I covered my hair with a scarf - again, not my custom, but a sign of respect for the sacred ground I entered. Immediate family greeted us with somber faces, we acknowledged one another waiting for the funeral to begin. Logan and his parents entered the viewing room and I stood outside the room with Sadie. As time passed I realized I wanted to say goodbye to Grandpa Hal, despite my absolute fear of dead bodies. I entered the room (without Sadie) and there he lay in his casket. He looked alive. I expected him to open his eyes and yell "gotcha" at all of us.
Logan's grandmother sat beautifully on a couch and shared her strength with her children. There were tears streaking down everyone's face. I was probably the only person who did not cry. I was afraid to show my pain. I felt undeserving. I wasn't a blood relation and I wasn't Logan's wife for that many years. I didn't deserve to hurt deep inside at the loss of Grandpa Hal. So I contained my tears and stood there watching everyone. Out of respect for the people in the room I will not write of the pain I saw in their faces. I can only say as a collective group we all mourned deeply. And I now know a body without a soul is merely a body in rest. Death, while absolutely sad, should not be terrifying.
After the viewing was over we all accompanied Grandpa Hal to his final resting place. He was to be buried in a beautiful spot covered with grass and open to the sun. The clear blue sky overhead welcomed us. Sadie refused to sit still for the funeral. I saw and heard glimpses as we ran around the cemetery grounds. I passed Jewish last name after Jewish last name - I said hello to them in my mind. "Hello friend, hello. I hope you're enjoying heaven." I wondered at the stories that were buried. I celebrated the deaths of those who were old and hurt for those who died in their youth.
When the cantor was finished they lowered the body to the ground and allowed the family to cover the casket with dirt. At first everyone took turns with the shovel and scooped one shovel full of dirt on the casket. We stood there embracing each other and found comfort in one another. And then Uncle Harvey grabbed a shovel and went to town with the dirt. His mourning needed a physical outlet and he began to shovel dirt into the empty space beside him. It was as if each scoop of dirt was a tear dropping from his heart. Logan saw what Harvey was doing and grabbed a shovel and began to help him. Sadie then grabbed dirt and started to help fill the hole. We did not leave until the entire casket was covered in dirt.
That night Logan and I lay in bed. We started to speak about Grandpa Hal. Slowly Logan began to describe how the funeral affected him. He embraced the process and was grateful to have carried the casket from the viewing room into the car and then help bury his grandfather. He felt like he had closure. He felt like the circle of life was complete. He was his grandfather's progeny and helped him return to the soil he came from. As our conversation was winding down we said a blessing for his grandfather, we prayed that his soul would be very close to God and he would only know joy. At that moment my cellphone lit up and a great blue light filled our room. Chills ran down both of our spines.
Grandpa Hal's death and life forced me to re-examine my own existence. I will write more in another blog on this topic.
Meet the Blogger!
I'm a mom. A writer. A lover of good fantasy. A proponent of nursing when possible. A birth advocate. I am absolutely horrible at keeping my house clean or the dishes washed or the laundry done. I strongly believe in women having a positive birth. When we start to respect women's rights to birth the way they want, we can start to treat women as equal people in this world.
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