Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Year On, It Feels Like Yesterday by Alex Snider

A year ago today, my grandpa died. It was a loss that still catches my breath, still burns the back of my throat -- holy shit, I miss him. He had been sick for a number of years, and for all those years I would have dreams where somehow the right combination of drugs was found and he would bound into the room, fully healed and from then on he would be the same Pa as always. When I'd awake from those dreams I'd be overwhelmed with sadness, aching for something that could, would never be. Now that he is gone, I still have those dreams, the variation being that he's not no longer sick but no longer dead -- there was a mistake -- and when I wake up I am so grateful for those extra minutes to spend with my Pa.

Because I'm kinda a mess right now and can barely string together a coherent sentence I'm going to just repost what I wrote following his death last summer, and what I had the privilege of reading at his funeral:

On Wednesday evening I had the privilege of bearing witness to my grandfather's last breath. With my grandmother hugging him, my mother holding his hand he opened his eyes for the last time and smiled at my mum before his six year battle with Louie Body Dementia came to a close. A disease that masqueraded as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and stole his mobility, his memory but never his humour, his love, his dignity, his bravery.

I have had a video playing through my mind since, a continual stream of images and moments of Pa. There I am jumping into bed between him and Barber (Pa is what I christened him as a wee one, Barber for my grandmother Barbara, shortened compliments of my little brother), careful not to land on my brother, sister and who ever else found themselves congregating in the heart of the home.
Now, he is tickling me and giving me whisker burns -- you know that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where that dude reaches into the guy's chest, pulls out his still-beating heart and kind of shakes it, grinning? That is my Pa to a T. The rattling jewelry (Pa always wore three watches; two on one wrist, one on the other), the maniacal grin, the slightly crazy eyes; it's a similarity that my brother and I laughed about as recently as last week.

Skip ahead to Christmas morning when I was eleven, thoroughly ensconced in my tom-boy phase; the year when I was determined to be the new Huck Finn. I had been asking for a sling-shot and boy, did I get one. Pa gave me a state of the art, army issued sling-shot complete with metal ball-bearings (which were taken away almost immediately). As soon as the snow melted, he was at the cottage, building me a proper target. I was going to be the best damn shot around.

And now, he is serenading us with Russian sounding gibberish songs, and dancing with Barber, taking a break from the dishes.

And baking a cake with green icing five inches thick for my birthday. I remember that even as a sugar-crazy six year old, feeling that a cake that rich could not be good for me.

And suturing up my brother's head, again and again (Dave was, is a bit of a wild daredevil and he could afford to be with a plastic surgeon for a grandfather).

There we are talking and I am telling him that I will be the first woman in baseball's Major Leagues and he is telling me that he will send me to the best baseball camp in the States (never mind that the camp wasn't for girls). And he wasn't just indulging me, a ten year old who was mediocre at best at baseball (I had only played one season but, oh man, was I obsessed with A League of Their Own and Sandlot), he genuinely believed that I would be the first woman in the MLB.
Our tradition was that we used to go for Sundaes on Saturdays at an old ice-cream parlour called Dutch Maid in Winnipeg where we would indulge in Sundaes the size of our heads.

I have a huge collection of shells and stones from beaches across the globe because on every trip Barber and Pa went on he would walk along the shore specially to pick me up a present. There are shells from the Adriatic and stones from the Dead Sea, the Pacific, the Atlantic, every gulf and bay you could name.

In my mind he is walking up to my grandmother, after disappearing for several hours, with a bouquet of wild flowers, saying "beauty for beauty".

And more recently, at Christmas, seeing him get out of his wheelchair and sprint down the hall because he "felt like exercise". This when a couple steps drained him to exhaustion.

The last time he recognized me was when I visited in April. He looked at my sister and I when Barber told him who we were and he said "oh! But they've gotten so big!"
There are steps at our family cottage, his cottage, on one of the decks that he built specially for me. I was three; the steps are only fit for a toddler yet they end a couple feet short of the ground (actually, a rock-hill that rolls into the water) and so are completely unfit for a toddler.

But that was the way he was, he went full gusto into everything he ever did but always did so with a sense of humour and whimsy. Not everything made sense -- at one point he put huge castor wheels on to all the furniture at the lake and so all the furniture was elevated by a foot -- but he went for it anyway and if nothing else, we his loving, adoring family have a plethora of amazing stories to tell.

It is surreal to imagine the rest of my life without my Pa. He has touched my life so profoundly, shaped so much of who I am that the pain seems as though it will never dull. My tongue doesn't seem to be able to form the word Barber without following it up with and Pa.

Being able to be with him at the end, able to help wash him and wrap him in his and Barber's favourite quilt, able to hold him and kiss him goodbye was the greatest gift I could ever have asked for. 

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