Flowers on a cross remain, marking an ending scene
Damn it all if blood you spill, turn the grass more green…
–Alice In Chains, “Private Hell”
Recently I took some time away from everything, somewhat abruptly. It all started with a phone call a few weeks back. My mother informed me that my grandfather, whom I had not seen in person in about 10 years, was dying of stage 4 lung cancer. Ever since my grandmother had passed away back in the 1990’s,1 he had become a very private person and didn’t correspond much with the rest of us. The last time I had seen him was when my first child, Princess, was about 1 year old, and since then we had only talked on the phone briefly for birthdays and such. He had never even met my second child in person.
After talking with both my mother and uncle, it was clear that grandpa was going to be gone soon, and that he was in no condition to see anyone anymore. The news wasn’t terribly surprising because I knew he was a lifelong heavy smoker, but I had no idea how ill he had become. When I spoke to him on the phone, he never gave any indication of his condition, and had sounded like the grandpa I had known all these years.
Finally, while hiking with the family at Mount Rainer National Park (and therefore out of phone signal coverage), I got a phone call from both mom and my uncle that grandpa had finally died. Yet another missed opportunity.
A few days later, I met my uncle and we went through his house together to try and clean up some of the mess and maybe put some things in order. Since he had been ill for so long, the house had become somewhat neglected despite his best efforts, and it was kind of surreal seeing all the old Christmas cards and such I had sent him over the years neatly stacked up by the fireplace, old pictures of my daughter (his great-granddaughter) and such. I saw parts of his life I never really knew, like old photos from his Navy service and met his neighbor who had spent a lot of time with him in his final years.
It’s been quite a while since I had lost someone in the family,2 and the particular way in which he died, coupled with the fact we had very little contact over the years really left my kind of hurt and numb. When I was younger, I looked up to him a lot as the gruff, but lovable old sailor. When I graduated college, he gave me a couple items: a ring he got in South Dakota, and a money clip. No one else in the family had cheered me on like he did (apart from my future wife) and it really meant a lot to me. I still have old pictures of him when I was a kid. My wife and I met him once shortly after we got married, and he talked a little bit about his days in the Navy stationed in Japan just after WWII, but before the Korean War. You could tell he liked Japan even if he never had much chance to get to know the culture or language.
But now it’s all gone. I will not get to meet him again and tell him thanks for all he did for me as a kid. I never got to introduce my son to him either. It’s all done. Over.
Between this and a stressful month at work, I just shutdown in a way. I didn’t notice it at first, and was still being productive at work, but more and more I feel haunted by his memory, and no amount of Buddhist prayer and dedication of merit helps that. When I visited his home just after he died, I remember saying a prayer to him, and also many times that following week in front of the Buddhist altar at home, but it always felt a little hollow. Did any of it make a difference?
Since then, the altar at home has been closed, and I have been feeling kind of numb all the time. I just haven’t been able to pick up the keyboard, make another Buddhist video, or even read another Buddhist book or sutra. I just couldn’t give a shit.
Maybe this is all just the Five Stages of Grief, but I guess I still don’t give a shit. I’ve been playing Magic with friends, playing with my kids or reading old Zelazny books mostly. Some days I don’t even really think about him, but then the memory comes back again. But in general I feel kind lethargic and a bit sullen even at work.
And yet, in spite of all this, I wanted to start writing again, and so I have dusted off some of my half-finished blog posts and started writing again.
Not sure what will happen over the coming weeks and months, but for now please enjoy more (possibly a bit dated) posts and thank you for your understanding.
1 Also due to cancer, and she too had been a heavy smoker like grandpa. I remember she died just days after Thanksgiving (I always get a bit moody after Thanksgiving as a result) and seeing her lying dead in the hospital, her face still wracked with pain. 27 years that memory hasn’t left me.
2 The last death in the family had been my other grandpa. My daughter was just a few months old when he died, and we only had one picture of him holding his great-granddaughter.