Grandpa was 89 when he died on Veteran’s Day. He had recovered from other serious illnesses and while I knew there was a chance he could recover again, this time felt different. When the end came, there were several family members surrounding and holding him. The bed was down as low as it could go so that Grandma, his wife of 68 years and bent by osteoporosis, could hold Grandpa’s hand more comfortably.
While it was happening, I tried to feel God’s presence in the room but all I kept thinking was that it was a horrible honor and a terrible privilege to bear witness to this great man’s death. It was horrible and terrible but an honor and a privilege. It was also the most human thing I ever experienced. For me, it wasn’t divine or mystical. I witnessed mortality: flesh and bone, pain and discomfort, fear and acceptance. For reasons I can’t explain, I knew implicitly that God was not going to cushion me or soften the reality and I appreciated Him all the more for it.
Two days after Grandpa died, I took my dog for a jog. The sun had just started to rise about 10 minutes before and the sky was filling with color. As I jogged my usual square route, I bore witness to an incredible sunrise in all four directions. Baby whites, celestial blues, tangerines and shocking pinks. I knew this was Grandpa’s doing. It was like he asked God to show off a bit for me.
I jogged, staring into the sky in awe. When I finally looked down, I became aware of the houses around me. A school bus up ahead, lights flashing then driving away. A little boy running around the corner, his oversized Spiderman backpack threatening to topple him as it swung back and forth. The way he came to a sudden stop and the realization in his dropped head as he turned to walk back home. I was back on earth. My home for now. Human. I slowed to a walk and let my dog sniff a mailbox.
On the day of Grandpa’s memorial, I didn’t know how I was going to get through the day. I’d already been given the sign of the sunrise so I felt selfish asking for more but I prayed for something to focus on, a thought to meditate on throughout the day. The word came to me so powerfully and loudly that it could not be denied.
It’s what Grandpa’s life was all about. I could feel him shouting it from the Other Side. With sudden clarity, I felt tenderness for the way my dad wants us over for dinner every Sunday. I understood my attempts to bring my husband’s family together even though he wasn’t raised to cherish those ties the way I was. I felt the significance of what my Aunt meant when she once said, “You don’t need to prove anything to us. We’re family.”
Family is a blanket we wrap ourselves in. Even when it’s itchy and covered in burrs. Even when it’s ripped in some places and barely patched in others. The heaviness yields to our contours and we breathe it in. It smells like me, like them, like us. It smells like home.