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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.

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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.

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 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.

 Family

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.

14 Comments on “Home

  1. Beautiful Karen.
    I am so sorry for the loss of your grandfather…he sounds very cool….a true patriarch.
    Family is so important…whether by birth or marriage or friendships…all different kinds of family are created. I always envied what I perceived as others strong family units, but mine was strong too, just different.
    There is a certain beauty in death, in witnessing it. That moment when everything has been stripped away except…what? I don’t have the strong faith that you do, but I have faith. Something is seen, someone takes our hands as we move ahead. What a beautiful and dramatic sight your grandpa sent you…!

    Anyway…sending love and peace.

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    • It was beautiful in its humanity. It was hard but I’d do it a million times over if it brought my grandpa one ounce of comfort. Thank you for your love and peace!

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  2. Your “Home” is so beautiful, but the comments, stories, memories and heart touches you’ve aroused are every bit as special in their own right. You touch people in your very unique YOU! YOU have a unique soul that encourages, or maybe it’s allows, others to look inside themselves. Thank you for touching me too.

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  3. That’s just beautiful, Karen. You paint a vivid picture with so few words – true talent indeed.

    It’s funny, I immediately identified with your husband’s upbringing there – I too grew up without that family thing going on. I have a small family – no aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc. Just parents and a brother I don’t speak much to. My wife has a large family. To me family were just these people. I didn’t care that blood bound us. It’s just DNA, folks. Cherishing things wasn’t my thing. I am still learning to do so. But I love what your Aunt said about not having to prove anything. Now *that’s* family, isn’t it?

    Thank you for sharing this…just lovely. 🙂

    Blessings,
    Paul

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    • Thank you Paul. It’s been hard for me to accept that my husband’s family is different, not in a bad way but their approach to family is just different. I absolutely love his family but they’ve always puzzled me. I get it now. And when my husband married me, he married my family and he loves that now.

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  4. What a lovely post.

    My brother and I had drifted apart over the years – probably not helped by my drinking – to the point where we barely talked, only very occasionally saw each other and muttered a few platitudes in Christmas Cards. Then just aft Mum passed away his world was turned upside down with a separation, divorce and house move he never sought or wanted forced on him. He called me up. We met and went away for a weekend so he didn’t have to spend another lonely two days camped in the backroom of a house he no longer could bare to be in. He walked in to my daughter’s 18th birthday party on Saturday night and unconsciously and naturally we embraced each other without any discomfort or embarrassment… family is indeed where the heart comes home

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    • That is so beautiful! If there’s one thing I’ve learned in recovery, there’s always hope for redemption. We have the choice to offer each other grace and forgiveness. We’re not always in the same place emotionally at the same time, but when we manage to connect, it’s so healing.

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      • Indeed – the real healing came that weekend away when I finally got to mention to him the thing that stuck out on my Step 4 – my big resentment against him. I said “Hey this really bugged me at the time and still does… blah blah”… He explained why it had happened. By the time he’d finished that and I’d finished my cup of tea years of resentment had been completely washed away. It just didn’t matter anymore.

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