Friday, June 2, 2006

Day is done, gone the sun

Small blotches on the skin. Infected. Red. No matter how I force myself not to scratch, not to notice, I always catch sight of them. And always scratch. Too late to notice the skin is broken and bleeding.

I seem to have picked up a few chiggers last Friday during my grandfather’s funeral. I didn’t intend to write about that, but that is what my mind keeps going back to these days. Not his funeral so much—even though military ceremonies always choke me up and make me moody. I guess a lifetime under the cloud of my martyr uncle who died in Vietnam is what did it. It was one of the few times that I did get choked up. Especially when the army officer addressed my grandmother, reciting my grandfather’s rank before handing her the flag tightly bound into a triangle. And then there was “Taps”—not so much played on a bugle as broadcast from within a bugle:
A funeral honors detail shall, at a minimum, perform at the funeral a ceremony that includes the folding of a United States flag and presentation of the flag to the veteran’s family and the playing of Taps. Unless a bugler is a member of the detail, the funeral honors detail shall play a recorded version of Taps using audio equipment which the detail shall provide if adequate audio equipment is not otherwise available for use at the funeral.
But like I said: it’s not so much the funeral that’s been occupying my mind. Rather, it’s his death a week-and-a-half ago. I’m still worn out from his process of dying. And I was only there for little more than 10 hours of it spread out over two days. I can’t imagine how my sister and nieces made it through this past week: they were there much longer. Or my grandmother and uncle who spent days at the hospital watching and waiting.... Making sure he wasn’t in pain. Making sure he knew that they were there. That he was loved.

In so many ways, this experience was one of the most real experiences of my life. Genuine. Buber wrote, “Man becomes an I through a You.” I feel like I’ve become more human by that experience with not only his death but with my family there crowded around a deathbed. This is what it means to be family. This is what it means to live.

When my other grandparents died, I was far removed from the experience. There were hospital visits, yes, but there was no relation between their lives and the corpse in the casket. I was not witness to the final breath. But this grandfather’s death has changed me. And marked me much deeper and more significantly than the chigger bites I got at his funeral.

Rest in peace, Grandpa.

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