Last night, my 89-year-old grandfather fell and hit his head and broke his hip. I got a text from my dad while my boys were in the bath. Time after time, I’ve thought we might lose him. Last year at this time, I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and trying to make plans for how I’d fly home to Amarillo from San Francisco if I was needed. He recovered. He has always recovered.
This past year, though, he’s folded deeper and deeper into the shadow of age. He can barely walk and he is mostly unaware of his world. My Pawpaw has always been the kind who fiddles with his hands, who whistles a tune. The jokester. The story-teller. And I’ve been so grateful to discover that as age has taken his mind, his sense of humor and general love for people and life has remained. Who cares if he has no idea who the people are at the family birthday party? He’s just happy with cake and he’s happy with the song in his head and all those smiling people sitting beside him at the table.
His mother’s name was Love. Isn’t that the dearest? Sometimes when I see his joy I think, Oh, he was raised by Love.
How could I wash those fresh little boy bodies and imagine my grandfather’s aged skin, his pain and his blood and his ride in the ambulance? How to hold both of those things at once?
I’ve sensed in myself lately a longing to remove any painful situation from my head, to extract it the way Dumbledore pulled those threads of memory from his mind and left them in the pensieve. In moments when someone I love is hurting, my temptation is to sift it out of my mind and save it for later, to focus completely on what’s in front of me. When my boys are splashing in the tub and giggling at each other, how can I enter into my grandfather’s suffering? How can picture him in the emergency room, my grandmother (his wife of 68 years) beside him, her lips tensed with knowing?
I zipped my baby into his footsie pjs and sat in the rocking chair in the dark, nursing him before bed. I said to God, Let me think of him, know that he suffers. Don’t allow me to forget his need. I prayed for whatever Pawpaw felt in that moment, for joy, for a sense of comfort from his family around him, for God’s good presence (like Lucy’s face in Aslan’s fur).
And when I lay my baby down in his bed, his eyes already closed, his body curled around his blanket on his side, I lifted my hands: one over his crib and the other toward my older boy’s room across the hall and I prayed, picturing their faces lined with age: the 89-year-old August, the 86-year-old Brooks surrounded by the people they loved with their lives. Oh, and I prayed for all the fullness of an ending for them. The kind without regrets, the kind with music and laughter and touch and families who love them.
It’s a strange thing to see your babies as old men nearing death. But they were the best kind of old men, like my grandfather: laughing from his gut, smiling with his vacant eyes. Lord, let them be the best kind…
It’s Thankful Tuesday. I’m thankful for age and worn skin, a deep lines of wisdom in the brain. I’m thankful for my family, for the present joy and for the future hope.
I’m thankful that all is grace, even the end. Especially the end.