I put a photo of an ultrasound into Dad’s coffin on February 27. The viewing before his funeral hadn’t started yet, and no one was watching. The ultrasound was of the fetus who is still becoming Olive Aisley Wagstaff, my next granddaughter, my father’s fourth great granddaughter. On February 18, the day before Dad died, I told him that Julie, my baby girl, had heard her baby’s heartbeat. Dad said a typically “Dad” thing. “That’s wonderful!” That little conversation happened just before I tucked him into bed. He had had a painful day, part of it spent in the hospital.
When his nurse came in the morning to check his blood sugar, I told her that Dad was sleeping. She went into his room and came out immediately, beckoning to me and saying, “Hurry.” Dad had died.
I wasn’t with him the moment he died, though I had promised I would be. I had told him, “I will be with you. I don’t want you to be alone.”
I don’t think he was alone. I think someone–or someones–came for him, probably his parents and sister. (Carolyn died of a heart attack in 1972.) I think they called him by name and told him that it was time to come home now. I imagine them standing as I stand when I’m working in the temple. For much of my shift, all I do is greet the patrons and show them where the dressing rooms are, or whatever else they might need. I smile. Sometimes I have worked with what we call “living ordinances,” referring to those who are going through the temple for the first time. With them I am particularly assuring. I often squeeze their hand and say, “Don’t worry. I’ll be right at your side. Look at me if you need help, and I’ll be right there.”
I don’t know what Dad’s familiar angels would have shown him, what new sights. I suspect the first thing was US, his family, mourning for him. I did not feel him gone while we stayed with his body for four hours before calling the funeral workers. My siblings, nieces, nephews, children arrived, and we sang and talked in the bedroom where Dad’s body lay. I kept my hand on his arm, which was still warm.
Dad was “Son” for Marguerite and Wallace Blair, and “brother” for Carolyn Rachel Blair Shumway. There was a time when Marguerite learned she was pregnant. There were no ultrasounds back in 1930, but she surely felt his kicks as he grew in her womb. I wish I knew more about the day he was born. His sister was already a part of the family. One girl and, with Dad, one boy. Did Marguerite’s mother come to stay with her, to help her endure the pain of the first nursing, the exhaustion of managing two babies? I’m guessing she dad.
My grandfather was the branch president of an LDS ward in Santa Barbara then. He sang tenor beautifully, and used this song as a lullaby for Baby Bobby and Carolyn:
Oh don’t you remember, A long time ago
Two poor little babes,Their names I don’t know.
They strayed far away, On a bright summer’s day.
These two little babes Got lost on their way.
And when it was night, So sad was their plight,
The sun it went down,And the moon gave no light!
They sobbed and they sighed And they bitterly cried
And long before morning, They lay down and died.
I found the complete lyrics on a blog titled “Inappropriate songs to teach your two-year-old.” Dad said that he was sure his father sang it to him to keep him from running too far away.
These parents fought on occasion. My grandfather became an alcoholic (probably self-medicating for rheumatoid arthritis), and yelled abusively at my grandmother once while driving far too fast for safety. When they got home, Grandma, with a hanger in her hand, asked my dad, “Should I hit him, Bobby?” Dad answered, “No, Mom.”
Was my grandfather present with me when I learned that my own son had become an alcoholic? Was it he who whispered to me, “Wait for him. He needs to see you, and you need to be happy. This is his journey, not yours. Don’t go away.” Was my grandfather present for my son when he prayed? Was he there in an AA meeting?
“I’m Wallace and I’m an alcoholic. You don’t need to answer. I know you can’t see me. I’ve been clean and sober since the day I died–April 1, 1949. I don’t think you have any special pins for post-mortal recovery, but you’d be surprised by how little medals mean, by how little anything means except for how much you love the folks around you. And alcohol gets in the way of that, you know. It sloshes around in your heart and kicks your throat until you’re sputtering ugly, nasty things like a stinky car running out of gas. And I want to say that I’m proud of my grandson. By golly, he has red hair, just like I had. And he’s handsome. And he’s good. And I was a good man, you know. A good man with a problem. I’m glad all of you are helping my grandson out. I sit in on the meetings sometimes, just to be sure he gets what he needs and gives what he should. And I give him counsel every now and again. And by the way, several of your grandparents are here with me. A few of them are in post-mortal recovery, too. And they’re doing fine. You remember that final step? ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.’ I want you to know that it’s an honor to keep on doing that, carrying the message to others–especially to those who inherited the alcoholism from us. That’s all I have for now. I’ll thank myself, since you don’t even know what I said, and only a few of you heard anything. ‘Thanks, Wallace!‘”
My dad said that Grandpa had a keen sense of humor.
Dad said many times that he wasn’t afraid of dying, but he didn’t want to until his projects were finished. He was working on making language learning possible for everyone. Unfortunately, as I found out soon after Dad’s death, he had already done his language teaching, and others had taken his methods to a new, interactive level, complete with everything he would have wanted–music, animation, games. Dad’s final projects had nothing to do with language. They had to do with his wife. He needed to be sure that she was all right. She had had a massive heart attack four months earlier to the day, but was recovered when Dad’s angels came for him.
Dad, watching her, saw her with new eyes–eyes which remembered her history and could even feel what she had felt during disagreements, pregnancies, insecurities, celebrations. She was a little girl who became his wife and then his co-parent. He watched her restrain her tears as she looked at his body. (He had gotten so swollen over the past year!)
I didn’t love you enough.
There is never enough, but there is a feast for all.
I don’t know what to do.
Joy and rejoicing in our posterity. . .
If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
I should have–
All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
What do I do?
We are growing. Another baby comes.
He felt everything she was feeling. It was a part of this new reality, the ability to actually enter another person’s perceptions, to see portions of their life not from your perspective (though it was included when relevant) but from theirs. And he could become one with his mother’s spirit and feel her thoughts and (mostly) her love. No resentments could dwell in this love.
Who was with us as we grieved our father’s passing? Who will attend my daughter–and her daughter–when she gives birth?
I believe in angels. I believe in glory. I believe in eternity.
And finally, it’s a girl–due around my dad’s birthday.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.