A couple weeks ago my friend messaged me that a good friend of hers had passed away just after ten weeks of being diagnosed with cancer. A couple of days later, after my work day had ended, I looked at my phone to see that my sister-in-law had delivered a happy, healthy baby girl(!) Around that same time, my father had messaged us in our family Whatsapp group that my grandpa was taken to the hospital and was in a lot of pain and the doctors were still trying to figure out what the cause was.
I called my friend and I talked to her about memories of her friend. I could hear the grief in her voice so I tried to console her a bit. I reminded her that her friend was once again whole. He had left his broken body behind. He had gone to a place where his body and his mind and his surroundings were complete and lacked nothing. We, humans on earth, are the ones who were broken (with grief and other things). This brokenness, it is true, makes us able to connect with each other and build a life together, but that is just for a short while. Eventually, when our life here on earth is done, we are transformed into something else. Those that stay behind are broken, but we will get through it–we always do. She seemed to take some solace in this.
I called my brother and sister-in-law to congratulate them on the new one, and while I listened to the cries of the new baby, born into a broken world, I couldn’t help but wish the best for her. Of course, we wish the best for those around us whom we love.
I called my grandpa and he was too tired to speak so I talked to my grandma for a few minutes to ask them how everything was with Grandpa and to let them know that I was thinking of them and that I loved them. I told them that I wished I were close by to visit but at least I could think about them in this difficult time.
And so it goes, death, pain, and new beginnings swirl around us every day and make our existence here what it is. Even on the hard days, we must gather our strength and see what it has in store for us. One of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho says: “If you only walk on sunny days you’ll never reach your destination.” And if you have read any of his books, he also believes, as do I, that the destination, in fact, is the very journey and not the endpoint. These turn of events a few weeks back, especially of Grandpa, made me think about loving kindness and how we move through life and how some people are more in tune with compassion and attention to others than the average Joe.
My grandpa, for example, exudes loving kindness and is always on the lookout to lend a hand. Here’s a poem/memory chain of sorts for him to highlight what I know and to acknowledge my gratitude for him. I hope he feels better real soon!
Grandpa, you’re on my mind
It is hard for me to wrap my mind writing about a person that I really admire and one that you want to make sure and write about with precision, tact, and honesty in order to capture the spirit of such an important soul. I feel this way about Grandpa, someone I only see once or twice a year and who, while I was growing up abroad, I didn’t see hardly at all, and my conversations with him were fleeting check-ins, at best.
In Argentina, we would go to the Telefónica a few times a month to talk to our grandparents. We entered the building ceremoniously, the five gringos, loyal customers, ready for the conversation that we would have with each of our grandparents. There were three telephone booths that housed the phones that would connect us to our loved ones back in the United States. The lady at the counter gave us la cabina 1, 2, o 3 al azar. The booth she seemingly picked at random because there was hardly anyone present making phone calls, was carpeted from top to bottom with blue 70s carpeting and the door that swung out inviting the speaker inside, had a long window to see in and out. The seat inside the booth was a little bench, also carpeted. There was probably enough room to comfortably, for a very short time, fit two, very lean adults in that booth. And so, my parents would go in and they would talk to our grandparents, first one set and then the other. Closing the door behind them they would communicate with our relatives, thousands of miles away. My grandparents only ever knew our experiences in the Chaco through these conversations. They relayed on the lens that my parents saw the world to transport them to the faraway land, because they never visited.
Meanwhile, the three of us kids would run, play, and try to stay out of trouble in the uninspiring building built for conversations suspended in air, and not for the activities of lively children. We ventured outside to play as well and came in and out at our leisure until my mom or dad would come get us one by one to say “hi” to each of their parents.
When my turn came I ran into the cabina, which had gotten pretty toasty because of the close quarters and body heat created by all of us breathing and the energy of our conversations in general. I said “hi” and I probably talked about school, and piano lessons, and what new tumble I had learned in gymnastics, and the ducks, and my friends, and whatever else children talk about. To tell you the truth I don’t remember the substance of those conversations or what I talked about in specifics. My memory serves me pretty well, but the content of these phone chats just don’t seem to come to mind. I do remember the spirit of the calls however, and how my grandparents’ calming voice took hold of you and carried you where you needed to go, like that of a mother cat carrying its young by the scruff of their necks. Grandpa Wigginton never forgot to say “I love you” and that’s all I needed to know–that he was there and that he cared about me.
Besides these conversations, periodic letters and pictures my mom sent were largely how my grandparents got to know us until we moved to the States. And when I did move to Indiana I got to see my grandparents more often and I have to say, that Grandpa Wigginton is my favorite grandparent. Expressing gratitude for you is easy.
Here’s a memory that is of Grandpa when I moved to the States, circa Spring of ’96:
The pancakes he makes are three-in-one
Spraying the pan he pours batter in the center—the head
And then two more little circles to the right and to the left—the ears
Mickey Mouse pancakes.
Flipping the pancakes he leans against the counter.
Sometimes talking about someone in the
His attention always drifts to those around him,
What they may need, and, most importantly
How he can help.
He shoves the spatula under Mickey’s chin and slides him onto my plate.
“Anyone else want a pancake?” he inquires simply.
Large hands with slender fingers carefully tie his black shoelaces and then he is off to care for someone else.