We buried my grandfather yesterday.
The good news. The good news is that his suffering is over. Charles was a fighter, even through the end. 10 years of Prostate cancer, lung cancer, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. The last three years, constantly connected to an oxygen tank, clear tubing trailing throughout the house. A basket full of pills. And more emergency room visits, surgeries, and unexpected complications from meds that don't mix than any human being should ever have to suffer. And yet the man lived, through sheer force of will, both his, and my grandmother's. She, his constant caretaker. Tireless and unceasing. Meticulous, was the word the cardiologist used. She was meticulous. But even she conceded, it was time to let him go.
The last three days of his life were excruciating to watch. Once we made the decision, simply to "keep him comfortable", the morphine meant it was only excruciating for us around him. My brother, so sweet, so sensitive, and in the last years, so very close to Charles, visibly took it the hardest. But it was my grandmother that shattered my already broken heart when she whispered softly as we sat on the couch together, "I'm losing my best friend." I immediately went outside, and called Matt. It's time. I need you. Bring the dogs, check into a hotel, and come get me. Tomorrow we're moving him into hospice care. Baby....death is so ugly.
Though we all spent most of the day by his bedside, in the end, only my grandmother was left in the room, holding his hand, when he finally slipped away. His best friend. She said it was peaceful. What no one said was, it was a relief. The lifting of all that tension was like a drug.
When I arrived at the house yesterday, Gramma said, "Curt the minister asked if anyone from the family wanted to speak, but he said he understood if no one felt like they could." I knew it couldn't be me. I didn't think any of us could. But my brother stepped forward, offered to shoulder the burden as if it were the most natural thing in the world. My grandmother was so happy. I was terrified. He's the only person I know who hates to cry in front of others more than I do.
Mike sat down in the dining room with a pen and paper as the rest of us finished getting dressed. When I walked through the room he stopped me and said with a grin, "Hey....um, is it improper to use the word 'asshole'?" I told him my gut instinct was, "YES", but asked for the context. As he explained a few more family members drifted into the room, and in the end we all agreed that, yes, it was risky, but somehow, totally fitting. There was never a man more devoted to his church and his faith than my grandfather. My rationale was, would Charles have been offended? Nope, not in the least. And, would he have said it himself, if the circumstances were reversed? Hell yes, he would.
When the minister introduced my brother at the service, he said simply, "And now, a grandson remembers his grandfather." I tensed. But my brother spoke easily, as good in front of this crowd as I had ever seen him. He told two stories that perfectly summed up my grandfather.
Charles had an absolutely brilliant mind, and loved anything that exercised his brain--puzzles, riddles, jokes. He was gifted at carpentry and anything mechanical--he could build, fix, or dissect anything, figure out how it worked, and explain to you why it did the things it did the way it did them. He was, in a word, amazing. And to illustrate this, Mike told the story of Charles' ring.
He wore a large, 18 karat gold ring, with a huge square black lacquered face, and the center was studded with a large, single diamond. He'd worn it as long as I can remember. It certainly wasn't a ring just anyone could wear, and he pulled it off, as only Charles could have. My brother asked my grandmother, how exactly had Charles come by that ring, and she told him she bought it from her friend at the bank, George. George was a notorious gambler, and had a weekly poker game where the stakes were, shall we say, not for the faint of heart. And one morning after poker George called my grandmother into his office and showed her this ring. He had won it off of Tom T. Hall (the ol' country star), who had put up the ring to cover the $750 he lost to George that night. George wasn't much of a jewelry guy, and didn't really like the ring, but Gramma said she liked it very much, and thought Charles would, too. She asked George if he'd take the original $750 he was owed for the ring, and he accepted. And Charles got his ring.
Nearly 25 years ago, Charles was in a bad car crash. Totaled car, shattered glass, and a trip to the hospital. When Gramma reached his side, he said, "Janice, the stone in my ring is missing. Go back to that crash and search that car for that diamond." She did, but neither she nor my aunt could find the stone anywhere among the wreckage. Multiple searches, every nook and cranny of the car explored, and nothing. Charles was not satisfied, but thinking she'd just buy a replacement, she took the ring to the jeweler to find out what it would cost to replace the diamond. The conservative estimate was $4200. THAT was out of the question. But Charles was not about to give up on the ring.
"Where's all the glass from the accident?" he asked.
"I'm assuming in the trash somewhere, Charles, where else would it be?"
"Get it. That stone is mixed in with all that broken glass."
So, Gramma called the shop that had picked up the car after the accident. Yes, they still had all the glass...at the bottom of their shop trash bin, but yeah, it was all there. Naturally, they were curious about why on earth anyone would want the glass shards from their car wreck, but Gramma wasn't exactly willing to admit their might be a $4200 diamond in their trash, so she just said, please put it in a box and save it for me. They did, and she delivered the box, deep with glittering chunks of windshield, to Charles.
"Even if it's IN there, you will never find that diamond in that box of glass," she told him, and she strolled off, leaving him with his latest puzzle to solve. Moments later, she heard him call her name, and when she entered the room, he handed her the diamond, freshly plucked from the box as though it had been waiting there for him the whole time.
"I CANNOT believe you found it that fast! Do you have any idea how lucky that was? I mean, that stone could have been on the side of the road, lost in the hospital or the ambulance, anywhere! That it was even in that glass was amazing, and I just can't believe you opened that box right up and found it..."
She handed it back to him, and then watched, horrified, as he tossed it back in the box, closed the lid, and shook. And then he found it again. Just to show her that there was no luck to it. It was all too easy for Charles.
Now, for the past year or so, my brother has been working for a company based out of Chattanooga. He travels often, and for long periods of time, but when he comes "home", home is Gramma and Charles' house. So in that time, he and Charles had been able to have lots of chats. His company is a startup, still growing and still very much working out the kinks, and this provides my brother with a never-ending source of frustration. Charles loved to advise him on his latest headache, and truly, was never wrong in his advice. My brother explained this to all of us, seated in the chapel for the memorial, and then, he said this:
"One of the best pieces of advice, and quite frankly, the last one he ever gave me was this. And, Lord, forgive me for what I'm about to say, but this was the man that I loved.
He told me, 'Michael, if there's going to be only one happy asshole in the bunch, you better be sure it's yours.'"
The man was always, always, ALWAYS right.
And I will never forget it.