Last week a friend sent me word that his grandfather had died the night before. The grandfather had not lived at home for two years; nevertheless, his final hospitalization had been sudden and unexpected. My friend’s grandmother was the only person whose voice had seemed able to summon the briefest of acknowledgements from the ninety-year-old man in his comatose condition.
I wanted to be supportive and asked questions that would give my friend an opening to talk about this loss if he wanted to. I had no idea whether the tie between the two men had been a close one. I recalled my own parents’ reactions to my grandparents’ deaths, though. I knew that if someone had not witnessed a parent’s grief before, the funeral of a grandparent – even one who had not been the special friend that some grandparents manage to be – could trigger an unsettling sense of apprehension.
At a funeral the generations of a family reveal themselves as a moving, transient reality – not eternal and unchanging as early childhood sometimes expects.
My friend’s response to one of my questions stays in my mind. Asked whether he were ready for what the day of the funeral might demand of him emotionally, he replied: “I don’t know what to expect.”
It is a statement that should have been on my own lips last week as this Monday before Thanksgiving approached. Last year on this first day of a short work week I had experienced a discomfort in my chest while walking upstairs after lunch. Following the directions I had received at a recent cardiologist’s appointment, I contacted a nurse in my building.
Within fifteen minutes I was being rolled down the hallway on a gurney by paramedics. At no point were there any severe pains; it was determined fairly early that I was not indeed having a heart attack. The look of my day, however, and indeed the look of my year changed as I watched the ceiling of a work place corridor passing overhead.
Three days and a heart catheterization later, I was home. A wedge had been inserted, however, between me and what should have been the utter familiarity of the setting to which I was returning.
So I should not have been surprised by the mild unease that began last week to characterize the approach of this first anniversary – the first Monday before Thanksgiving since my hospitalization last year.
Another friend sent a text message this morning after an earlier telephone conversation between us: “Are we a bit on the tired side today?”
Yes, I admitted to myself with sudden recognition. I was indeed tired. Truth be told, I was probably most tired of the uncertainty with which I had approached this first anniversary. I was tired of keeping at bay the unsettling sense of apprehension that accompanies all the more pointed reminders of the reality of time’s passing.
I am grateful for the patient understanding of good friends on days like this.