Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Grandpa sized hole

My grandpa is dead. He passed away yesterday, probably shortly after Derrick and I finished talking to my grandma. He's been deteriorating for a few months now, ever since he developed a heart arrhythmia and had it treated by a doctor who, after putting him on coumadin, neglected to monitor the levels of coumadin in his blood because my grandpa "wasn't expected to be a long-term patient anyway." My grandpa subsequently developed internal bleeding that almost killed him, then diverticulitis, and for the last few days has had aphasia and been unable to go to the toilet on his own. It's easy to be angry that my grandpa's days were shortened and made just that much less pleasant by a stupid decision by a doctor.

It seems an irony now that his body will be donated to medical research. I have mixed emotions about that, too--I'm glad my grandpa is that generous with the flesh that housed his soul for a good 86 years, and I know doctors need to dissect human bodies to prepare for practicing medicine, but it's hard for me to think that someone will take a scalpel to his body and lay open his well-used tissues to their examination. I wonder what they'll see there, and if there's any way, when they return his remains for cremation, to find out what they found inside him. Will they see evidence of the havoc wrecked by the coumadin? Will they be able to reconstruct the sequence of systems that failed him in the end? Will they see small perforations, most probably healed, in his vessels? Will his heart show signs of the arrhythmia, or of the minor heart attack he had eight years ago? I'm sure they'll see all the diverticula, most of which were probably not infected, probably caused him no problems at all. Will the deteriorating disks in his back that caused him so much pain be at all remarkable to them?

I wonder if they will note the cleft palate he was born with, and if they will realize how unusual it is for a man his age to have survived infancy with such a birth defect. Will they notice the mended bones in his arm that was caught in a threshing machine and broken? If they do, they won't have any idea that injury dashed his dreams of college until the GI bill resurrected those dreams. Will they see any remainder of the strong, fleet muscles in the legs of his that once were able to run a mile in under four-and-a-half minutes? Will they notice the ravages of the tropical fungi that he picked up during his time on New Guinea during WWII? Will they find other reminders--scars or perhaps a piece of long-forgotten shrapnel--of that service? I know they'll have no way of seeing the faces of the friends who were killed there, of remembering the friend who was killed by a mortar shortly after switching beds with my grandpa, any more than I do. The allergies that plagued him throughout his adult life and forced him to abandon a career in geology in favor of one in social work won't show up under their scrutiny.

I know the callouses on his hands will bear no discernible record to anyone else of the roses and gladioli and dahlias, of the raspberries and grapes, of the tomatoes and cucumbers and squash, all tenderly planted and cared for; of the silver and turquoise jewelry crafted, often into the shape of Kokopelli, the trickster Navajo god; or the paintings of his beloved southwest, all reds and browns and and blues, or occasionally in fantastic shades of purple. They will not see, nor will they imagine an impression in his side left behind by a tow-headed girl who used to curl up under his arm and watch Nature and Nova, and an assortment of other natural history shows on PBS. His wisdom, gleaned from decades of helping people help themselves, and shared with errant (or sometimes just stubborn or sad) children and grandchildren has flown with him, leaving no residue to be discovered upon opening his skull.

For all his life, for all he did, the record in his body will be scant. It is only the memories and the impressions that he left with us, his friends and descendants that bear record of who he was and what he loved and accomplished in his life.

Godspeed, grandpa. We love you, and will miss you.


  1. I'm very sorry about your Grandpa. Your "obituary" is very touching and beautifully written.