For the last few months, I’ve loved sharing the Commit2Twenty idea with all of you. While continuing my twenty minute commitment to exercise, I’ve experimented with other 20 minute commitments as well. I’ve written for 20 minutes a day, I’ve worked on my “picture project”, I’ve even set the timer for 20 minutes and run around my house cleaning the bathrooms. In the last couple of weeks, though, I’ve been reminded that not everything can be given a twenty minute time slot. When someone’s life ends, it would be easier if we could squeeze our grief into a twenty minute window, but our hearts require so much more time.
The really funny thing about life. . . no scratch that. The really shitty thing about life. . . no scratch that. The really inevitable thing about life. . . is that it ends. Sometimes when we least expect it – and that’s tragic and soooo sad. Sometimes when we totally expect it – and it’s still soooo sad. My grandpa’s death last week was fortunately the latter, but still I find myself feeling soooo sad.
When a person like my grandpa dies at age 90, after living a life overflowing with love, loyalty, adventure, passion, and knowledge, you’d think we’d stand up and cheer. He did it! He lived life to the fullest – to me, his ever adoring granddaughter he was larger than life – and he lived 90 years. His was a life truly worthy of a standing ovation, but instead those of us who loved him wilt with sadness.
For my grandpa, the last few years were very difficult. His body, forever strong and fit, failed him miserably in the end. Eleven years ago, while hiking with him in the mountains in Mexico, I had to ask him to slow down. I’ll use the elevation and the first-trimester of pregnancy as my excuse, but the truth is my grandpa was going strong, even at age 80. A mere decade ago, my grandpa very easily could have committed to twenty minutes of daily exercise, and most likely did much more.
He grew up in Denmark, and loved to tell stories of his days in the boy-scouts, how he rode his bike to Holland for the boy scouts’ “jamboree”. In the scouts he learned how to read and draw maps, which I recently learned he would do for his hiking friends in Mexico, guiding them along hikes through the mountains around his home, even as his own legs made it more and more difficult for my grandpa to simply walk through his home.
I think it was in the scouts that my grandpa learned how to light a fire, and boy was he particular. His way required kindling cut just so and positioned just right. He was certain no one could build a fire of his caliber and therefore never allowed anyone else to try – except me. I confess, I made him let me during a visit this past year because I was frightened he was going to light himself on fire. I set up the sticks just so and am certain it was almost exactly as he had taught me to do. Fortunately my grandpa’s sense of humor was still intact and he laughed when it took me 26 matches to get it lit!
After coming to the United States at age 23 to study for his Ph.D., my grandpa continued hiking and biking as he had in Denmark which fortunately fit nicely into his career in the forest service. He also was an avid cross-country skier, quietly sliding past the pines in the Nicolet Forest in northern Wisconsin, many of which he planted and cultivated himself. Until the last five years his artificial hip and arthritic ankle never slowed him down.
But then, one day, his hip did slow him down. He’d exhausted its metallic lifespan and it needed to be replaced. But alas, he was too old. The doctors tried twice, but just couldn’t get the new metal to attach to the old bone well enough to support him. He started to use his hiking sticks to get around. My grandpa was stubborn as an ox and hated to accept help. He eventually accepted a walker, but never liked the wheelchair.
The last few years of his life were torturous, but my grandpa really didn’t complain. He swore like a sailor when his legs didn’t support him, but never complained about the pain. Because he was so stubborn, he insisted on living his last years in his home in Mexico, far from his family, but in a climate and country that he loved.
His children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, and his “adopted” great-grandchildren – we were all his joy. That joy emanated from his smile and twinkled in his striking blue eyes that I’ll always remember. And his hard, loving kiss on my cheek that I always “complained” scratched because of his mustache is something I’d give anything to feel one more time.
My grandpa’s life was certainly one well-lived. If he was here right now to take a bow, I’d stand up and clap and cheer. But since he’s not, for now, my friends, I’ll just sit and cry.