June 12, 2004

Notes For A Future Pallbearer

#1. Don’t trip. Put one foot after the other and watch where you’re going at all times.

I’ve mentioned my grandfather in the past, the past being a place to which my father’s father has been confined for the last several years because of Alzheimer’s. Over the last twenty-four hours, his condition has worsened. Pneumonia took hold and accelerated the inevitable.

#2. No alcohol. Increases the likelihood of aforementioned tripping.

You wouldn’t think the body could forget how to swallow. Its so ingrained. But apparently that’s what’s happened. So they put a feeding tube in while he floundered in a coma. They’re removing it soon, further accelerating the inevitable.

#3. Try not to think about the fact that you’re carrying a dead person in a box. Think of it as a very fancy piece of furniture, so fancy, in fact that lots of people are watching you move it.

My grandfather was - and I use the past tense here because dying is just a formality at this stage – never the cuddly type of grandfather. He wasn’t the type of guy who’d light a pipe, hand you a piece of candy and tell you about the good old days. If you met him, he’d shake your hand and you’d be opening and closing your fist for hours trying to get the feeling back. I’m pretty sure he could change a tire with his bare hands with a grip like that. He was more the type of grandfather who didn’t quite know how to handle kids. Granted, he took me out on his tractor a lot and always gave me lots of beer.

#4. Attend rehearsal – there has to be a rehearsal, right? Who would allow you to move your dead grandfather a valuable piece of furniture without a rehearsal?

He served in World War II, in all the places you’ve heard of so many times before. He was never the first one in but he was, perhaps, one of the more important soldiers – he was the cook. Stories are often compared to fish and to further the metaphor, the memory of his time in the service became the one that got away. It was, until very recently, the one set of memories that escaped the ravages of whatever it was that was destroying his brain. He often demanded to be driven an hour away to visit his wartime friend, Brownie. I’m not sure if they actually talked about their time in the war or merely sat there and stared at each other but, regardless, he was proud and wanted to share the experience until it was taken away from him.

#5. Avoid the use of humor as a defense mechanism. Funerals are not appropriate occasions for laughter no matter what happens.

In my opinion – and its not really my place – he wasn’t a good father to my dad. He was not the nicest person. Not to speak ill of those who can’t properly defend themselves, but he was, in fact, mean. Yet in the last years of his coherent life, he began making lists. He had his “book” which was treated with more reverence in their small house than the Bible ever had been. His book was filled with names, places, clippings, pictures, lists of everyone he had ever met and everyplace he had ever been. He might have had his shortcomings as a father but he was proud. The last time I was there he was only able to slightly participate in this world but he got his book and showed it to me. And not only had he captured the details of his life, but of our lives – newspaper clippings detailing my dad’s career, photos of my parents’ wedding ceremony, my high school graduation announcement, and our own wedding invitation.

#6. High-fives and slaps on other pallbearers' asses upon successful completion of 'the mission' are out. Not that this would ever cross your mind. Just saying...

In all fairness, my grandfather did mellow. He and my dad's relationship changed during the last five or ten years prior to the onset of Alzheimers. They grew closer, but not close. He was always remarkably kind to me and adored my wife. He put up with my mother's quirks and became much more tolerant in general. I can only hope that, over the last few years, he was completely oblivious to the world.

#7. If your father cries, don't watch. If there's one thing in the world that will get to you, its that. Visualize classic Monty Python sketches and focus on where you're going.

When Pete Townshend wrote “My Generation” he was only partially correct. I do, indeed, hope I die before I get old – old and helpless, at least. But the fading away bit? No. I’ve watched someone fade away and it seems neither pleasant nor peaceful. Going through what my grandfather and my family have been put through over the past few years scares the hell out of me. When Beth and I get too old, we’re Thelma-and-Louising it.

Posted by Chris at June 12, 2004 09:17 AM

Chris, I'm so sorry. :(

Posted by: Olive at June 12, 2004 09:45 AM

My sympathies.

Posted by: Lisa at June 12, 2004 09:52 AM

I'm sorry. I know it's hard, even when you've known it's inevitable and soon to come.

Posted by: Amy at June 12, 2004 10:14 AM

I'm sorry for you. My grandfather died two years ago, and he was only in his sixties.

Posted by: Chrissy at June 12, 2004 10:37 AM

I'm so sorry. I hope that he'll leave this world without having pain.

A coincidence, my grandfather served in WOII as a cook too. At one point he did have to enter the real battle, he survived but saw many friends die. Unfortunatelly I never met him.

And #7 you're SO right on that. I saw my father cry at one day, and that was the day his mother was burried. It broke my heart. Think MP, good idea ;)

Hang in there ;)

Posted by: Sweety at June 12, 2004 11:04 AM

Thoughts are with yah... I plan on going out on my own terms as well. The alternative is just too much for my family to go through. BTDT so to speak.

Posted by: LOUP at June 12, 2004 12:01 PM

I lost my grandfather when I was 6. I thought I'd never cry that much again. I have two grandparents left, and I know it's going to be a lot harder to let them go as an adult.

My sympathies are with you and your family.

Posted by: Mel at June 12, 2004 12:26 PM

Baby, I am so, so sorry. My grandpa was prickly too, and I still miss him terribly. It sounds like you have the coping mechanism fully in place, and it's a darn good one, too. For the record, I admire the heck out of you.

And whatever you do between now and then, do NOT watch the Mary Tyler Moore episode in which Chuckles the Clown, the Minneapolis Circus Parade Grand Marshall, is killed by a rogue elephant.

Posted by: Mindy at June 12, 2004 01:37 PM

Sorry to hear about your grandfather.

Posted by: Fraulein N at June 12, 2004 02:56 PM

As someone who has recently lost a family member to a long illness I can relate. I think relationships in general are complicated, and that fact doesn't change when the person passes away. Hang in there Chris. My thoughts are with you.

Posted by: feisty girl at June 12, 2004 09:25 PM

Sorry, Chris. It's hard to see them go, even if they are "prickly" (as Mindy said).

Posted by: martha at June 12, 2004 09:49 PM

Aw honey, I'm so sorry. You are correct. Never watch your father cry. Mine did when his mother died. And all of these years, up until last year, I though they just plain didn't want me to go to the funeral. It turns out, my grandmother made my father promise to not let me see her in that state prior to her passing. So of course, he cried more because of that. Be honored you will be able to pay proper respect and say a proper goodbye. I was never afforded that and even with the good intention of it, I will always .... ALWAYS .... be pissed that I was not given the opportunity for either. You are in my thoughts, hon.

Posted by: Kymmie at June 12, 2004 10:14 PM

Chris sweetie, that was a stunning tribute to your grandfather, and your honesty in presenting him in three dimensions shows great respect and honor for his life. I wish you peace.

Posted by: jilbur at June 12, 2004 11:19 PM

Oh sweetie. I know nothing we can say can make it easier. Even if you weren't "close", it's hard to lose a loved one. And I don't know what's worse, knowing you're losing him/her or a sudden unexpected loss. I pray for peace of mind for you and yours. God Bless you.

Posted by: HR Lady at June 13, 2004 08:13 AM

My grandpa left through the door of Alzheimer’s ~ a particulary mean way to have to go. My thoughts are with you during this time.

I althought the subject of the post is nothing short of depressing, I love the way you have woven your thoughts and emotion into it... The way you let us see into the past, present and future. Damn fine post!

Posted by: Amber at June 13, 2004 12:15 PM

Hey Chris...sorry to hear about your grandfather. It is your posts like these that never cease to amaze me. Hang in there, man.

Posted by: Joe at June 13, 2004 11:46 PM

Baby, I'm so sorry. My Pop died of Alzheimer's back February of 2000, and it was hard to watch. And might I let you in on a little secret? Number 5 is the first rule that tends to go out the window. I say laugh as needed, but only with those who will understand.

My thoughts are with you and Beth and la famiglia.

Posted by: Coleen at June 14, 2004 12:10 AM

I dont think there is much to be said, I think everyone who has commented has said it all so well... Alztheimers is a cruel, cruel disease.

Posted by: Ro at June 14, 2004 01:31 AM

My Grandmother is almost to the same stage of her Alzheimer's. I sympathize with the millions of emotions attached to such a departure. And I, too believe that Thelma-and-Louising it is a pretty good way to go. Better to burn out than fade away, after all.

Posted by: GranolaSpice at June 14, 2004 11:38 AM

So the news about Reagan and everything recently has just brought all this stuff with your grandfather "closer to home." I don't think anyone can truly understand Alzheimer's and how horrible it is unless they have personally known someone who has suffered from the condition.

Posted by: Zandria at June 14, 2004 11:54 AM

that was beautifully written chris. i'm sorry.

Posted by: laura at June 14, 2004 01:29 PM

well, of course,
you have to do what you feel is best...
at my own funeral,
i want laughter, dammit!
i intend to have a mannequin placed in my casket
before it's brought to the church,
and when the pallbearers are carrying it out,
the lead one will take a pratfall,
and WHOOOSH! everyone will think i've taken
a header straight to hell!!!

Posted by: stacy at June 14, 2004 05:47 PM

Oh Christ, Chris....

didn't read this post earlier becasue I thought it was a post abour Reagan's funeral thing.

But a comment on another post alluded to the fact that it was about your grandfather.

I'm so very sorry Chris. It's a real shame when someone has to go like this. That was a very sweet story, about the book that he has kept. Perhaps it's one of those things one might feel the need to do as they get much older. Definitely something to keep and cherish.

Posted by: Tjej at June 15, 2004 03:15 AM

I'm really sorry Chris. :(

Posted by: Kimmie at June 15, 2004 01:56 PM

When my father's best friend died, he knelt at the coffin and cried like a baby. That memory is ingrained in my mind as the first time I saw my big strong dad as human. While it was horrible to watch him with his head on the casket and his hand on the man he saw as his brother, I have since seen him as much more layered than I realized. Just because they don't cry all the time doesn't mean they don't want to.

That being said, I'm so sorry. I've done that, and it's horrible.

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