The past year in Thailand has, at times, brought overwhelming moments of expected unexpectedness and vice versa. Almost immediately after I moved to Chiang Mai, news came my way of illness and disease affecting not one, but both my grandfathers. And one day just after my birthday, the worst news of all came, “It’s terminal. He has 2 weeks or 2 months to live,” even worse than hearing he’s passed. My brain can process that, but coping with hope and uncertainty is an agonizing beast. 2 weeks turned into a month turned into 7 weeks turned into 2 months, and at that point, my mind seemed to believe he had passed a distinct threshold and life would be wonderful again. At week 14, he died, peacefully.
At week 20, a friend died. At week 53, my other grandpa died. “That’s what old people do,” comforted my friend. This seems to be where the unexpected expectedness appears.
I was able to fly back to California for the first funeral, where Buddhist monks presided over the service; however, I was unable to make the trip back for the latest memorial, just a few days ago. I decided I could instead dedicate an artistic venture to him, which is now in the making. Aside from that, I wrote a eulogy to be read at his service. Turns out, it is probably the most challenging few pages a person will ever write.
Will the eulogy represent my Grandpa exactly as he wants to be remembered?? I felt pressured to not only create a speech satisfying to me, but also to the highest standard of his being, making the entire process an exhausting emotional roller coaster. Fitting every single important and mundane memory into some small white rectangles lined with blue and knowing it’ll be scrapped the very next day for other ‘more significant’ recovered memories, is that agonizing uncertainty thing I mentioned. I brainstormed and wrote and got angry and felt guilty and wrote and crossed out and cried and rewrote, repeat. I could not figure out the right version-the best story, but after 5 drafts, I began to realize that my perception of my grandpa will be perpetually evolving. Everyone had a different connection with him and my eulogy is not to represent the whole of my grandpa, but a small aspect of him. Together, the speeches at the memorial will start to reveal an impression he left on each of us in various ways.
I finished the last draft of the eulogy only hours before the memorial, and it’s just perfect:
Me and My Shadow
Strolling down the avenue
Me and My Shadow
Not a soul to tell our troubles to
And when it’s twelve o’clock
We climb the stairs
We never knock
For nobody’s there
Just Me and My Shadow
All alone and feelin’ blue
It’s actually quite a sad tune, but in case you’re wondering, the song in itself has no special deep meaning. Rather, Me and My Shadow used to be our favorite song to sing and act out to, so I thought I’d start off with one of the happiest of my memories.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dominic’s granddaughter, Joanie. Er, no, Helen!…Oh, no no, I mean, Jessica! Jessica. …or whatever, to my Grandpa, all of the above. Well, he never could get those names straight. I mean, at 96 years old, it’s an accomplishment to remember your own name let alone your whole family’s.
People say the older you get, the more your mind starts to go. Maybe. But when Grandpa had a moment of clarity, it was like the whole rest of the time was just a complete façade. Like 2 vastly different people:
The first him was One who doled out wisdom faster than anyone could make sense of it. This was the Grandpa who sat for hours, no exaggeration, hours at a time telling me stories about books he’s read, life growing up, stories about me and my journeys, etc. This was the one who went to the library and returned with an armful of discarded magazines and told me, “I think you’re old enough to read these young women magazines now. They’re called Seventeen.” I was 21. This was the one who taught me as a small child to play fair, to color without breaking the Crayon in half, to saw plywood & hammer together tables & cut stained glass. Who, no matter how tired he was, still found the energy to play choo-choo with his granddaughters: him, the conductor of the train, running around the house and tugging behind him a big laundry basket filled with two small girls – my sister and I, the perpetually smiling, laughing-out-loud passengers.
This was also the one who held back tears when I told him I was moving away to live in New York City. Then, with a wink and a smile, said to me he had no doubt I would make it far there. This is the one who’s sharp wit and unexpected lucidity hinted that the “other” him was simply a façade.
This so-called “other” him? Ohhh, well he was a character! He played oblivious until you could no longer stand it and just gave up. The old fart no one could hold a conversation with because you could only yell so loud. (By the way, “old fart” is aptly named. Have you ever been caught in one of his horrific smelling, gag-inducing flatulence wind tunnels he let out? And might I add, always perfectly timed to create the most awkward silence possible between you and the innocent bystander victim. My nose still bunches up thinking about it.)
Back to the point, Grandpa was stubborn. If you told him “climbing up that ladder to paint the house is too dangerous,” the house would have a fresh coat of paint the very next day. Apparently, he forgot or just didn’t bother to listen. I think even through much of his eighties, he was taking weekly looooong bus trips all the way to San Francisco downtown. What a rebel.
You see, I say this side of him is a façade because though his hearing began to wane, personality turned aloof and forgetfulness set in, his spirit and heart always pointed him in the right direction. I cannot come close to describing to you an exhaustive list of his ventures, habits and tales. However, I can say with conviction, He embodied ‘living life without abandon,’ up until his very last day and that’s definitely the best way he could go.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the brightest lesson I remember from my Grandpa, “Always eat your dessert first. Why you ask? Because if an earthquake hits right now, at least you’ll have already gotten to eat the best part.”