Changes in the Family Tree

A generation gap has closed. My grandfather passed yesterday. With that event, the last of his cohort in my family is gone. No one from that level of the family tree survives. That cog in the wheel has turned over. With the rotation, my parents generation officially takes on the senior status, and I will take that spot next. This is a big mortality check-in, somehow.

Lately, I have been wondering how I would feel about my grandpa’s death. I had flown into my home town to visit him early this year. He had taken ill and been admitted to hospital. No-one knew for sure what the prognosis was. I didn’t want to take the chance of missing him. I took the opportunity which was afforded to me to jump on a plane and sit with him at the hospital.

We talked about the old days when I was a child and he was a young man. He was only 44 years old when I was born. For me he was such an active grandpa and given his age it is easy to see why I thought that! Not only involved in my life, he also knew what was going on in the world. He introduced me to the first computer I had ever seen, a Macintosh. The games were primitive, no graphics, just code and a little bit of text. But it was fascinating, none the less. He held the keys to the future and the past when I was a kid. (Check out the introduction of the Macintosh by Steve Jobs in 1984.)

My grandpa was also interested in the natural world and taught my sister and I to love beach combing on the West coast. Prowling through tidal pools wearing rubber boots and a rain coat, (because Tofino in the summer was never reliably warm), became one of my favourite things to do. When I realized that my husband also loved to explore the waters at any time of year, looking for living things in their natural habitat, I knew I had found the right guy.

It occurs to me now that my Grandpa introduced me to things that have become anchor points. Living near the ocean on the West coast, being close to nature and exploring the world through technology are a few of the ways his influence lives on in me. Probably because my Grandpa led by example, I easily adopted his teachings into my daily life. He outlived his partner, my grandmother for 30 some years. He reinvented his life and showed us how to go on enjoying and exploring with new adventures.

Grandpa was never a wealthy man by conventional standards. He didn’t covet possessions to raise his status. To me, he didn’t appear to have a large ego. Looking back on how he lived I think Grandpa had it all figured out. He did not attach his sense of self worth to the work he was paid to do. He loved and cherished his family. He liked to have fun, explore and learn.

In recent years, Grandpa retreated from the internet. He gave up his weekly shift, tending bar at the home he lived in. I worried that he was a lonely and withdrawn. My sister told me that when she asked him about all those changes he claimed to be happy. He said, “I’m OK with this guy”, pointing to himself. Another example of how to live well that we can all learn from.

As I gather these thoughts about my grandfathers life, tapping away on the keys of my MacBook pro and perusing the photos on my iPhone, I reflect on how much the world has changed even in my lifetime. My last photo of Grandpa was taken at the hospital, a selfie of the two of us. What I didn’t realize until just now is the ‘live photo’ enhancement was turned on. When I push down on the iPhone screen, my Grandpa’s chuckle comes through. Now I have that forever.

My Mom had a conversation the other day with Grandpa. Evidently he believed in reincarnation in some form. My Mom thought it would be nice if he could chose to be a butterfly or a bird. Floating over her garden and checking in to see how she was doing. Maybe he is coming to my yard too, out near the ocean. I like to think so.

In times like this, it is nice to feel a sense of comfort, instead of only sadness. While death is never a happy time, it can be a good way to take stock and recall a life well lived. Grandpa seemed to be at peace with the world through all the phases that I knew him. As I enter my second act, taking on new adventures and watching my children fly from the nest, I hope to live with the grace that he showed.

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