October 5, 2001 was a brisk, beautiful autumn day, the kind of crisp day that is really enjoyable. I spent the day frequently glancing out the window, but tied to my desktop: after weeks of work on a project I had naively decided to work on, I had announced it to the world. Originally, it was going to be a set of whitepapers and how-tos on GNU/Linux migration, but even in its brief time under development it had started to move toward what it would ultimately become: Open for Business. I was pleased with the initial reception and spent much of the day communicating with those giving warm wishes to the new site. For me, however, that would not be what I remembered the day for.
October 5, 2001 was also the day my grandpa finally succumbed to the terrible cancer that had transformed one of the most wonderful people you would have ever met into a monster. The bone cancer that had been quitely taking over his system for years has been known to confuse brain processes and cause people to become angry and paranoid. To say my grandfather had become angry and paranoid would be like saying the Sahara gets warm at times. The last ten months since the cancer had been diagnosed were far worse than any prior, but they only exaggerated what had already been the status quo for several years.
My grandpa had always had a temper, but it had become uncontrollable and unpredictable since another infamous date for my family, January 11, 1998, the day my grandparent's house burnt down. Neither of my grandparents had been physically harmed in the fire, but the fire was too much for them mentally. We did not know it at the time, but my grandfather's cancer and my grandmother's Alzheimer's were already chipping away at them, but in ways that weren't perceptible. The fire made their states all too perceptible.
Other events would only compound the situation. In 1996, my nine of my grandparents siblings and their spouses were alive, eight of those in good health. Of the eight, five were frequently at parties and other events. That year, my great uncle died. In 1999, one year after the fire, my great aunt and uncle both died within a three day span. My uncle, who had lived for years with my grandparents, became entrenched in a legal battle as well. By the time my grandfather died in 2001, another one of my great aunts, the one closest to my grandmother, would die… just months before my grandfather.
Her death was just four weeks after my grandmother on my father's side died, which had been hard on my grandparents that I've been telling the story of. That had come of a surprise illness just weeks after her 80th birthday. While my other grandparents lived several hundred miles away, whenever they came into town, the four of them enjoyed each others' very much.
As I said, my grandfather was not even close to himself during those final years. From my earliest years, my grandfather had been a magical type figure. He was a kid at heart and we'd spend hours doing just about anything. My grandfather had been a butcher and for his retirement, he'd received a professional meat slicer. One of my favorite memories would be at parties when my grandpa and I would head downstairs with a hot roast my grandma had just finished cooking — he'd slice it while I watched, and we'd “test” it to make sure it was “OK.” We had a good time down there while everyone else waited for dinner.
More than anything else, my grandpa was a fixer of things. Jukeboxes, clocks, lawnmowers, and countless other things were in the realm of his abilities to fix. That was part of his “magic.” He could fix anything and was prepared for everything. On trips down to the Ozarks, he'd pack a little lunchbox full of tools, flashlights and numerous other things which he would produce for our use when something came up. Yet, his own health and my grandmother's health were beyond his ability to fix, as were the deaths and complications in the lives of the loved ones mentioned above, and these things only exacerbated his mental decline.
One Day at a Time
He refused to ever give up, that wasn't a phrase in his vocabulary. Yet, just a short time before his death, my pastor came and visited with him. My grandpa was no stranger to the Gospel, but the repetition of these basic truths brought peace, if not acceptance. He never conceded, but kept saying “one day at a time.” He would keep going, one day at a time.
In one of his more lucid moments, my grandfather related something very hopeful to my mother. He said his favorite season was always the fall, because fall represented a beginning. Consider this for a moment. After the spring, summer and bright early autumn colors of life, we reach what – at first – appears to be the beginning of the end. Yet it is only through the ending of life as we know it that we can really begin. Without the ending that is autumn, there can be no springtime of resurrection. As my grandfather himself worked through the fact that he was in the fall of his life, he eventually gained a new hope and peace recognizing he was heading forward to the springtime.
It was about eleven o'clock on that Friday evening in 2001 when the dreaded call came. From the perspective of the time the call was terrible, but also something of a relief after the years of anger. Yet, those last few days of peace reminded us of how my grandfather really was. A different type of funeral seemed called for.
This all brings me to what inspired this post, Josiah's post on the subject of funeral music experiences. We chose three non-traditional CCM songs for the funeral, to go along with an instrumental rendition of Amazing Grace. Two came from Steven Curtis Chapman's 1999 album Speechless: “With Hope” and “Be Still and Know.” The final one was Twila Paris's classic, “We Will Glorify.”
The selection of appropriate, yet optimistic music for the service had an unintended, but not unwelcome effect: people left the service uplifted and commented to us how much they enjoyed it. Enjoying a funeral was a new comment for us. But, it was a fitting ending for a fixer. A life that was so much like that of the poem “The Touch of the Master's Hand” appropriately left people hopeful one more time.
I obviously agree about the usefulness of optimistic music. Yet, I'll consider in part II why I also see the appropriateness of melancholy songs.