Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Four Weddings and now...

I'm jumping the gun a bit and going out of sequence.  My brother's wedding of two weekends ago should really have received an entry here already.  I've got it partially written, but it was becoming clouded by other events.  I'd prefer it to stand on its own.

Last night, the son of one of my college professors died.  He was seven.  To his service I will go on Saturday, to pay respects to a boy I never met.  And I won't be alone.  I expect most everyone from the Conservatory to be there, from professors and secretaries to students and graduates.

The news spread through the circle of friends as usual.  Friends, then friends of friends, then acquaintances, then distant relations.  All learning that little Cameron died on Tuesday in the evening.  The father's Facebook page filled with condolences, then scrolled.  And scrolled.  By the dozens, people left little paragraphs of reassurance or comfort, commiseration or remembrance.

For months, the father had been keeping updates of his son's condition, wrestling with his rare and virulent leukemia.  People wept and prayed with things were bad, and they wept and cheered when things were good.  The Conservatory had a 24-hour concert of music -- the Recital-a-Thon -- to benefit the family.  Visiting trumpet professors came to take months of class at a time, relieving the father and allowing him to spend most times at his son's bedside.  The Conservatory hosted a blood marrow drive, registering dozens of people.  Me included, though I blanch at the thought of regular needles, let alone marrow suckers!

All this for a child I never met.  I'd seen photographs of him playing in the yard, wearing a bubble beard, or standing by his bekilted father.  But though I've been in this town for six years, I never met him.  Of course, that didn't matter in the slightest.  All that mattered to me was that he was Keith's son.

The professor and father, Keith, is one of the best of all the men I know.  I know he's a wonderful father because I've seen how excellent a father-figure he is to his college-age students.  He cares for them and disciplines them and loves them as all fathers should.  But all that pales in comparison to the feelings he had for his own children.  His pride in them is practically tangible, as obvious as a colored light in the room.  One had only to stand next to him to learn that he loves his two sons without limits.

And so his sorrow is without bottom.

I don't know whether it is a blessing or the worst sort of curse that the end was telegraphed weeks in advance.  Too much time to think about a life cut short.  But at least enough time to say goodbye.  But even saying goodbye is a torture.  Who has to say a final goodbye to a child, knowing that each night and day might be the last time to hear their voice and see their smile?  Terrible.  Unspeakable.

And this morning, my mother called to say that her mother (my maternal grandmother) had died early.  This too was an expected death.  Just after my brother's wedding, word came that my grandmother had slipped into a coma.  Furtive conversations began in earnest even as we still snacked on the leftovers from the reception: conversations about plans and decisions and alternatives.

The decision was made to provide only hospice care.  The fervent hope of all of the family was that she would slip quietly away at this juncture, putting her long hard journey to an end.  For years, she's had no idea who she was.  Whatever had gone wrong physically had robbed her of the magic spark that was my grandmother.  She was still active for a while, still conversational, still exercising, but she had no memory of who she used to be.  Just a blank, who still retained her command of English and manners, but never again unlocked the buried secrets that her loving family had become.

It was terrible, to have her gradually vanish even as she sat in the room.  Everyone agreed that she would have hated the way her life ended; trapped in a chair, unable to even feed herself or grasp a tissue, the power of speech completely denied to her.

I was spared the sights, having not visited in years.  My last remembrance was of her still much like her old self, though forgetful and easily confused.  But she hadn't been that way for years, and every visit home brought more stories of the progressing sadness.  How regrettable that her body would so outlast her mind!

But the ease of the body is hers, at last.  The family can exhale the breath held in consternation all this time.  No more despair.  Only the residual grief for a great lady who just... disappeared some years ago, and who finally remembered to switch off the last light on her way out. 

She'll be cremated and in the spring, when the family can meet on some lovely day in Indiana, we'll place the urn next to the ashes of my grandfather, dead some years now. 

How strange, within eight hours to bear witness to a life cut short, and a life too long.  As my mother pointed out, one family was trying everything they could to buy another day.  The other family was praying just as fervently for each day to see the end.  Just a measure of a life that had used up its usefulness compared to one that had not even begun to realize the life of the wider world.

And so death comes in multiple guises.  We of the extended Thieme family see it as the Release, putting an end to suffering that doesn't restrict itself to a single person.  The Benjamin family sees death the Callous, who scythes indiscriminately, randomly striking down a loved one long before even the prime of life has bloomed.

And so what's a few more tears?  Shed some bitter for a son with no future.  And yet more tears of warmth for a mother remembered only for her past.

1 comment:

  1. What a rough time. There aren't words. Sending virtual hugs.