A Celebration of Life
My grandfather, the father of my mother, died this past Sunday, his heart no longer desiring to contract and expand. We had believed (or hoped) he was recovering, for he had readily beaten two years of cancer by way of a combination of the simplest of treatments (a positive, can-do attitude and ultra-high doses of vitamin C injected directly into the blood stream, the resulting hydrogen peroxide toxic to cancer cells) and the most modern of technological weapons (a real-time CaT scan coupled with an electron beam generator to perfectly target and destroy cancerous cells with minimal damage to surrounding, healthy tissue). But in the end, when traditional chemo therapy was applied, it was pneumonia that reduced his heart’s capacity to a bare minimum, eventually non-functional state.
Just three or four months prior Grandpa had climbed ladders to patch the roofs of twenty, thirty, and forty foot tall barns by day, rebuilding the engine and transmission of an antique tractor by evening in the old hog house. His life had been an active one; his body, strength, and spry humor portrayed a man of many, many years less than ninety for he remained handsome, strong, and as quick on his feet as he was with his wit.
My grandfather taught me more about how to lead a meaningful life than any other person I have known. He died with no enemies and no one who would not claim to be his friend. He could fix anything, and without a high school eduction was one of the smartest men I will ever know. Taking his lead, every morning that I am able, I eat oatmeal for breakfast; my body, like a tractor engine, needs proper fuel and care.
I must admit that I dreaded the funeral for what I assumed would be a time of mourning in a fairly conservative church in a small, mid-western town. But I was pleasantly surprised, my judgement incorrect, for those two days were indeed a celebration of life more than clinging to the loss. Two hundred and fifty people gathered to eat, tell stories, and laugh.
Following the funeral, the family drove to the farm. We spent the afternoon driving the old Ford tractor down through the timber, chasing sheep (and being chased by the llama). We climbed to the top of the silo and to the hay loft of the big red barn. We talked, laughed, and ate more food. When the sun set, my aunt, uncle, cousins, parents and grandmother gathered between the farm house and the artesian well to shoot all the fireworks that remained in storage. With each explosion of light and crack of black powder against the even darker sky, our hearts lifted just a bit, and we knew it would be ok.
The next morning, we woke well before the sun touched the shimmering, moisture laden fields. As we drove away I accepted that it is time for the next generations to find solace in those beautiful hundreds of acres along the Raccoon River where the Pride of the Valley Farm yet grows healthy soy beans and tall corn. The mulberry, apple, and walnut trees continue to feed those who know when to reach into the branches. Great blue herons and sand hill cranes glide swiftly over the brown water while deer, raccoons, turtles, snakes, and foxes leave tracks on the sandy, river bars. Without computer nor even cell phone reception, this is my heritage, the one place that I feel most at home. This is where my story begins, and some day this is where it may end.
“Goodbye Grandpa, and thank you for everything. You should know that Grandma is still baking cookies. Just a few more for the rest of us now!“