One year ago today the terrible tragic shooting occured on the Jewish Community Center campus. The campus is only miles from my home and one of the victims lost was a young actor who I was planning to work with over the summer in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at Shawnee Mission Theatre in the Park.
I sat down to write my reaction, feelings and take my thoughts to the safe place of the page. Instead, I ended up writing the following piece, in remembrance of my grandfather. Grief manifests itself in mysterious ways.
Written on Monday, April 14, 2014
It was almost two years ago that my grandfather passed away. I can remember the date - July 3, 2012 as it was just over a month away from my wedding day, and the day before our nation's most patriotic holiday. The more I think about my grandpa's death at age 93 I look back to the amazing fulfilled life he led. A farm-raised boy from the middle of Kansas, LaVaughn Durham was a hard-working, generous man. A volunteer and proud member of the Blue Ridge Methodist Church, my grandfather gave what he could whenever possible – whether cooking for those in need, helping others in need or faithfully writing a monthly check to help local charities. A proud war veteran, like so many of those WWII boys, his appreciation for life, love, family and an honest paycheck were the greatest luxuries in life. Once a soldier, always a soldier, my grandfather fought for the freedom of his beloved country and his experience overseas served as a barometer for all other joys and sorrows. It was a mixture of pride, an all too clear understanding of the fragility of life, determination and camaraderie in a foreign land that gave him a perspective I found captivating. Looking back, I regret not asking more questions, listening to more stories or having those strong, leathery hands hug me a little longer. As a child, witnessing aging grandparents is a slow and unsettling process. The older, more unsteady and hunched my grandfather became, the more it pained me to realize how distant the vibrant, strong and booming voiced man was that I once knew. Showing love became more challenging, conversations more one sided and eventually almost non-existent. For a man who could once talk your ear off, silence eventually overcame all thoughts and I learned to find peace in sharing the quietest of moments.
I constantly try and box away those last few years in my memory's attic. Walking into his room at the retirement home, I last saw my grandfather's face turned to the side, frozen from just passing away. He passed only minutes before my mother and I arrived according to the on-duty nurse. If I would have missed that last stop light, drove faster, walked quicker - could I have arrived any sooner? This moment, the moment of confrontation is one I just can't shake. And what's more difficult is seeing the immediate, traumatic and inconsolable state my mother fell victim to. No matter my age, nothing can really prepare you for the grieving process. It's an all consuming grief yet delicate relief that the pain, discomfort and abandonment from a once health body has come to rest. But, at the same time, the flood of memories that you once shared, mixed with the sinking realization that I'll never hear my grandfather speak again is a horrible truth. That distinct voice - gruff, loud, simple yet forceful is gone and never to be heard again.
Over time, I've worked to try and forget the painful memories and focus on the good ones. I've chosen a handful of them that best summarize my grandfather, our relationship and what I loved most about him. I work to retrain my mind to think of these memories as often as possible fearing that if I don't, they will become faded or worse disappear all together.
Grandpa took me to the Bur-Oak Nature Center when I was young. He uncorked a vile of fox pee, brought it to my nose so I could smell it's powerful horrible scent – an experience he found incredibly funny and one that took me several minutes to recover from. I remember spending my hot, humid summers going to garage sales with my grandfather. He would look over every item spending what seemed like hours examining each one. My favorite part was hearing him critique each sale from top to bottom after getting back in his big silver car “That sale had nuthin’ just a bunch of old junk”. I'd listen to his garage sale reviews while leaning out of the back window to catch the wind on my face - careful to not burn my arm on the hot silver chrome trim. We'd eat BBQ sandwiches at Wyandotte BBQ and I'd sit across from him watching as he meticulously pulled the fat off from each piece of shaved meat. He’d place the fatty parts in a neat little pile on the thin white greasy paper wrapper - like he was building a work of art. It seemed that my grandpa always had bruises on his hands and would show them to me while telling me horror stories about how he got them - slamming them in a car door was a popular one. He always had a toothpick hanging out of the corner of his mouth, a ball cap on his head that said either Bull Durham or Teetering Rock Golf Course and when it rained he would stomp his feet for several minutes so as not track water into the house. He could take the meat off a turkey after Thanksgiving so well no one would know there was any on the bone to begin with and after passing gas he'd smile and say "Guess there's more room on the outside than in".
Recalling these memories make me realize that none are extraordinary, instead they were a part of my ordinary (all but the fox pee). I'm grateful that I have these remembrances and can close my eyes and see his wide grin and mischievous bright blue eyes twinkling down at me whenever I want.
There's always the could haves, should haves and would haves if I had another day or minute to spend with my grandfather. I see through my social media feed a flood of photos of newborn babies, toddlers and children experiencing their first Christmas or first birthday cake and I remember that my grandpa was there to share those memories with me. Even though, he wasn't there to see me walk down the aisle, my grandpa was there for so many firsts in my life.
Yesterday my husband leaped out of a moving car, in the pouring rain to stop a rogue grocery cart from slamming into a stranger's car door. It was impulsive and thoughtful and chivalrous and seemed to be an extraordinary occurrence in our ordinary lives. As I was watching him run from the open car door, I couldn't help by feel my grandfather watching from above, saying in his gruff sounding voice - "Well, I’d a done the same thing".