On Family, and the Passing of Legends

I’m in Colorado for a funeral today. (I wrote this on Wednesday though…so, yeah, brain-twist for the dear author…)

It is a funeral that we’ve been expecting for 10+ years, one that we did not expect to be expecting for so long.

Ten years ago, my great-grandmother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. At that time, she was in her mid-80s. She went downhill quickly. We prepared for a funeral. The doctors changed her medicine, and she came charging right back.

When I visited her, a couple of years later, I had the feeling it would be the last time I saw her. She was quite herself, cooking up a storm, asking me if I was SURE I’d had enough to eat. She pulled out boxes of pictures and sat me down on the floor beside her and told me story after story about herself, about our family.

She couldn’t have been more than 4’8″ at that point, MAYBE 100 pounds. Tiny, fragile, and tough as nails. She stood up to her tyrant of a husband, the 6’+ man who had risen from construction work during the war to starting and owning one of the most successful construction supply businesses in Colorado.

I think we both knew that she was handing the torch down.

I’ve had a unique place in that side of the family. I’m the first great-grandchild, the only one that is now an adult. Early in my life, as my grandparents struggled with the loss of their youngest daughter, we actually had a semi-close relationship with my grandfather’s parents. We saw them at Thanksgiving, and they came out to see us sometimes. One of my earliest memories is of being in Death Valley, building a damn in one of the seasonal streams with my great-grandfather. I remember the seeds from one of the bushes, how they felt when wet. It was just the two of us.

Not long after that, my grandmother managed to sever ties with both sides of the family, and I seldom saw my great-grandparents. Ironically, I have a closer relationship with my grandfather’s parents than my mother does, simply because of family politics.

I saw them again in 4th grade, at a combination anniversary/birthday/family reunion. I don’t remember much except for hiding under the table, playing catch-me-if-you-can with the photographer. (The poor guy was an awesome sport. My hatred for photographs of myself is well known, and he put up with me.) I remember the incredible tension between my grandmother and great-grandfather, and how it damn near ruined the entire week.

My great-grandfather is a monolith. If a graph were to be made of the family, he would dominate the landscape. He is a big man, to begin with, even as he heads for the centenarian mark. Big-boned, tall, and he can fill an entire room without even speaking. He is truly a throw-back to the warrior-nobility of our ancestry. He would have been right in place as a young man, I have always imagined, leading the charge against the enemy. He is proud, arrogant, temperamental, incredibly difficult.

Of all of the family, I am most like him. I shudder to think that I may be like him when I get old! He has been a powerful pillar of stability in a life that hasn’t had much familial stability. I have never doubted their love, their devotion. It was always an unspoken fact that if everything fell down around me, I could go to them and they would fix it all.

I don’t think I actually believed that they would die. People in my family die only with the greatest reluctance. They survive ridiculous things to avoid dying. So when I got the news that my great-grandmother wasn’t expected to last the night, I nearly didn’t believe it. Sure enough, she got in the last word. Expected to die Saturday night, she rallied for a while, and finally passed away last Thursday.

We are having a family service today. Tomorrow, the church will be open. I anticipate a huge crowd. My great-grandparents have always been terribly active, both in church and community. They are well-known in Denver and Grand Junction, both inside and outside of church.

As for the family, this is the first time we’ve come together in 15 years. Looks like Grandma gets the last word after all.

I love you Grandma, thank you for everything you were, and for who you were, and what you did. You’ve earned this rest.

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One Response to “On Family, and the Passing of Legends”

  1. Hugs hon.

    Don’t let the rest of the family give you any BS.

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