My general disposition is to find a reason to laugh. It’s how I was raised. I try to remember this when I write. But not every story lends itself to humor. When I wrote about my dad dying in When the Nightmares Began, there’s not a line of humor in the piece. There’s hope, but not humor. Death is like that usually.
But death isn’t always traumatic or heartrending.
Thirty minutes before my grandpa died, he passed gas audibly. My sister was sitting on the end of the bed near his feet. My Papa Hamlett, surrounded by his loved ones in his dying hours, said, “Jennifer, did you do that?”
Everyone laughed. We all needed a laugh, too. Here was the patriarch of our family setting sail into the afterlife. We were there to comfort him during his send-off. The reality, however, was that he was comforting us in his final moments.
It was the epitome of the Elbert Hubbard quote:
“Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never make it out alive.”Elbert Hubbard, American writer
I’ve thought about this moment many times since. At the time, I was sitting in the bed to my grandpa’s left. Not long after I would have my hand on his wrist checking his pulse. His pulse slowed, then there was nothing. He was gone.
You may find this sad. I would agree, to a degree. My grandpa was ready to go and to have so many in his life there in his final hours was a blessing I’m sure to him as much as it was to us. There was closure. Granted, there was a lot of us there, so he may have been thinking, “Get me out of here already. Where’s the tunnel?”
A few days before he passed, he told me the day he was going to die. He wasn’t wrong. When I showed up at his house on the day of his departure, he said, “You need to be in school.”
And I said, “Papa, I can’t concentrate on school if I know you’re dying.”
Fair enough was the look on his face.
Unlike my dad’s death, which would come a few years later, my grandpa’s wasn’t traumatic for me. I cried after he passed. But he was older and had lived a long life. He’d become a dad, a grandfather, and then a great grandfather. It was different. It was peaceful.
I remember walking through the woods behind his house and down to the pool in Drakes Branch. I sat on the steps leading to the front entrance. I’d been here so many times with my grandpa over the years while he tended to the pool and let me “help.” By helping, that meant me, Gary, Jennifer, Susan, or Tiffany would get to help ourselves to some snacks out the vending machine after.
From there I walked to the bamboo forest a few hundred yards away. A road led between the bamboo forest and the pool. My grandpa used to take me and my cousin Gary here to ride our bikes when we were kids.
I balled my eyes out during this walk. I needed to be alone for a little bit.
But there was a happiness to my sadness. I was glad he was no longer in pain. I’ve always thought he was ready to go a year before he left. We weren’t. So he held on a little longer until we could accept it.
That seems a very Papa thing for him to have done.
When I think about how I live on a day-to-day basis, I try to remind myself of how my Papa Hamlett lived and as importantly, how he died: with a peace about him, an acceptance, and a big helping of humor and a smile.
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