My grandpa died on Monday. Today is his birthday. Luckily, my cousin and I were with him at the moment of his death; and essentially his whole family had been around him for the previous couple days. When it was discovered that his small intestine was completely shot, the surgeon gave him a few hours to live. Though he hadn’t eaten in a week or so, though he hadn’t drunk water and wasn’t given any liquid, though he had just been cut open, though he’d been suffering agonizing pain for the previous week, though he was nearly 85, he lived not just three more hours but – to the professionals’ astonishment – three more days, from Good Friday to the morning after Easter. Through his morphine fog, he communicated with his always-eloquent eyebrows, while his family told stories around him. Not the usual stories about a loved one. Stories about crossing oceans, rescuing people from sharks, fighting pirates, taking on the mob, rebuilding schools and homes after hurricanes, landing planes in storms, making harbors deeper – oh, and countless others. I figure every person who knew him for ten minutes or more had a pretty good story about him. There are charming ads for Dos Equis beer about “the most interesting man in the world.” That fictional character has nothing on my real grandpa (who looked, in fact, a little like the dashing actor).
While he lay on his death bed and sucked air, I thought of him like a swimmer in the middle of the ocean who’s been swimming for days. You knew he was going to drown; and since it should have happened, by all accounts, a couple days ago, you figured it was going to happen at any moment. But he just kept treading water, just kept swimming. He had an indomitable will. I thought to myself, with only slight exaggeration, that Death was the only opponent in the universe that could get the better of him. After he died (a gentle fading-away, a peaceful passing, like they say about drowning), his son told a story about how, after they’d sailed the Atlantic and arrived in the islands, the dinghy of the boat, which hadn’t been properly tied, started to drift off back into the ocean. Grandpa jumped in and started swimming after it – like he could chase it all across the Atlantic, if need be. Thankfully, his son had the sense to go after him in the sailboat. Death and the ocean – two worthy opponents, I guess.
Everything so far about his “funeral” (he didn’t want one) has been improvised and unconventional, just like him. So let me call on the right honorable Jimmy Cliff to sing us a song. Grandpa never had much of a sense for music. But this song, though not a perfect fit, seems to be a fitting benediction. Grandpa couldn’t take religion; he had too much to do in this life. But I think he could have appreciated the verse Jimmy Cliff improvises at the end.
Love is my foundation.
Wisdom is my capitol.
Struggle is my manner.
Truth is my redeemer.
Sorrow been my companion.
Love is my foundation. True love.
So, from one islander to another.