Monday, February 23, 2015

In his shadow

It's been a rollercoaster of a week here.
That's how such weeks go.
There's a hole in our house, an empty room, a chair, two wheelchairs, a Hoyer lift, and a hospital bed all vacant. Unused. Waiting to be posted on Craigslist. A closet full of clothes has been whittled down to what might be used by Beve and what should be given away. We've gone through myriad boxes of papers, including old pictures from Grampie's playing days at Oregon. The most famous picture (which I've posted here before) we found on the front page of the Sports section of the New York Times just before the game Oregon played at Madison Square Garden. Grampie (8) got quite a bit of press in 1947-8 when he was finally back from the war and a junior,  and playing great ball. His size was controversial back then, when some coaches in the collegiate level really advocated for the game to be 'given back to the little boys.' At 6'8" Beve's dad was the tallest player on any team in the Northern Pacific Division Conference by 2 inches.
The shadow he casts over his teammates is the kind of shadow his life casts over ours these days. We find him behind so much of what we do. We keep wanting to open that bedroom door to check on him, or to make sure he has enough to drink down in his recliner. It's so odd to think he's not there.

And we have piles of his things to sort. Papers you can't believe. Considering he hasn't done a single bit of writing in the last three years, it's remarkable how much paper he accumulated. Or copied. How many paper copies of tiny pictures does one man need, any way?

You might be thinking we could have done this long since, three years ago when he moved into the skilled nursing facility, for example. You have a good point. We tried to do it while he was still somewhat upright behind his own walker with Thyrza beside him in the assisted living complex. But they weren't having any of that. It was their papers, so we just put it all in boxes to be sorted another day. Then we got too tired, too busy living, perhaps. You should have seen the way those boxes cluttered up Beve's study, the way they (still) pile up in the storage unit Beve rented to house them. It's more than a day's work to go through a life's work.

That's as it should be, I think.
He lived a long life and has a whole lot to show for it. He left it all of us to sort and that's also the way of things. We all know (though it's easy to forget in the dailiness of living) that when our last breath leaves our body, we turn tail and run for heaven with nothing of this earth, not rings or papers or clothes or anything. Not even our earthly bodies. As large a shadow as Grampie cast on everyone around him while he lived, his heavenly body will be completely new. And God alone knows what shape it will be. Still larger than life? Larger than this life, anyway. 

That's true for each of us.
We have a whole lot of papers to sort through of the years my beloved father-in-law lived on this earth. Already we've filled three recycling bins. We've kept all the REAL pictures, but those paper copies? Time to become something else. And all that email he printed out so that he could actually read it in the last few years (including spam)--it filled boxes marked: IMPORTANT! so we hadn't touched it (mea culpa for not having realized anything from STAPLES would have been deemed important to Grampie).

The important thing isn't what we throw out but what we discover as we're doing it. We get to discover more about him each day. This won't last forever, I know. I've learned that before. But right now, it's like we can still hear him in the newspaper clippings from his rather brilliant athletic career, from the words people wrote about him when he retired, from his own letters to family and friends (copied and kept for his records, of course!). It's almost like, if we lean in, we can still hear him saying one of those inimitable expressions, "Holy Mackerel, Andy!" "Gosh All-Friday," "gadfrey!"

That's enough to make me smile!

1 comment:

Pamela M. Steiner said...

Take your time...don't rush through this process...there are some real nuggets of gold hidden in those boxes. I wish we had taken more time with my father's things...everything was too hurried so we could sell the house and get everything dispersed to the four winds...and I know a lot of my Dad's (and Mom's) personal thoughts and dreams slipped right through our fingers. But the important thing is what they wrote in our hearts...the legacy they left for us to one can take that away. But still...take your time. There may be some special messages waiting for you to decipher...