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Life and Death

When both are filled with surprises

“Whenever his last day shall come, the wise man will not hesitate to go to meet death with steady step.” –Seneca

My grandfather died. It felt like I had just been punched in the stomach; the air was knocked out of me. I wasn’t ready. But he helped me through it.

I had just finished reading “On The Shortness of Life,” an old classic by the ancient philosopher Seneca when I received the news. Death was on my mind. The night before I was out with some friends and we were sharing stories of how our loved ones had contacted us, and sharing stories of the people we missed who had moved on to the next life. A friend was talking about how he didn’t want to move away from his grandpa, like I did from mine. I remember feeling like my grandpa was going to live forever, and that his death wasn’t something I would have to apprehend. And even if he did die, I promised myself I wouldn’t regret devoting this year to my business, to traveling, and to writing. It made him proud after all. But still, it made me think about my loved ones, and made me wonder if there was anything I left unsaid or any conflicts that needed to be resolved. I thought of my proud Irish grandpa, and I remembered our last few conversations. The last time I visited, he had drawings I drew for him when I was three and five, still hanging on his fridge. “PaPaw, you kept these?!” I asked, surprised. He grinned, pleased I noticed. “Of course I did. Those are the memories that are precious in life. Those are the treasures worth keeping.” And our last phone call, “I love you Grandpa, and I’m only a call away, always.” “I love you too, Aimee.” He replied. I felt good about where we were in our relationship. It was like our souls were already saying goodbye, and gently ending the chapters we shared.

It felt like the universe was preparing me for this blow, as gently as it could, but it still hurt. I spent the next two days reflecting on his life and his death. All of a sudden I was filled with doubts; what if he were lonely? What if he died alone? Was it wrong of me to pursue my life’s purpose instead of staying by his side? What if he was scared of death? What if he didn’t say what he wanted to say to me? What if our shared chapter wasn’t ready to end? What if there were loose ends that will never get tied? Even through all of the gentle preparedness I was given, I was still torturing myself. We all were.

Then, at the funeral, all of our doubts were laid to rest, alongside his body. My uncle was expressing his regret leaving my grandpa alone during the five minutes it took to get a drink. In that short time, my grandpa died. My uncle was distraught that no one was there sitting with him as he passed over. My mother comforted him, telling him that sometimes loved ones wait until everyone has left the room to die. At that exact moment, Grandpa’s heart pacer started going off, while he lay in the casket. Everyone froze.

They called the mortician and the mortician said – that’s impossible, that has NEVER happened before. She explained that all heart pacers are turned off immediately as the bodies arrived. They had never had an incident like this before.

Some people believed it was a freak accident, other people believed it was a sign. But by then end of the night, no one doubted that he was communicating with everyone.

At 8 pm, the time when the funeral was supposed to be over, no one was leaving. People were still talking and grieving. Even the town cops stayed to pay their respects. My Grandpa was always calling them and giving them grief, and they loved him for it. That’s how small towns are; we love everyone even when they give us a little grief. My uncle was trying to decide whether or not to ask people to leave or to continue the mourning. My grandpa was never one to entertain company for longer than needed, so of course, his heart pacer went off again. Everyone stopped. “I guess he’s made the decision for us then, I guess it’s time to leave.” As everyone left, my mother stood in front of his casket one more time. “If you’re unhappy, or you have something else to say, or you want us to stay, please turn the heart pacer on again.” Nothing. He said what he had to say, and he was probably ready to spend the rest of eternity with his beautiful bride who left well before him. Every day he missed my grandma, every day he talked about wanting to go back to her. And obviously, not even his own funeral was going to keep him away from his love.

I felt like we were all given permission to live and celebrate life. And the signs didn’t stop there. I went to a street I frequent, but I took a different turn, and I saw an Irish shop I hadn’t seen before. I was compelled to go inside. I found my Irish maiden name on a Pin with our family crest. It was the last pin. On the back, it read where our name originated, our family motto, and the meaning of our name. One of my worries was that he didn’t tell me everything about our ancestry that he wanted to. I can’t help but to feel that leading me here was his way of telling me more about where I came from. I learned I came from the family of the first colonial millionaires, and also of a brilliant chemist who had a law named after him. I got the answers I wanted. Then, as I finished paying for my family crest, live Irish music began to play. Three women with long, dark, wavy hair like mine, pale skin and green eyes like mine, danced and sang, celebrating life. I couldn’t help but feel like we were all celebrating the life he led, and that he was there with me, enjoying the music. When I came home, I went to my garden and stepped into my favorite archway. Tangled up in branches and hidden in the archway was a wind chime. I love wind chimes, but I never bought one for my garden. I picked it up and dusted it off; it had a four leaf clover.

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