I always thought, I’d die whilst walking through a great Alaskan blizzard, hunting caribou, trying to find my way back to a hand built log cabin miles away from the nearest soul. Some old prospector (or rather a family on vacation with snowmobiles… it being modern times and all) would stumble across my frozen, stiff body as the spring came and thawed the world. Other thoughts of how I’d die include sitting in a rocking chair, my old indian blanket thrown over my knees in the Texas backwoods watching a red sun slide below the horizon as it paints the Texas sky. Just as the last glimmer of light faded into darkness, I’d breathe my last breath.
Not that I’m consumed by the thought of death. It’s life I ponder on more. My life in particular. How I’ve lived, how I’ve impacted others, the legacy, if any, I’ll leave on my back-trail on that final day, however many miles ahead it lays.
In December of 2008, I watched my grandfather die in my parents house. I had gotten the call from my mom that it was “time” while at work and I drove the truck over to my folks house. Most of the family that was in town was there, gathered around the bed. The nurse checking vitals then sliding into the background of grieving folk she’d come to know over the past few years.(my mother especially who had been taking care of my grandparents 24 hrs a day for years)
My grandmother lying beside him begging him not to go. (She’d leave us near 6 months later on their 73rd anniversary) I stood in the back of the darkened room and didn’t even try to hold back the tears. I’ve never been too good at holding them back at a Foldgers commercial so I wasn’t even gonna try now.
Then, with a gasping hoarse breath, John Wayne died. He was John Wayne to me anyway. Tall, big man, always in his cowboy hat and boots. A man who loved his wife and wouldn’t have any one speak ill of her. He was a devoted father and grandfather. The nurse verified time of death and I slipped away to the front porch, smoking cigarettes and watched as the funeral folks came and slid is lifeless body into their van.
He had lived a long life. Growing up on his families land in Quay county and driving a truck most of his life. Never getting rich, he was always able to provide for his family sufficiently.
I had been working in Alaska while mom was taking care of them. Most of us can’t imagine what it’s like to have to care for the same folks who cared for us as children. To watch the man who you admired and loved as a daughter, fade into a dark abyss of forgotten memories and sporadic moments of clarity when he knows who you are. Who could know how precious that is, if only for a second, when your own father recognizes you?
My last memory of my grandfather is of him in death, his unmoving body lying on the bed, his wife, my grandmother weeping, holding his hand.. I think on that now and again, because I’m a thinker of things I reckon, but mostly what comes to mind is the strength of my mother who had cared for and suffered along with him during his last days. She may not be a saint and will quickly admonish anyone who suggests it, but I think, no, I believe, that my grandfathers greatest legacy, whatever else he did in his long life, was passing on to my mother a strength of spirit to endure.
Having said all that, having written it out with the intention of posting it, I don’t care whether I die alone. Death comes calling to all of us and not a one of us know the time or the place. When death comes for me in all his morbid legends, I can only hope that I leave those who loved me with a spirit to endure. To keep on keeping on. To stand tall in the face of trouble, of heartache, of ridicule and of hate. To give more than I’ve gotten. To do good when good is not done to you. In short, to pass on the legacy my mother has given me.
I can dream of dying fighting a grizzly bear in some far away land with just a dull knife and my wits, but if I die lying in a bed surrounded by people who love me and will miss me, then that is sufficient. Should I die alone in some back alley, alone, knowing I tried my best, that also, is sufficient.
There’s no real reason I wrote this at this time. Sometimes I have a thought and follow it. Now though, I’m gonna follow my feet somewhere else and see if there is anything I can do that is productive on this, my day off.
Be well people and I’ll see ya in the woods.