Wednesday, June 22, 2011

That's How We Did It in the Navy

Today is an age of vague gender roles and a very high value placed on equality. This post, however, is a dedication to a certain aspect of manliness from an almost-forgotten age.

Over ten years ago, a neighbor across the street passed away. His name was Tom and he was a great guy. He was handy, loving, a great father. He provided for his family and shoveled the sidewalk for his elderly next-door neighbor ever winter. Everyone who knew him loved and respected who he was and what he stood for.

When Tom's cancer had finally put him on his death bed, his family all gathered around to say goodbye. His daughters and faithful wife kept vigil for hours as he laboriously clung to the last vestiges of life. Finally, a nurse pulled the wife aside and gave her an observation: the nurse had seen such situations before and predicted that Tom would not give up while those he had devoted his life to being strong for remained in the room. Surprised and at a loss for what else to do, Sharon shepherded her children from the room and they collected themselves in the waiting area. A few minutes later, the nurse brought them the news of Tom's peaceful passing.

This was a man who firmly believed that it was his duty to protect and provide for his blood. To his last breath, he needed to be strong for them, even during the one time when he couldn't be.

The second story happened just last weekend. The the father-in-law of a lifelong family friend finally, too, succumbed to his cancer. The doctors recognized that John's time was very near and, again, his wife and daughters all came to bid the man farewell. Words were said, tears shed, and the daughters went home to get some rest. No sooner had they left than John stopped breathing. His heart, however, continued to beat. The nurse quickly grabbed his wife and told her to call her daughters and bring them back.

John's heart continued to beat until the second and last daughter walked in the door, then stopped.

On the opposite side of the coin from Tom's strength, John needed to have his family near him. He hung on beyond all reason and strength for purposes that cannot be fathomed, but hang on he did until the very last person he loved beyond all measure was safely by his side.

My last story is the closest to home. It's about my grandpa.

A long, long time ago - i think i was about eight or ten - my grandfather was up visiting from Florida. Keep in mind, that at that point, i could probably count the number of times i had seen the man on one hand. I knew some stories and how much my mother loved and respected him, - he essentially raised her and her sister by himself, his bipolar wife not being of a particularly nurturing nature - but really had no concept of him as anything more than "Grandpa". I remember lying on the floor in the living room, just hanging out with the rest of my family. For some reason, i decided to put my feet up on this old desk we have - maybe i started kicking it, i don't recall the details. Grandpa yelled at me.

I never forgave him. In that formative stage, i was incensed that anyone other than my parents could DARE chastise me in such a bald and public fashion. The shame and embarrassment stuck with me and i found out after his death that he had, in fact, noticed the schism it caused in our relationship, although i was always very polite and kind to him.

Fast forward to March of 2004. Parkinson's had slowly eaten away at his faculties and the doctors predicted that there wasn't much time left. My mom flew down to Florida to spend a couple weeks there and eventually sent for the rest of the family to come down to say goodbye. My brother went first, solo. My dad and i flew down shortly after my mom and brother returned. We only stayed the one night because i had a competition that i had to leave for the following day.

I remember the warmth of the room, the (at the time) peculiarly comfortable nature of his palliative room. My father had his moment alone with his father-in-law and then it was my turn. My dad left and it was just me and my grandfather's slack-jawed stare, only the sounds of ventilators and pulse monitors to keep me company. I took his hand and told him about everything i knew about him, of my mother's love and how she had tried to raise us the way he raised her. Drool began to drip from his chin and i wiped it away as i finally apologized for the grudge that i held for so long and for no good reason. I remember his eyes glistening with tears and how i told myself that it was my imagination, that the nurses had told me that he probably couldn't hear anything we were saying.

My mom had the presence of mind to wait until i got home to tell me that my grandfather had died the night we had seen him, not more than a few hours after i had said my last goodbye.

Doug was a navy man, a good man, and a great father. He had lived a long, happy life and was ready to die. Nevertheless, he would not give up until all loose ends had been neatly tied up.

One day, if i ever have a family of my own, i'll count myself lucky if i can leave behind half the legacy of these men.


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