For those of you looking for a funny, off-beat post, please skip this one, because I'm going to be using this post to really turn out the pockets of my heart, and I doubt there'll be many smiles here this go-round. Try next post, hopefully.
The men in my life, the important men, have always gone too fast. I never knew my maternal grandfather; he was dead long before I was born. All I have is a few pictures of him and a few things he built, and my mother's stories of him.
My paternal grandfather was a powerful old man, a Primitive Baptist preacher in a tiny rural town in Mississippi. He died when I was twelve, and just starting to understand what an incredible fountain of wisdom and knowledge and compassion he was. His casket was the first I ever carried to a gravesite, and I have never felt the emotional weight of that duty as strong as that day when, clad in my dark blue suit, I felt truly like a man, performing a man's duties. It struck me that day just what I had lost--I longed to have had more time with him, so that I could appreciate what he had to offer, the stories and the words of encouragement and his faith in a higher power. All of it taken just as I was realising it was all there for my asking.
His son, my father, was a quiet man like his father before him; reserved and introspective. He was always there, always strong and quiet, working hard at his job, working hard in his garden, working hard at crafting and building things. I live in the house he built with his own hands. I was never as close to him as I was to my mother as a young boy, though. He grew up rural and rugged, living close to the land and to danger and loss, and my mother tried desperately to protect us from harm, so I didn't get to spend a lot of time with him hunting and fishing and building. When I was older I was riddled with all the problems of a young man, and I rebelled against my family as hard as I could. When I finally got my head clear and was starting to see the path in front of me my father had an already fairly advanced case of Alzheimer's, before that disease was the common killer it is now. When I most realised that my father was the key to all that I wanted to be he no longer recognised me.
As a child, and as I grew up, I was always closer to women than to men. My friends have always tended to be women, and my closest friends are women. My best friend is a woman. There have been men friends in my life, but for different reasons those relationships have either been distant or have ended before too many years. Seems most times the men I like end up being so shallow or so full of shit that I simply call it off, disgusted.
So now I hear that one of the two very important older men in my life, my wife's grandfather, is deathly ill.
J. is what I can safely call a powerful man. Big of stature, big of personality, unforgiving but capable of infinte compassion. The sort of man against whose will you could bend iron bars. In short, the sort of man to whom I look up to as a role model, the sort of man who I want to impress with my ability, my strength of will and purpose. When something takes his fancy he goes after it like a terrier, and hangs on like a pit bull. And when he does something, he does it WELL. He doesn't settle for half best, or somewhat good. He drives himself until he's excellent at it. No half measures for him, he has in the past struck me as a Hemingway-esque character. I have no problem seeing him in Africa in safari khakis, rifle butt shoved into his leg, posing for a photo over the body of a massive game animal. "Larger than life" could be used to describe him, and over the course of a few years I feel I've just started to be a noticable factor in his life. The day he complimented me on my skeet shooting ability (questionable at best,) was a desperately proud day for me. It was the pride of a grandson who has been patted on the back by his grandfather, the pride of someone who feels he is living up to a very important someone's high expectations.
He's had some medical problems here of late, but no rock-solid diagnosis as of yet. Today, after he failed a stress test he was given a CAT scan. The doctors found a tumour in his liver which stretches behind his lungs and surrounds his heart, including his vena cava and into the atrium. They don't know if it's cancerous or not at this point, but to point out how unusual it is, the pulmonologist didn't even know what he was seeing when they first spotted it. The oldest resident doctor in the hospital had only seen one other case in many decades of being a physician. The liver transplant folks from LSU Medical are coming down tomorrow to talk to him, to see if he's a candidate for a transplant.
I know it's useless to rail against fate and life in general. I know that there's nothing I can do that will change the course of this man's illness. He will either improve under whatever treatment the doctors prescribe, or he won't. What really, truly galls me is that it is happening again--when I finally open my eyes and see how important someone is in my life he is being taken away. If there was a god in whose face I could shake my fist I would be doing it right now, railing against the unfairness of it, cursing and spitting and swinging with every ounce of my spirit and my rage. This cannot, WILL NOT happen to me again.
As it is, all I can do is write about it.