Pencil drawings

My grandfather died a few days ago. He spent every second of his 92 years reminding anyone who would listen that we should all – and always – do two things: love and forgive, no matter the problem, personal crisis or catastrophe. He embodied those words, too, exhaling them into the air as naturally as shrugging off an overcoat.

Over time, his message colored every season, like a brilliant dye, flowering slowly through warm water. Wind whipped through the eaves. Rain seeped through the sashes and trickled down the panes. Snow piled up outside. My mother would light the woodstove, and we’d take turns . . . was there ever a situation when Gramps hadn’t forgiven? When his answer wasn’t to love anyway?

Not once.

It was his duty and constancy. It brought him, and us, peace. I pictured it – and still do – in pencil drawings with apple-cheeked children on a farm. He may have gotten edgy and worried (and with nine children, who could blame him?), but he never raised his voice. It was as steady and stubbornly old-fashioned as a huge, comfortable armchair. It took up inefficient amounts of space, with massive shelves of obscure thoughts, so foreign they were almost familiar. These memories are comforting, even with an undercurrent of grief.

He would play word games of his own design and complete crossword puzzles with a frenzy. He would steal my cigarette packs and write on them in black marker, and in capital letters, “CANCER STICKS.” He would twinkle his blue eyes, the color of faded denim, at any beautiful lady. He would laugh and dance and sing and smile – and love and forgive. You never had to guess what you would get from Gramps. Hugs and compliments and beefy, florid features.

The thought of trying to be as good a human being as he was, of the responsibilities and complications, it makes me want to curl up in a ball and whimper. I loved his gestures so much, loved the sure, unthinking ease of them, the taking for granted. His was not a practiced sparkle. Do people like that exist anymore?

Things are very much in a submarine haze. Today, a sort of dull relief sits in my chest, knowing he is not suffering. Just this morning, I prodded cautiously at the edges of my memory and came up nearly empty. Except for two things. My grandfather’s absolute and undying faith in the power of love and forgiveness, and the fact that in 92 years, he never let anyone take it away from him.

Thoughts like these, in the days following the death of a loved one, they’re like a dam breaking. Everything around you gathers itself up and moves effortlessly into high gear. Every drop of energy you’ve poured into that relationship comes back to you, unleashed and gaining momentum by the second, subsuming you in a building roar. You can surrender everything else, lose yourself in the driving pulse of it and become nothing but one part of a perfectly calibrated, vital machine.

Love and forgive.

• • •

This post was inspired by my brother’s eulogy at our grandfather’s funeral.