A Whole New Season
Spring, like Autumn, is a transformative month. The cold and barren becomes the warm and healthy. Flowers begin to emerge, birds return to the yard, and there is a quickening pulse to the day. It seems odd then, at first, that on the first day of Spring I would be comforting my grandmother as she passed away.
The past ten days have been challenging. I will spare you the details. Coming out on the other side, pulling back from the past ten days and looking through the longer lens of the past 42 years, I feel the timing could not have been more perfect.
Mary Dodds, affectionately known as “Mee-Mee” to her grandchildren, loved Nature. Her and her husband, William Edgar Dodds, or Pa-Paw, both loved the natural world with a quiet patient passion. When I was a child they would take me on rock and fossil hunting trips, trekking me far out from the beaten path to sift through stones or to sit on a pebble filled beach. They wandered me through the forgotten bones of copper mining towns where we found rusty artifacts and tools from another time. They introduced me to snakes, insects, flowers, and black bears. With lunches of carrots, green peppers, cauliflower and ranch dip we would sit on the fender of the car, alone in the wilderness, and look over our find.
“What’s this? Is this a diamond?” I would ask holding up a chunk of translucent mineral, certain I was about to end all my family’s financial woes.
Pa-Paw held a thin headed mineral hammer as he looked up from a chunk of dark gray stone his metal detector told him contained a chunk of copper, “Nope. Quartz.”
I stuck it in my pocket anyway because I liked it. I remember they both smiled at me about it.
Their house was always well lit. As a child in Indianapolis, I would come there after school while my mother drove a bus route. Bird feeders adorned their back yard like out of season Christmas ornaments. I’d come home and plop down to watch Popeye or Flinstones. “Who needs TV?” Mee-Mee would say as she would watch the birds from her kitchen table and work on one of her delicate craft projects. She was patient, kind, and quiet. Pa-Paw was even more so, barely speaking except for a few words, a nod, or a smile. I remember his smile.
Years went on, I went to college, and something happened as they grew older. They moved to be closer to family. Their trips stopped altogether, shortened to a minimal walk around the neighborhood which Pa-Paw would take alone. They started to become even more silent, turning more inward with each passing year. The drapes on the windows were pulled instead of wide open to allow sunlight. The bird feeders went away. The mineral and gem collection was sold along with Pa-Paw’s lapidary equipment, the remainder tucked into a maple chest. The television, however, stayed on most of the time. Discovery channel, Animal Planet, and the occasional basketball game were the channels of choice.
The winter winds of their life began to blow too hard. Pa-Paw, suffering from Alzheimer’s, needed to be placed in a nursing home. Mee-Mee fell further into her depression. It was difficult to watch, to experience. Pa-Paw passed away peacefully a year and a half ago his closest relatives gathered around his bed. Mee-Mee refused to see him. About a year after his death, I remember a visit with Mee-Mee. It was the only time I had visited her just by myself in years. I walked out of a beautiful summer day and into a darkened living room where the only light allowed was the television. We had made her couch into a bed because she found it more comfortable. I don’t remember what we watched or discussed. I just remember how uncomfortable it was to go through. I could only take a few hours and then I kissed her on the forehead to leave for home. I cried through most of the drive.
As my grandmother’s last breaths left, I leaned over the hospital bed and kissed her on the forehead a final time. She passed peacefully.
The nurse who was monitoring her with a stethoscope whispered with care, “She had a strong heart.”
“Yeah, she sure as Hell did.” was my only reply.
A half hour later I was once again outside in a brilliant and perfect Spring day. I sat, sad but incredibly honored, on a stone bench outside the hospital trying to wrap my brain around something which could not be wrapped. All you can do at that point is breathe. Breathe and pay attention to the world around you. I felt as if, in the three part novel of my life, Book 2 had just ended.
As I sat there I realized, deep down, I was happy. Happy for my Mee-Mee, happy for the spirit of my Grandfather, and happy for my mother who had devoted the last ten years of her life to caring for them. The Wheel had turned. Both of them had made it an outstanding 90+ years and had departed this world in peace and surrounded by loved ones. I looked around at the newly budding trees and the emerging crocus. Instead of tears of sadness, I was overwhelmed with tears of joy.
Spring would never, ever, be the same again.