Saying Goodbye to Grandpa Dale

 

On the day that he died, a swift storm front passed over the west end of The Angle. The winds came first, readying the earth like an invisible pumice stone that picks up all that’s loose in order to clean beneath. Then, with the music of the leaves, the wind announced the rain. I stopped my work and raised my eyes to the wild treetops and beyond to the rushing clouds. The sudden drops hit my upturned face, and I stood there for many moments, letting it run down my cheeks like tears that didn’t know to come.

All I could think was that it was him.

When the sun set on that last day—the last one he would wake-up on at his NW Angle—its fingertips pushed through the heavy clouds and far into the firmament like a final strong hand on a wilting shoulder. It wasn’t one of those fiery pink and orange sunsets meant for postcards and Facebook cover photos; its colors were more subtle, its height inspiring and the symmetry of the rays so rich it seemed almost unnatural.

All I could think was that it was him.

Just after midnight as I sat around the campfire with my siblings, the northern lights quietly joined our gathering. I watched their uncanny and unchoreographed free-form dance move across the northwest sky until my neck was sore from looking up. It was a warm night in May and not particularly northern lights’ season, but not particularly not, either.

All I could think was that it was him.

And that I’d spent a good amount of time that day looking up as he went past.

I have no doubt that it all indeed was, but what I find interesting is that while he was here with us on this side of the veil, he was not wind and rain, he was not fire and light. No, he was pure Earth. Formidable Angle clay earth that pushed back up against his ever-treading work boots a million times over. Earth that he cleared and moved and fought with and against as he built his lifeblood, his resort. Earth that provided for them and kept their lives of their choosing, quiet and surrounded by nature and the people he drew to him.

It was as though once he became part of the Great Big Everything—as my little Iris and I call it, the great big everything that cannot be known until it is—now that he was part of it all, like a renewed and curious child, he needed to push all the buttons and turn all the dials on the rainworks and the wind fans, the fire and light shows to see what it was all about. To play where he had mostly worked. To revel in whatever he had missed.

Declining for several years and ailing seriously for many months, he’d fallen that morning, broken a hip and cracked ribs while stubbornly trying to ready himself for the start of their resort season. He wanted to greet the guests. It was the first day of a full camp and he’d been there every first day of every season for 53 years. A stroke followed shortly thereafter. He hadn’t said it to me, but anyone who knew him knew he’d want to die at The Angle, and in a way, he kinda did. I believe his mind, his spirit had checked out before the bumpy car ride to town over roads that were younger than him by half and hadn’t even existed when he first found his place at The Angle. At least, I hope he was mentally gone before the excruciating hour’s ride, before the jostling from car to ambulance to helicopter and then to the final hospital bed where his body was revived once, maybe twice before they let him go.

We were back clearing the 25-foot wide stretch of land that would be our driveway and would connect to the small road he had cleared and built years ago. That day, we were finally working on top of his land, cutting down trees that had grown in his lifetime, pulling out roots that reached down to buried items long since put aside in the busy day-to-day of resort life.

I imagine in the Great Big Everything, there is no emotion but a peace so profound it is joy. I imagine there is no judgement of us left behind but for a Love as encompassing as the ocean is of a raindrop. I imagine there is abiding presence and a rightly fading awareness of this earthly life and its petty stories. Fading because Like attracts Like and there’s no room or no need in the Great Beyond for what we attach so much significance to here.

Grandpa Dale seemed to already have some of that figured out before he left. Apart from his agitation over being sick and not having total control of his body near the end, he maintained an enduring calm that calmed those around him. He opened peoples’ ears and eyes to what was right in front of them. He slowed us all down enough to appreciate the earth and ourselves and what we brought to it all.

He gave the gift of serenity through his picturesque resort but moreso through his simple presence and quiet wisdom.

“Is that little Iris?” he’d said quietly on our last visit to him just a day or so before. He lay on the couch he rarely left and she stood inches from his face kindly bubbling on about dandelions and golf cart rides and leeches we might catch. He looked at me for help in hearing and I let him not hear, not wanting to yell across the calm. We smiled goodbyes at each other, him with his eyes mostly, and then walked back into the earthy sunshine and our little lives.

I always wanted to know him better, but I can’t. I always wanted to get his stories written down, but I didn’t. I always wanted to live more like he did, but I don’t.

His last word to me was my daughter’s name, and I like that. I like that our land connects to his. I like that I toil on the earth making something as he did. I like knowing he’s part of the Great Big Everything and patiently teaches me to slow down and breath it all in. I like that his goodbye came while I was standing on the earth looking up. I like that he made the gesture on his way past, his final parting wave as he completed this go-round. I like his goodbye. And I love him.

Column 59 - sunset on the day he died.JPG

(Published June 6th in the Warroad Pioneer)

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