Saturday, July 31, 2010

Celebration of Life for My Dad

Aria with her grandpa
Bill at his 90th birthday party

2009 Grandpa and Aria touring the gardens at the San Gabriel Mission.

Today at 11:00 a.m. we will be celebrating the life of my father, Bill, who passed away on July 9, 2010. He would have turned 93 on the 15th of July. He lived a long and very good life.

He once was interviewed and said, "I married the girl of my dreams. We had three wonderful children and four beautiful grandchildren. Who could ask for anything more?"

My daughter Aria is the oldest of his grandchildren. Sadly she will not be able to attend the memorial service as she lives far away in Italy. She was able to see her grandfather in the hospital a few weeks ago, shortly before he passed away. Aria said her goodbyes to him at that time. She has asked me to read the following letter at the service today:

Grandpa Bill

I am writing this message in the midst of Florence’s hottest month. After an unusually long and rainy spring and then a sudden shock of heat that fell like a blanket over the entire city, all of my plants have died and we have just planted new bulbs. Each morning the sharp green stems poke a little further out of the soil, and I am almost glad to have once again chosen an annual rather than a perennial. There is something to be said for witnessing the entire lifespan of your flowers. As in my little garden, where life and death occur on a somewhat less unwieldy scale, I go back to my roots, the roots of my memories. I find that some have stretched and twisted, some have flowered while others have withered, like the paths I did or did not choose to take. There are many branches I could trace to find my way back to the strong, quiet man who was my Grandpa Bill. I am sad to have lost another flower, but happy for the roots that remain and to which I owe so many parts of my character.
Here is just one of those branches: I’m sitting cross-legged at a long glass coffee table. I am four or five years old. I’ve already completed the ritual steps that go along with being baby-sat by my grandparents, such as rubbing the belly of the Buddha and making a wish, and now I am coloring in one of the Japanese workbooks Grandpa Bill had found somewhere for me. In his nearly century-long lifetime and the not-quite three decades of which I was able to be a part of it, he never told me in so many words that he hoped I would learn Japanese, but every now and then he would take out the workbook and we would sit for as long as my four-year-old attention span lasted and I would repeat the words after him.

“Hana.” (grandpa pointing to his nose)
Hannah?”(my response)
“Kuchi.” (grandpa pointing to his mouth)
“Coochie?!” (Me giggling)
Mimi”(grandpa pulling on his ear)
“Me, me!”. (me gesturing to myself)

And the lesson would end when I would grow bored or burst into giggles and affirm, “Watashi wa enpitsu”—I am a pencil.

What is the weight behind three generations, two continents and a coloring book? How many truths and histories pass through our hands like so much water? Abundant, transparent and restorative, a grandparent’s love and knowledge could save our lives if only we paid more attention to it, drinking it down and absorbing it instead of splashing around in what seems like an endless resource that will never run out. But I can only be grateful for those things that I was able to learn from Grandpa during his lifetime. Most of all: Patience.

When you’re hoping or waiting with impatience, a single day can seem like a thousand years. Einstein joked about this in his playful explanation of relativity, saying that an hour with a pretty girl seemed like a minute, while unpleasant situations that last for a minute can feel like an hour. The Japanese say, ichi nichi senshÅ«, implying that a single day lived with impatience feels like a thousand autumns. If Grandpa ever lost his patience, he certainly never showed it. His patience was an art, and I mean that literally. From his lovely Bunka embroideries to his delicate origami cigarette wrapper umbrellas, to the soda-can wind chimes that decorated their yard, every aspect of Grandpa’s personality evinced his gift for accepting time for what it was, never hurrying it along, never challenging its pace, never wasting a moment. My grandfather waited a long time to marry my grandmother—a box of love letters from his time at Fort Sam Houston serves as a reminder of this. And after fifty years of marriage, she once urged him at the dinner table to repeat what he had said to her one morning. “Bill, tell them what you said to me this morning”. And, in his quiet way as always, he very calmly said, “Oh, you know, I just said, ‘Every day I love you more.’”

Grandpa has again waited with patience and grace to be reunited with the person he continued to love more and more throughout his life. If to him, each minute that he has waited has felt like an hour, or each day a thousand autumns, he never let on to this. He held onto life with strength, kindness, love, and a wonderful sense of humor until the very end, but I know that he was, again as so many years ago, waiting for the day when Grandma would take his hand.

As for us, I’m sorry that our garden has one less flower but rest at ease knowing that our sky is lit by one more star.


Anne said...

Barb, I was moved to tears by this beautiful tribute. Aria's letter is so full of love, as are your words and images of them together.

Peace be with you this day, and always, my friend. Holding you in hugs and prayers.

Marie S said...

What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man, husband, father, and grand father.
Your daughter is an incredible writer and this was amazing. I feel and know her love.
May you have peace in your heart and love all around you!
Love and huge hugs.

Trekcapri said...

Hi Barb, I was emotionally moved by your post this morning and by Aria's beautiful words and memories of her Grandpa Bill. The sky shining brightly by two stars reunited is a beautiful image.

Thank you for sharing Aria's
letter and your wonderful photos.

jan said...

really really beautiful.

menehune said...

I don't think words can suffice for the emotion felt in of your daughter's loving memoirs and tribute. It's truly a blessing to have a warm, loving family of which your dad was the root. Blessings and prayers to all of you today. My thoughts are with your family.

nancyhol said...

What a lovely letter Aria wrote for you to deliver at the memorial. Your Dad (and Mom too) are looking down with pride in all of you.

Hugs to you, Barb.

Anonymous said...

What a heartwarming tribute to your Dad! May his memory be a bleesing always.

Sandra said...

Barb, I too, was moved to tears, but also, filled with joy, as I read Aria's moving letter, written with so much love and admiration. I pray that you and your family are at peace, knowing your Father is once again with his beloved wife.

Holly said...

it was gift to me to be able to join the memorial service yesterday...what a beautiful and deeply moving tribute...

The Luvly Lady said...

wow Barb I am sorry to hear about your father but what an amazing outlook Aria has! So many things she learned from her grandparents were only reaffirmed by amazing parents. My prayers are with your family. I love you!!

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

It took me 3 days to read through the whole thing. Beautiful beyond words.

Abundant, Transparent and Restorative... a grandparents love.

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