The Winter

by Karl Musser, 1990

It was my last visit to see him. It was New Year's weekend, 1990. My sister and I had to see him before he died. My grandfather was dying from cancer. We drove up to the little town of Tiffin, Ohio where my grandparents lived.

His name was Gus. Well, it was really Constatine but everyone called him Gus. He was full of life and had a great sense of humor. I remember him doing flips into the pool or playing rummy by the fire. He told me about being on the U.S.S. Birmingham during the war.

Life and death are one, even as

the river and the sea are one.

Gus was very sick, and I knew I would not see him again. My mother told me he would not live very long. I received my Christmas presents from my Ohio relatives, but I can't remember them. Gus was happy to see us. He was trapped in the T.V. room because of the tubes that were connected to his body. The weekend was depressing, but I was glad to get to see him one last time. We went home and my uncle Tom stayed to take care of him.

In the depth of you hopes and desires

lies your silent knowledge of the beyond.

Shortly after our return my mother was going to a meeting for a spiritual renewal weekend. Before she left, she told me, "Grandpa is going to die tonight. If uncle Tom calls just take a message and tell me when I get home." I accepted this. For some reason I knew it was true. Gus passed away while my mother was praying. Tom called and told me what I already knew and I didn't know what to say. My sister cried and said I should call mom. She wanted to know why I was not sad or upset. I didn't know why, I just wasn't.

I told my mother Tom called when she got home. She said, "I thought so," and preceded to start packing. We went back to Ohio the next day. She said, "He had been waiting until he had seen everyone." Gus' dying brought his seven children to Ohio. Some took it hard. Those who had been with him when he was dying had expected it. My mother helped plan the funeral. I helped make a collage of photos representing Gus' life. From his senior picture to his last trip to California. They were happy pictures. There were photos of his wedding, of him playing with the grand kids, or visiting a relative. They were pictures full of love.

What is it to die but to stand naked

in the wind and melt into the sun?

Everyone gathered at the funeral home for the wake. I went to the casket and prayed. He looked much better than the last time I saw him. After saying a final farewell I talked to my cousins and said hi to everyone. We looked at the pictures on the collage. Afterwards we all sat in a room and shared memories. All of Gus' relatives talked about what a great guy he was and all of the funny moments they remember. He sang "McNamara's Band," hunted gophers, got annoyed at his kids, dunked them in the lake. When we were done, most people were crying. I got to know Gus more that night then ever before.

What is it to cease breathing, but to free

the breath from its restless tides, that it may

rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

The next morning was the funeral mass. It was beautiful. We sang "Amazing Grace." My cousins and I put the white cloth over the casket. I gazed again at the collage and cried. I did not cry for Gus. He had passed over peacefully, when he was ready to go. But I would miss him; he was gone. That's why people cry.

Only when you drink from the river

of silence shall you indeed sing.

After the funeral we went to my grandmother's house where we always gathered. This was the first time in three years that all seven of Gus' children were in the same place. We ate supper and my cousins and I played cards. It may seem strange but the air was full of relief. A funeral had just ended and people were happy again. The depressing mood had vanished. Instead of mourning, we celebrated that we were all together. Gus would have preferred the happiness to the mourning.

When you have reached the mountain

top, then you shall begin to climb.

I went into the living room where the adults were again sharing memories, this time of their own childhoods. As they told of the mischievous things, they had done as kids they became more real to me. Just as Gus had become real. His seven kids seemed closer than before. Out of his death he brought love as he had in life. He had just been waiting for the right moment. Waiting until after he had said goodbye. Then he could continue on in peace.

When the earth shall reclaim your

limbs, then you shall truly dance.

The quotes are from The Prophet, by Kahil Gibran. Gibran's chapter on death was read at Gus' funeral.

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