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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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