Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some thoughts on life and death

Tonight I'm sitting in front of the computer unable to sleep, when I really should be in bed. I have a plane ticket to Florida; I'm leaving in the morning to see my newly widowed Grandmother. The following day I will be attending the memorial service for my Grandfather, who passed from this life on Sunday, April 18th, 2010. Perhaps I should be packing? Because I haven't.

I have a lot of mixed emotions at the moment, but I suppose that is normal. On the one hand, it is now starting to sink in that someone who has been a part of my life, for my entire life, is now gone. Just like that. The rapidity in which one's life can change is mind boggling. The phone rang and all was well; then my mother spoke and the gravity of her words changed me forever. There are no more tomorrows with my Grandpa. There will never be the opportunity for him to meet Emily. In just a few short days he has become a part of who I was rather than who I am.

There is a sadness of course. There is some resistance to facing the sadness at the memorial. There is the fear that this may be enough to kill my Grandma, who is fighting off late stage colon cancer.

But I can say that there are many blessings and lessons that go along with the passing of my Grandfather, and I am going to do my best to focus on those. You might be thinking, "How can anyone find the good in someone's death? Is she out of her mind?" I don't really think so. Anyone who has any faith in the fact that the universe functions perfectly as it is, and that everything that happens in the universe is caused and has a reason, has to accept that in order for there to be life, there has to be death.

And my Grandpa lived a full life. The world is a better place because Gerhard Scholten was a part of it. He married his high school sweetheart and loved her dearly for 57 years. He served our country in the military, putting the well being of countless others first. He turned aside the chance to be a pilot living in California in order to stay with Joan and raise his three children, Rhonda (my mom), Brett, and Aaron. He worked as a brick layer in Chicago, helping to construct some of the major buildings in the city including McCormick Place. He adopted a number of dogs and invited them into his homes, dogs that otherwise would have been put to sleep. He was a grandfather to five and great-grandfather to four, including my Nora and Emily. He took me in his truck when I was about four and brought me to McDonald's for my first ever Chicken McNugget. Ok, maybe introducing me to junk food wasn't the best thing he ever did, but I think of that every time I buy nuggets for my "vegetarian" children.

He lived a long life, 77 years. That's a lot longer than most people get. But those years took their toll. He suffered a lot in his old age. The vitality and spunk I remember Grandpa having has been gone for a while now. I really believe that it was his time and he knew it. I haven't heard all of the details yet about how he passed, but he told my Uncle that he didn't want to go back to the hospital after suffering what seems to be a heart attack, and he died in the arms of his son. It was quick and painless as far as death goes. And I am so grateful for that. There was no clinging, there was no indecision. I think in this final act, the act of letting go and surrendering, there are a lot of lessons for those of us who are left behind.

First of all, almost all of our suffering is caused grasping and clinging to stuff, and by resisting change. We do this all of the time. Its no surprise that the thing we cling to as our dearest possession is this sack of flesh and bones we wrongly think of as "us", as "me". He had the wisdom and the bravery to just let go, to let go of the suffering.

I personally believe that as he died, he got a glimpse of what was about to come. I don't believe that death is the end. As my beloved teacher, the venerable Lama Marut always says, life doesn't end with Porky Pig saying, "The-the-the-the that's all folks!!!". Death is a door, death is a transition, death is just one moment before the next birth. He never was his body anyways, and I have to remember his every time I start to get choked up about the fact he's gone. He is not gone. His mind, his soul if you prefer that term, is ageless and deathless and is crossing through the unknown as I write this.

The last lesson I take from his death is to remember to rejoice in the fact that I am still alive. Right here right now, I'm ok. However, this body, and the leisure and fortune it enjoys, is not going to last forever. I have to remember why I am here, and to do what I need to do so that someday, when my turn comes to traverse the great divide, I can do it with the same simple grace my Grandfather displayed at the moment of his death.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Loving Memory of Gerhard Scholten

Good-bye Grandpa. Thank you for everything you ever did for me. This life certainly isn't the beginning or the end, and I know I'll see you again. With all my love 'till then....