Jaimie and I saw a play over the weekend. We saw The Heath at the Warehouse Theatre. It was about the life and death of playwright Lauren Gunderson’s grandfather, and the effect he had on her life. The role of Lauren was played (and originated) by my high school friend and Patreon of this blog, Miranda Barnett! Her acting and singing and banjo playing, yes banjo playing, were all tremendous. It was the work of a fully realized artist. It made me feel honored to know her.
The play was also about memory. Her grandfather had dementia and eventually lost his connection to the people he had spent his life with. Names left him. Places he knew became foreign. When we lose our memory, do we lose ourselves?
Seeing a play like that, it’s impossible not to think about my own grandfathers, and the fact that I never had the pleasure of meeting them. I wish I had. Over the past year I’ve gotten to watch my own father assume that role. He’s approached it with an odd combination of gusto and apprehension. It’s been a joy to watch.
My Grandma Evelyn had a second husband and I called him Grandpa. And he was. He was kind and eccentric and loved Coca-Cola. But as I’ve gotten older, I realized that he wasn’t mine. While my relationship with him was beautiful in its own right, it’s not quite the same.
The reason I didn’t know my grandfathers is because they both died before I was born.
I’m sure it’s not the only thing I have in common with them. Apparently I looked like Grandpa Monk when I was a little boy. Perhaps I got my loud voice from Grandpa Carl. But the fact that they stared this disease straight in the eye…makes me feel closer to them.
I wonder what they felt when they first heard the news? Were they hopeful? Were they scared? Did they let it show? Would they be proud of how I’m handling it? Would they have rolled their eyes at this blog? Maybe so. I’m sure they made sense of it in their own way.
They didn’t have to deal with it as long as I have. Grandpa Carl went pretty quickly, and Grandpa Monk might have made it a couple of years? I just hope they know that their grandson, who they never got to meet, is giving this thing all he can. Who knows, maybe lessons they learned have somehow made it down to me. Maybe their battles are the very thing allowing me to take it in stride. Maybe in a way, I met them after all.