Now that I've calmed down, slightly. My grandfather, Bedstefar, as I call him, is almost 88 years old. He lives in Denmark. I love him dearly and always regret not seeing him enough.
Today, I found out that he has prostate cancer. He will be going in for surgery in November. My dad, Elodie and myself will be flying out mid November to spend two weeks with him while he recovers. The doctors don't think this will take him, but he's 88 years old. He's had three hip replacements, two knee surgeries, and my dad has never flown out for those. After talking to my Bedstefar about it, he's flying out for this.
Cancer is a word that has had horrible implications for me in the past. It took my mother-in-law. It took my mom's best friend. It's taking a friend of mine right now. I've seen people fight it and win, and I've seen people fight it and lose.
I didn't learn to speak to Bedstefar until I was 15 years old. I spoke English, he spoke Danish. We communicated through winks, smiles, hugs and a bizarre sort of sign language. You try to sign ice cream. It's not easy.
A language like that, however, is one where you don't try to communicate out of necessity. You communicate because you love the person, and you want to talk to them. It's the best kind of communication.
My bedstefar was born in the '20s, grew up during Nazi occupation, and raised five children. He lost his wife to Alzheimers when he was just 66 years old. He has ten grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. He still lives in his own home, has a girlfriend, mows his lawn (on a ride-on mower with his cap askew), has beautiful roses and a lop-sided grin that most of the grandchildren inherited. He has hands that are so strong.
I've noticed how old he's gotten lately. He tells the same jokes and stories when we're there. He doesn't travel as much anymore. He didn't come to Canada for my wedding because he wasn't up for the time change. He drives far too fast, as most seniors tend to do.
Most of all, I've noticed that his walk is a little more swayed, a little slower, a little stiffer. He still does his little hum as he walks, puttering around the house, but the he's not as able to keep up with the house as he was. The cobwebs are creeping up on him.
I've noticed him getting older, and it scares me.
My grandfather speaks fluent German. He learned it when the Nazis were occupying Denmark. He refused to speak it. I learned German because although I could understand Danish, I couldn't speak it. So I thought that if I spoke German to him, he could answer back in Danish, and we could speak in a roundabout sort of way. I remember opening my mouth and asking him a question for the very first time. Wer ist das? Who is this? I asked it while looking through one of his many old family albums.
To my shock, and my father's shock, he answered back, in perfect high German, Das ist miner schwester. That is my sister. He broke his own silence to communicate with me, and I am eternally grateful.
It's not the cancer that terrifies me. The surgery will fix that. It's that he's old. He's frail. He's got this spirit that won't quit, but his body is failing him. He will die one day, and I don't know how I'll deal with that. Not only that, but one day my maternal grandparents will die. One day, my parents will die. One day, I will die.
Whenever I am faced with death or the looming threat of it, I am stuck contemplating my own. What does it mean to die? Does it hurt? Who will take care of the family I leave behind? How will I die? What happens when we die?
These are slightly heavy questions to broach on a knitting blog, but these are my questions. I ponder them long hours while I knit. Why do people die? I know that logically, people die so that there's room on the earth for the new. The old bodies wear out, and the new bodies take their place. But why is death such a hard thing for people, for me, to deal with? Afterall, death is a natural ending to life. One dies. Everyone dies.
Bedstefar, Anton, is dying, as we all are, and I'm trying to figure out what that means to me.
So I soaked in the tub for four hours this evening, read a novel that I've been meaning to read (Man and Boy. Read it if you have the chance. Excellent novel), and it dawned on me. Fear of death is something one must overcome to live. Fear of death is something that one must deal with. Life goes on. Life must go on. As I get older, I will lose more and more and more people. I will lose loved ones and friends. I cannot fathom it now because at my young age, my life streches out before me like a forest path. It's shadowed, and I can't see where it leads, but I also can't see the end.
I walk this path, enjoying the scenes around me, not really paying attention to my destination. One day, that destination will arrive, and I can only hope that the scenes I've witnessed, the lessons I've learned, allow me to greet that destination as a friend when it arrives.