Saying Goodbye*

Last Monday I got one of those phone calls that you hope never to get.

It’s taken me a week to be able to write about it, and I’m still not sure that I have the right words. But I find myself wanting to talk about it… needing to talk about it.

When my phone rang just before 3pm, my fridge was full of food ready for me to make our lovely Thanksgiving dinner. I was sitting at my desk, doing nothing in particular when Peeah’s ringer began to play. I thought it was a bit odd that she was calling me right then, but I assumed it was to gave me a hard time for skipping our family Thanksgiving dinner the day before.

When I answered I could barely understand her. She was sobbing, and she said “Gumpo died” three times before I understood the meaning of what she was telling me. She didn’t know many of the details, only that there had been an accident. I told her I was on my way before hanging up the phone and collapsing in a heap in my chair, the Hubster’s arms around me as I began to weep.

It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real.

He held me together until I could get to my feet, and I began flying around my apartment, throwing things into a duffel bag. I didn’t know what I was packing, or for how long, but I needed my family. Within the hour I was on a bus to meet Choppy, and we went home together.

Teep picked us up at the bus station, and the three of us tried to piece together the bits of information we had found out from family members. My Dad’s father had been out in the bush cutting wood with my dad, uncle and cousins, a chore he loved and had been doing for years. While pulling a load of wood in a trailer on his beloved ATV (“Big Blue”) it had somehow flipped and landed on him.

Other than that, it was still a blur. And it wasn’t real.

My parents, and my siblings that were close enough immediately left for Muskoka to be with my Grammy as soon as we heard. Six of my Dad’s siblings had already arrived, and the last was boarding a flight to be there by the time the sun rose the next day. Choppy, Teep (and his girlfriend, M) and I made it home shortly before the rest of my family did, and it was then that we tried to face that this was a reality. We all sat in my parent’s living room and talked about the accident, my grandmother, funeral arrangements and other things that were all too overwhelming to comprehend.

I went to bed, and I cried.

It was real.

The next morning Choppy and I traveled to Muskoka with my parents so that my Dad and his brothers and sisters could make arrangements with the funeral home. Family continued to trickle in throughout the day, as did details of the accident. My uncle, who was there that day, walked us to the woods to show us the accident site so we could try and understand what happened. Something had caused him to turn up a small embankment and strike a tree, which in turn caused the ATV to flip. At 81 he was still a force of nature, but his reflexes weren’t as good as they used to be and we can only assume he wasn’t able to jump clear. He fell, and the ATV fell on his chest, killing him instantly.

I’ll always wonder what caused him to leave his trail… no one knew those woods better than he did, and most of my childhood memories with my Gumpo involve ATVs and rides on “Big Blue”.

That night, after all the arrangements had been made, I spent some time with my Dad’s family. Through the tears, some wonderful stories were told and we began to laugh again. We drove home late that night, and I was exhausted.

I didn’t remember how hard it was.

The visitations were on Thursday. By this time ninety percent of my family had arrived and we gathered at the funeral home. The first visitation was hard. I wasn’t able to make it up to the casket to say goodbye, being in the same room with him was hard enough, and I knew I couldn’t go alone.

The Hubster and Doodle arrived in time for the second visitation, and the Hubs walked with me to the casket and held me tight so that I could say goodbye to my Grandfather–my Gumpo. It was so strange… I felt terrible, but I could think was, “This isn’t really him. His face isn’t right. Gumpo would be smiling or smirking or ready with a witty quip.” As I wept the Hubster held me close and my Dad came up and squeezed my shoulder tightly.

Friday dawned a beautiful, sunny fall morning as we drove back to Muskoka for the funeral. It was one of the most beautiful mornings I have experienced in a long time… the sky was clear, and it was as if a paintbrush had swept across the trees and painted them in beautiful reds, yellows and oranges. It was peaceful.

As my family assembled together, I realized that this was the first time in years that we had all been together. My Grammy and all of her eight children, with their spouses and children had come together to celebrate the life of my Gumpo. People had traveled from Alberta, British Columbia, Utah, and all across Ontario to be together. Every single one of the 26 grandchildren and great grandchildren were there with their parents. And it was wonderful.

The service was incredibly hard, but incredibly beautiful. My sister, Spart, began the service with a moving memorial video with photos and footage of my Gumpo. My uncle, the oldest son, delivered a beautiful eulogy that captured the man that my Gumpo had been in his earlier years, as well as the man that he had become as he became a grandfather and found peace in his life. Each one of the children shared memories and a tribute that brought both tears and roars of laughter. It concluded with a beautiful message about how families can be forever.

After the service, the hundreds of people who had come to honor his memory stayed and shared stories of how he had touched their life before we left to have a private family graveside service… a chance to say one last goodbye.

Each member of our family–all 40+ of us–took a moment to place a rose in his grave as my family began to sing “Families Can Be Together Forever”, a well-known hymn in my church. My Dad stood with one arm around my mom, and the other hanging on to me.

Eye make-up was probably not a good idea for that day.

…and then, it was over. I hugged my Grammy for dear life and sobbed as she told me how proud my Gumpo was of me. We walked back to our cars, and drove back to her house to spend some time together.

After all the tears, it was time to laugh. By the time we made it back to the house my aunts and uncles were already in comfy clothes and their pajamas, exhausted after a long week. We snacked on unhealthy food and gathered around tables, telling stories. It was a side of my family I hadn’t really seen before–we’ve always been close, but this week really seemed to pull us all together. My aunts and uncles drew back from their childhood, telling stories I had never heard that left us all laughing until it hurt.

We collapsed in chairs, on couches, on the floor–not caring about space, but just wanting to be together. No one seemed to want to be the first to leave.

And then it was time to go. I had planned to travel home that night, but I was so tired, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t ready. I needed one more day with my family. We drove home, but as tired as we all were, Mom, Big Dad, Doodle, Spart and I crowded around the table for a game of Uno. Doodle left first, then Mom went to bed. I thought Dad would be right behind her, but he, Spart and I ended up throwing a movie on and staying up way to late.

And by “staying up late”, I mean I fell asleep on the couch next to my dad 5 minutes after the movie started.

I meant to leave first thing in the morning, but then we all decided to have lunch together. Princess Pea stole the show.

By 2pm I knew it was time to leave… so I packed the car, gave Big Dad one last hug, then drove home. It’s been a whirlwind of cleaning, unpacking, church and work since then, and it’s really starting to sink in.

This is real.

On Thanksgiving Monday–October 11th–my Gumpo had an accident and died. I can finally say it without wanting to burst into tears, but it doesn’t do anything to heal the ache in my heart. I hate that I didn’t see him before he died. I know there’s no way that I could have known, but the guilt is terrible. I know it will take time.

I also know that I’ll see him again someday, and that knowledge helps in so many ways.

Until then, I miss you, Gumpo. More than words can say. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.

My Gumpo*

I love you.

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