My Grandpa, Frederick Lewis Tyner, died in the early hours on the last day of July. He was my mother’s father, the last living of my four grandparents. I spent many hours on his property, rolling around in the dirt, riding on tractors, & making applesauce with my grandmother, his late-wife JoAnn. Now, it is this same property where I live my days, the house & patch of land I moved back to last year; it is the same homestead where I will likely spend my remaining days, as he left the house to me, a privilege beyond my capabilities for expressing gratitude.
Since his death, everyone has been giving me the side eye, waiting for me--the mentally-disordered wild card of the family--to blow-up, to go off the deep end, to end up hospitalized again. Like I said in my eulogy, I will probably go collapse again soon, but it won’t be because of the death of Fred Tyner. My mother grieved hard at the funeral & has a good support system in that grief, I am validated in my moving home to be near him last year, & the rest of our loved ones have shared great insight & important memories in his wake: thus, I’m feeling at peace with his death.
Another reason I’m feeling at peace is because of the great honor I got to hold in being the elected family visitor to be with him in the hospital his final day. When he was first admitted to the Elwood Hospital that Thursday morning, I joined him as he drifted in & out of sleep, watching President Obama’s eulogy for Representative John Lewis; as grandpa’s conditions worsened, I began to reflect on this idea of legacy, what we leave behind in our (hopefully) long lives & what I might say during my own eulogy, if it came to that, for grandpa.
After he was transferred to Anderson, I resumed my position at his side, holding his hand, adding blanket upon blanket to his cold body, & updating my family members as his breathing worsened, even with the aid of a by-pap machine. I chuckled with the nurse, as we had to remind grandpa to not tug at the breathing mask, as he whimpered & shivered, that we really all do turn back into children as we age, as we die. I sat in awe of the man who had done so much in his life--from selling insurance to service in the Army, from hosting exchange students to volunteering at the school--for other people.
It was in that moment that I felt like an adult, not just in age, but also in strength, in stamina, in ability to be present for the sake of others. Since my wife left & even much prior, it has been years since I truly felt like an adult, needing help to regulate my moods & perspectives, having my wife remind me to take my pills & go to bed / get up, & depending on others for money; call it whatever the age version of emasculation is. In those months between my wife leaving & my grandpa passing away--no job, no family of my own, sulking in my reliance on others--my fragile psyche left me feeling like a small child again.
I guess that is one of the good challenges that came out of that sad week--getting to step up & be an adult. I had to be composed & precise in communicating with doctors & family members as my grandpa battled his illness. I had to be mindful & selfless in showing up for others. Like my time at the hospital, I was able to practice the importance of presence the entire week, engulfed in family time. He wasn’t just my Fred Tyner, this wasn’t just my loss, & this wouldn’t just be my grief.
At the funeral, people I hadn’t seen in years were asking me, “How old are you?” For the first time in months, I could proudly say, “Thirty-one.” People would ask, “What have you been up to?” & I could say without shame that I spent the last year being present for grandpa & my parents, visiting as much as I could, working to regulate myself, & starting projects--the FUTURE BARN podcast, a forthcoming artist residency, organization of my grandpa’s life’s worth of stuff on the property--that shone good light on his legacy.
I have had a revelation about adulthood, how to manage it successfully one must hone (which I’ve done), maintain (which I’m trying to do), & put into good use a skill set. For me, it is some combo of problem-solving, connecting, & writing/performing. Two of my aunts on my dad’s side showed up from North Carolina, a sweet gesture, but one that threw my mother for a loop, not expecting to host guests during her father’s funeral. I was able to step-up, bringing take-out to the house to cover meals, showing up with stories to entertain & a spare room to offer. At the funeral itself, I was able to lend a listening ear & space for others to share & grief, saving my grand burst of reflection for the eulogy at the end.
Also, in order to maintain this functioning adult mindset roll I am on, I must be aware of my triggers & make appropriate choices to avoid / manage them. For me, it has always been embarrassment & abandonment that blur the brain & tilt the train off the tracks. In the midst of grief, crowds of people, & excessive family time, both of those pests will shake the tress, but I am happy to report that I handled the back-end of these awkward moments well. Be it a family member saying the n-word in casual conversation or me flubbing a name in introduction, these things I would have once dwelled on, that would’ve once shoved me into a deeper despair, were minor blips on the radar.
Because I felt wholly grown, I was able to be present with myself & the moment, showing grace, being gentle & kind all around. In my meditation practice on the Waking Up app, we often enact metta loving kindness, the compassionate extension of feelings of well-wishing & hope-for-happiness to others. In these times of grief, I realized the importance of extending metta loving kindness to the self, as well as to others. It has allowed me to concentrate on the right things--my mom’s grief in losing her father, my responsibilities to the logistics of the moment, & my grandfather’s legacy. As I said to end the eulogy, punctuating the generosity & openness of grandpa’s living, “May we all be so kind.”