My grandfather died in the autumn just over a year ago. The death of an old person is sad and nostalgic. The inevitability of death is easy to understand rationally, but the finality of separation is heart-rending. I have never personally experienced the death of younger person, whose thread of life is cut at a time when they still hear their fleet-footed children’ steps around them and are surrounded by bustling life. Nor have I had the experience of losing the budding life of a baby that will never reach the full bloom of childhood. Some people have had to give up young lives, too, and those separations are the hardest of all to bear.
When I met my grandpa two Christmases ago, I was startled by how fragile he had become. He used to be a strong man: like a tall, majestic pine tree. All of a sudden the shoulders under his flannel shirt felt narrow, the bones bulging under the fabric. Then came grandpa’s last autumn: he fell down like a mighty tree, his heart struck by a storm. I was sad he did not see saw the full beauty of that autumn: the golden glow of dry grass, the flight of swans – those graceful birds of autumn and longing. But these were my thoughts and my grief; he that has passed away no longer feels or longs for anything. All meanings have ceased to exist.
When grandpa died, we lost the old stories that had spun together threads of time from the 1930s to the present. We no longer heard his familiar steps in the corridor. The death of an elder wipes out decades of his family’s collective historical memory. I can still see in my mind grandpa’s figure moving around the house, but I wonder how long I can keep these images now that they are no longer propped up by reality.
The relationship between a grandparent and a child is often warm and gentle, lacking the tensions possibly present in parent-child relationships. Love reaches down from the older generation to the younger. Old people teach us to live the life that is here now. We need not be concerned about world events, uninterrupted news feeds, global relevance of things. The only relevant thing is that we are in the same room, listening, not speaking too much, because the most important thing with old people is to listen.
I was again reminded of farewells last summer when I met my grandmother, who is over 90 years old. Her step was shorter and her memory did not reach very far. Dear, silly grandma: she packed a coffee cup from the bedside table into her handbag and kept asking over and over again: ”Did we bring the pills? Did I already take my pills?”, although she had taken her medicines only ten minutes ago. She sat there, following the waves of conversation that rolled past her, the countless stories of personal experiences, summer services, everyday life.
Grandma was no longer able to join the flow of conversation, though she had actively participated only two years previously. When she was leaving, she slowly waved her hand and smiled: “If you happen to drive by, come and see me!” A small person with the weight of years in her body, an old woman and a little girl at the same time. A pool of clear, quiet waters has gathered inside me. The moments of past meetings are like precious, glittering lights in my mind. In a memory disorder, the process of separation begins when the familiar person seems to be gliding away. We still hang on to her, and she still hangs on to us, but the grasp is gradually released, and she enters her own world of no recollection.
Time passes by us and through us, years upon years and decades upon decades. We have our place in the chain of generations. The older links of the chain are connected to ours by flimsy filaments. When our predestined time on earth comes to an end, it is time to let go for good. It is good to let go if you have peace in your soul. Farewell is an immensely beautiful word. Fare you well. We leave you in the providence of all good things.
Text: Maria Hyväri
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
You will find the original Finnish blog post here.
Monet suunnitelmat ovat tänä poikkeuksellisena keväänä muuttuneet. Muun muassa perhejuhlien järjestelyjä on pitänyt miettiä uudelleen. Tämä on koskenut myös avioliittoon vihkimisiä. Nyt vihkimisiä on toimitettu niin, että koolla on ollut vain joitakin läheisiä, ja muu juhlaväki on seurannut tilaisuutta ehkä virtuaalisesti. Hääjuhlia on jouduttu siirtämään myöhäisempiin ajankohtiin. Jotkut hääparit ovat siirtäneet tämän vuoksi myös avioitumistaan.