I love my grandfather. I did not stop loving him when he died. I wish that he was still with us, I wish I could talk with him about Physics, about research, and about life. Sadly, this can't be true, so I'm left with memories, and with stories.
During World War II, my grandfather drove a milk truck around the east coast of England, fixing radar arrays. He'd gotten his bachelor's degree in Physics at Yale right before he was called into service. One of my favorite stories of his goes something like this:
"One time, driving that truck, I pulled up to an Army filling station. These stations didn't have any attendants or any of that, you just pulled in, filled up, and left. As I was driving away, I noticed that the whole time I'd been filling up, I'd been smoking my pipe! I decided right there that smoking was a bad thing, and threw my pipe out the window of the truck while I was driving over a bridge."
Later he went back to Yale and got his PhD in Physics. He worked for years at Armour Research and then at SRI. He was on a team with the guy who invented magnetic tape. He was on the team that perfected the color television. He did some serious work in his day!
In 2003, his kidneys failed. They then put him on Peritoneal Dialysis, which let him have some freedom, but he basically couldn't travel. They moved to Santa Cruz shortly before this happened.
Oh, yeah, my grandmother on that side died of Hodgkin's Disease in 1971. My grandfather re-married years later to a wonderful woman named Beverly, who still lives in Santa Cruz, just over the 'Lost Boys' bridge from the Boardwalk. She's always been my grandmother.
In the fall of last year, my grandfather fell ill. He was in and out of the hospital for months. I'm really not sure what it was, finally, that killed him. He had several complications from the dialysis, including a fungal growth in his abdomen.
My mom came and went, wanting to be by his side in Dominican Hospital. My aunt and cousins flew in from Corvallis, Oregon, and we made a group journey down.
Dominican is a strange place. They had a Nativity scene in the lobby, and crosses everywhere. It's a large sprawling concrete building, but there's no one around, seemingly. The halls were quiet, and empty.
Throughout my life, I'd seen my grandfather as a very strong man, not physically, but emotionally. So when I saw him lying in a hospital bed, weak and vulnerable in a gown, it struck me pretty hard. I was rattled, but it was OK that I was quiet, because my Aunt Caroline, a hospice nurse, was talking a mile a minute with my grandfather. From the moment she got there, Caroline took over his care, asking to see his doctor, etc.
Beverly said to him, "Be strong, Bob!"
".... I've been strong for so long, I don't want to anymore.... I just want it to be over...." He was crying.
This outright admission of wanting to die was too much for everyone in the room (we all started sobbing), except for Caroline. She works in this situation every day.
"You don't have to, you can stop the anti-fungals, and all the rest. It won't be immediate, but it will end."
"I'll talk to your doctor."
We had to get out of the room, us grandchildren (there were four of us, my brother and I, and my two cousins), so we went to the cafeteria and had lunch, quietly. We couldn't talk.
The next morning, he woke up to see Caroline looking back at him.
"I thought you were going to take care of this for me..." he said. (Always with his dry sense of humor...)
They discontinued his medications, and within a week, he died. My mother was by his side, but I was seeing one of my favorite bands when it happened, and I didn't find out until I got home. I didn't really feel anything new, as I'd come to terms with it when I heard him in the hospital.
And that was how things lay until we held a memorial for him. He was cremated. Beverly had a boat chartered, and we went for a cruise of the bay in his honor to scatter his ashes. The whole side of the family came, including his son, Peter, and his family, who he hadn't gotten along with the best while he was alive (Peter's a bit of a pot-smoking hippie).
So we went out on this glorious sailboat on a glorious day, and talked about him. When we were far from shore, we finally set about spreading his ashes. His ashes were in a plastic bag, we all took turns going to the stern and spreading some of his ashes and throwing a flower over that place in the water. I remember the surprising weight of the bag, the not quite consistent texture of the only physical remains of my grandfather. When everyone had had a chance to spread some of the ashes and say their goodbyes, Beverly spread the rest, and then brushed off the ashes that lay on the step of the stern. She's always been pragmatic.
It was very quiet, and meditative, but it was not sad. We were celebrating the man we loved. Afterwards, we went to The Crow's Nest and had a big meal, all of us, and swapped stories, and generally made merry.
I miss him. I remember how, as the years went on, his voice got more and more like a grandfather's should, and how he always dressed like an engineer from the '50's (he was one!). How his huge glasses made his eyes seem the size of lemons, his eye's reassuring dark brown color. His ugly wool plaid shirts he wore when he was being 'informal'. How we used to play croquet in his backyard, when he lived in Los Altos. The smell of their old rambler, their huge old garage. That metal firetruck with the spring-loaded ladder that we were always afraid would hit us when we released it...
this writeup, in its current version, was done for Bob Giges' personal narratives class at UCSC