Entry 3: Death
When I was eight, I got to experience the impact of death for the first time. I am sure I knew that people got old and died. In fact, I had attended my Uncle Albert's funeral but it honestly meant little to me. I met Uncle Albert maybe once or twice before he died and can't remember anything about those meetings.
In the spring, my Grandma Maus died and that was meaningful. I loved Grandma Maus and she lived just down the street on Maplewood Drive. We spent a lot of time with her and Grandpa so her death took something very important and meaningful out of my life. I cried at the funeral realizing I would no longer get phone calls from her telling me to run down the street to grab some pieces of leftover fried chicken.
Shortly after Grandma Maus died, it became obvious that Grandpa Gibson wasn't going to live much longer. I spent a fair amount of time with Grandpa Gibson, but he wasn't a particularly warm man. I didn't feel as close to him. He said little and interacted a lot less with the grandkids which made visits to him with my Dad more of an obligation. In fact, I began to resent his old age and infirmity that summer because it was interfering with our summer vacation. Vacation trips were the highlight of the year for us growing up. The summer of '65 was a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton which was pretty spectacular for me. Our plan in the summer of '66 was to visit the Grand Canyon and I was very excited about that. But as Grandpa Gibson got worse, Dad's sisters put a lot of pressure on him to stay in town and that was spoiling my summer.
Eventually, we left on vacation anyway. One afternoon, my brother Roger came home from his summer job in the oil fields, stinking of crude, and Mom practically threw him in the bathtub. Once he was halfway clean, we jumped in our green Ford station wagon towing Dad's home-built camping trailer and bolted for the southwest. It was almost like a jailbreak. We camped for the night somewhere in northeast New Mexico. That trip was a wonderful exploration of Native American ruins and the Grand Canyon, itself. After a week or so, Roger was put on a train so he could go back to work and the rest of us headed into Utah to visit the national parks there.
We were in Zion National Park when the news came. We passed the ranger station and Dad's name was on the chalkboard of having received a phone message. He went inside, made a call home, and got the news that Grandpa Gibson had died. Dad came out of the ranger station, leaned his head down on the top of the car next to his door, and cried.
I'd never seen my Dad cry before and suddenly, I realized that he had lost his father. To me, Grandpa Gibson was a frowning, unfriendly old man who seldom said anything much to me at all. But to Dad, he was a father - the man who'd raised him and brought him into the world and I realized in that moment how great a loss losing your father could be. I began to realize how much it would someday hurt me to lose my own father. I had no idea that pain was forty-six years away but I knew right then that it would be painful.
We are self-centered souls. We are the centers of our universe. But sometimes events happen that pull us out to someone else's point of view and we learn a lot about them and about ourselves. In the summer of 1966, I learned that the people who held roles in my life held different roles in the lives of others. My Dad was not just my Dad: he was a son and a brother to those in his own family. He was … me. And I had never realized that until that moment.
Survival teaches us about ourselves, but death teaches us a lot about others. Thank you, Dad, for teaching me that.