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06

Feb

The Last Lesson

mic myers sunset

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The Call- Wednesday, January 9th 2013

When you get the call, drop everything and go. 

studio I’m at work, recording actors for our English program. If I close my eyes I can picture their voices coming out of a radio in the corner of some over-crowded, unbearably hot classroom far from here. I see students with smiles on their faces like they’ve never been deprived. It’s what keeps me going. My phone vibrates— the screen reads: mom cell

“Hey, can you talk?”

I keep the recording going and motion to the actors I’ll be right back. This shouldn’t take long, she’s probably just checking in. A few minutes later I walk back into the studio, go directly to my seat and stare through the screen. I sit there shivering in the shadow of sadness, drowning in pain and fear, desperately searching for solitude. It’s dark down here. Eventually I pull myself out to tell my boss I won’t be able to come in tomorrow, a day we have a salsa singer in and I’m obviously needed. She asks why. “My grandfather is dying.”

The words wash over me, breaking through my ego like a wrecking ball swung at a damn built of twigs; Everything falls apart. My eyes hide in the lines of my palms as I cry uncontrollably, submitting to the emotion and waiting for a breath. My parents are picking me up on their way to Maryland tonight. The thought of seeing my father terrifies me.

I pray for a miracle.

The Fight- Thursday, January 10th 2013

When it happens, fight.

hosptial room My mom ties a yellow hospital gown around my waist, hands me blue gloves and a white facemask. “You’ll have to put this on every time you enter the room,” she says. I peak around the curtain and take a few small, scared steps towards his bed. “Look who’s here”, says my dad, who is sitting in a chair on the other side of the bed. Pop turns his head towards me, puts his hand as high as he can reach it and says “Hi, mi”.

The fact he calls me the right name eases half the tension in my body. I begin to notice things. The gold wedding band on his finger, the black spots on his feet, the watch on his wrist reminding a room full of people counting down that time doesn’t do such a thing. He never took that watch off.

We begin telling stories and laughing like everything is normal. It’s easy to forget we are pretending until I look over at him, his chest rising and falling as his body puts whatever strength is left into each wheezing breath. It’s hard to see him like this. My father takes out a poetry book and begins reading to him. One of my grandpa’s many nicknames is Poe, short for poetry.

His soul speaks in rhyme

His spirit is contagious

Uplift the world, when it’s your time

Go back to He who made us

The severity of the situation sinks in as my father begins to choke up and passes the book mid sentence to my mother, who continues reading without hesitation. I’m watching my father read poetry to my dying grandfather. The next thought, one day I’ll have to do the same. I grabbed my grandpa’s hand and dropped my head to the floor. The carpet holds no comfort.

We spend days staring at machines, looking for hope in blinking numbers and squiggly lines. Every step forward is followed by two back, more visitors and less sleep. The nurse who keeps trying to convince him to go to hospice, a place where people surrender, has been asked not to enter the room anymore. He says he has 10 more years so we aren’t interested in anything but solutions. The root of our family tree won’t be pulled out by anyone but God.

hospital

It’s time for me to leave. I joke with him about being a ladies man, fishing for a smile, avoiding the word goodbye. He shakes his head, opens his mouth and talks through his eyes. “I love you, Pop.”  Three days later my parents leave as well, as his situation has still not changed. My mom calls around 11pm when they get back to Chapel Hill to tell me he isn’t eating or talking at all anymore. They are heading back up on Friday to decide how to do the end of life. I hang up and cry until the tears are gone. My phone wakes me up the next morning. A call from home at 8 AM? This isn’t good.

“Hey buddy. So, Pop is gone. He died in the middle of the night.”  

The Service- Saturday, January 19th 2013

When it hurts, cry.

pop and us I’m sick. Between that and the crying I think I’ve gone through every box of Kleenex in Westminster. I’m sitting in the front row of the church that my grandfather was remarried in 17 years ago, 2 years after my grandma died of breast cancer. I was there when he married Jeanie, sitting on my hands and fighting to stay still as I promised I would. That was a difficult task for me back then. Today I have no interest in moving, or standing or accepting. On this day I’m sitting right next to Jeanie, watching her battle the thoughts of death and loneliness. My brother is to my left, to his left the rest of the family.

I dry my eyes and look up to watch my father give his eulogy. “My father was the happiest man I have ever known,” he begins.  He truly was a man who found happiness in everything, who stumbled into greatness and told the world the tale.  He was the captain of a fleet of anti-submarine helicopters when he was my age. Before I was old enough to recognize the significance of that he was my captain, as he drove my brother and I across the United States in a Winnebago for two months. I can’t believe he’s gone.

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Leighton, my 6-year-old cousin, has jumped in between Jeanie and I. She shines the most playful smile at me then turns around to give Jeanie a hug. My mind goes back to when I was her age, wandering around my grandmother’s funeral service. I was as clueless as she is today. You can’t understand the sadness of losing life until you’ve lived long enough to know how delicate it is. She still lives in a world where consequences are made by parents. What a gift.

There is a time to mourn and cry. This is that time.

The Tree- Sunday, January 20th 2013

When life stands in the shadow of death, look to nature.

mic myers tree

We have been heading south on the skyline drive for about 3 hours, stopping at almost every overlook to jump out of the car and take pictures. Stand on the edge, stretch your arms out and breathe the air of a great escape. littlestonyman_0516 mic myers arms out

It’s close to 4 and according to the map we’re getting close to Big Meadows, the place where my grandmother’s ashes were spread 19 years ago. I go over the directions my aunt had given me at the service the day before. “There’s a dirt road across from a lodge. Follow it through the meadow until you find a tree. It was small when we were there last, it should be a little bigger now.” We’ll have to walk it.dirtroad_0368

It’s starting to get cold and the wind is reminding us we are on top of a mountain. After a couple hundred yards a tree appears in the distance. That’s got to be it! I walk up to the tree, wearing my grandfather’s hat that I had taken from his house the day before. An evergreen, how symbolic. The mountain sits quietly, waiting for spring to be reborn. In the middle of all this, a tree that holds on to the color of life even in the coldest of times. I place my hand on the trunk and look up at the branches just above my head. As they rattle in the wind I reflect on the belief my uncle passed along to me year’s ago- God speaks through the wind.

mic myers evergreen


I close my eyes and speak to both of my grandparents for the first time in 19 years.

The Miracle- Sunday, January 20th 2013

When you ask for a miracle, don’t expect it to happen on your terms. 

mikejia_0409 I’m sitting in the middle of a field, 3,000 feet above sea level, at a stop on the skyline drive called Naked Creek Overlook. It’s cold and the wind bites my skin through both jackets. I hold Lisa a little tighter. It’s 5:20 and the sun is beginning to fall behind the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, casting a shadow on the Shenandoah Valley beneath us. I can’t find a single cloud.

As the bottom half of the sun begins to slip behind the horizon the world becomes visible again. A gradient of colors hijacks the sky. As the sun begins to disappear a thought floats across my mind- I wish it wouldn’t go away. My lack of control makes me feel vulnerable; It makes me sad. I lay back and find the moon, take a deep breath and the thought drifts away.

nakedcreeksunset1_0389

I sit up and watch the sun fall behind the mountain that dares to stand in its way. The light is gone but the colors dance. The bright yellow that hugs the horizon is the first to give a bow. Then the reds slowly slip away, followed by the hazy green. We’re standing now; spinning in circles and watching the trees turn blue. The moon draws its curtain as the sun’s falls to the floor. There is no end. I say goodbye to my grandfather with a smile on my face.

This is the miracle I prayed for.

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When you get the call, drop everything and go.

When it happens, fight.

When it hurts, cry.

When life stands in the shadow of death, look to nature.

When you ask for a miracle, don’t expect it to happen on your terms.

That was the last lesson my grandfather taught me before he turned the corner. I hope to enjoy the road as much as he did.

All of the good photos in this blog were taken by Lisa Luo. See more photos from her www.jiaimagery.com/

 4 Responses 

  1. Erin

    “I sit there shivering in the shadow of sadness, drowning in pain and fear, desperately searching for solitude.” – I have been in that place, and still visit it often, and couldn’t find the words to describe it….thanks mike. prayers for you.

  2. Chris

    That was very poignant Mike.

  3. You write so beautifully. I think it’s time to start to begin that book of yours.

    • whoops i meant – i think it’s time to begin that book of yours. haha gotta love typos!

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