In loving memory of Sidney Browne (August 4,1921- November 5, 2018)
My grandad passed away on Monday, November 5th.
He was 97.
He lived a long and amazing life
It happened quickly
A few minutes after a nurse said we had
Maybe 3 or 4 more days
One moment he was here.
The next he was gone.
He slipped away when my grandma went out for coffee
My mom thinks he did that on purpose
He knew he needed to go but
he could not leave if she were there
Couldn’t give up with her in the room
They’d been companions for so long
Married for over 75 years.
Can you imagine?
To know someone for so long
To choose the often rocky road of love and
Over and over
Another human being
Through so many changes
So many times
So many places
So many versions of themselves?
It’s beautiful and mysterious to me.
I’ve often thought about how much my grandparent’s have lived through
The living history they represent
The loss of experience their passing will bring
I’m not ready for it
Are we ever ready for it?
They courted during the Blitz on London
Both working in the Telephone Exchange
Her as a switchboard operator
Him as a technician
Chaperones prohibiting communication
Between men and women
He gathered his courage
To patch into her switchboard
My grandad finished his memoirs in late July
“From Small beginnings”
It’s the small things I remember.
When I was a child I’d spend my weekends with my grandparents
Were culinary delights
Red and white takeout containers and
paper bags on the kitchen table
Peking duck, plum sauce, and thin pancakes
The drip and crunch of fat
The melting tang of sweet and smoky
Beef burgers and
melted cheese and
French fries dissolving
Sunday mornings I’d crawl into their bed
Grandad would make tea.
We’d sit in our pajamas with china cups and saucers
Milano cookies precariously perched on the rims
Cookie crumbs and
milk on the sheets.
Grandad would cook Sunday breakfast
The only meal he ever made
Fried tomatoes and
Grandma would cook
Reunited with my parents
The ping pong table in the garage of their house in VA
Silbo - best dog ever
A massive globe in the study
Sculptures and knick-knacks from all corners of the earth
Kimono silk and
Chiming clocks and
So many books.
The way he’d sit at the head of the table
Toasts at holiday meals
Wine glasses clinking
Ruby reds and sparkling whites
Cardigans and golf shirts
gnarled fingers interlaced
beneath his chin or
Resting on his stomach
Often awkward silence
Unable to bridge the gaps
In the spaces between
Buried in the back of his study closet
Accidentally discovered while retrieving wine bottles.
Realizing at 15 I’d never asked him what he used to do.
Wondering why he’d hide accolades and awards
Like skeletons and broken expectations
They are on display again now
Out in the open
Years of persisting
Despite all odds
Keep calm and
Bionic man with
The world got small again
Measured in pain and perseverance
Conversations about daily existence
Small things that loom large.
For someone who specialized in the technical aspects of communication
He was not a good communicator
Not a listener
Of/To the feel of things
Of/To time and place
Of/To the needs of others
Of/To small things
The empty spaces behind and between words.
Small things that loom large
Until the end
He knew how to say
“I love you”
And he did
I’m so grateful for your
I love you’s
I love you’s
I love you.
A week before my grandad died, I was at the opening ceremony for the “Reimagine End of Life” Festival here in New York. One of the standout speakers was Frank Ostaseski - a pioneer in end of life care who founded the Zen Hospice Project and the Metta Institute. All of his speech was amazing but the thing that stuck out the most was what he said about what people care about at the end of their lives. Can you guess what matters most?
The two questions people ask are:
“Did I love well?”
“Was I loved?”
You are loved.
Small things remain
Small things persist
Small things are