When things aren’t looking up

Needless to say, it was hard leaving Idaho this past Saturday. It’s always hard leaving close family after a good week of visiting and catching up, but this time it was a little different – this time it was as if time was truly running out, that every conversation could be the last.

My grandfather, as I have written before, was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months ago. At first things were looking optimistic, but in past weeks he has been hit with a few barriers – pneumonia, nausea, and non-recovery from chemotherapy – that have slowed him down in a way I’ve never seen my grandfather slowed.

Our vacation was planned far before we knew of any disease, but it took on a sudden importance as we learned more and more about how he was doing and how he was expected to fare. There were times that I felt like I was taking a pilgrimage, a last look at the mountain that our family had rallied around and built itself on top of. Most of the time, however, I just enjoyed the company. I hung out with my grandparents and acted as if nothing was wrong, even though it was obvious that something was.

I talked to my grandparents as adults for the first time, face to face, without any other family bridging the gap. I no longer felt like I was a kid coming to stay with Grandma and Grandpa, but as a peer, as someone who understood life (or what little I’ve seen) and could stride side by side with those who had already lived most of theirs. We talked about my grandfather’s condition and his future, but more importantly we talked about their history and, ultimately, my history.

I learned a lot this past week about my personal history, about Jackson, Wyoming and the valley it resides in. My roots grow very deep in Jackson’s Hole, from Elijah Wilson to my grandpa Don Boyer. I’m as much a part of that valley by association as any of the rich yuppies who live there now, I feel, and I enjoy having that chip on my shoulder. I’m proud of my grandparents, and I couldn’t imagine them being any stronger than they already are. They’ve been through a lot in life, and they deserve all the respect in the world.

I’ve really spent a lot of time thinking this past week – about mortality, about family, and about losing someone who I’ve looked up to all of my life. I thought about how my grandfather must feel when he is in such a weak state; a strong man who was always a go-getter being forced to accept his condition and the help that surrounds him. I wondered what my legacy would consist of when I’m his age and how it would compare to his. I kept thinking about what life would be life for my grandmother when he was gone. Mostly, though, I just thought about how much I would miss him – about how much we all would miss him.

So, needless to say, it was hard leaving. I tried to put a strong face on, but it only lasted until we were on the Teton Pass. I couldn’t hold it in at that point.

When the subject comes up, I really don’t have much to say, anymore. I think it’s more of a defensive stance, but I’m content with keeping it out of my mind. The stance doesn’t work that often, though, and I think about how my grandfather is doing all the time. I miss him already, and he’s still with us. I can’t imagine how it will be when he passes on.

I got news today that his chemotherapy isn’t working, and they’re going to start throwing things at the cancer to see what sticks. I couldn’t help but think of the last time I saw him, waving to me from the house, his face trying to keep the same defensive stance I had perfected for a short time. I couldn’t help but think of how proud I am of him, of the life he’s lived and the battle he’s fought recently against his disease, and hope that he’s just as proud of me, regardless of the path I’ve taken to get where I am.

Knowing what I know now about how much my grandfather was a part of my life, both in raising me every summer and giving me a role model to look up to, regardless of how far away he may have been, I couldn’t help but miss him a little more.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 9th, 2005