Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Adeus, avô

This past Sunday, February 12, 2006, my grandfather, Antonio, passed away. He's the first grandparent I've lost to death. While I am loathe to depict him as more loved than the other parents of my parents, he arguably has had the biggest effect on my outlook on life. My Omi in Switzerland taught me many things: don't put more food on your plate than you'll eat, wash the dishes when you're done, recycle, save when you can, and walk whenever possible. Opa is a little more distant, less hands-on. Avó Maria taught me things as well, but her way of looking at the world never really was echoed by my own heart.

While I don't speak that much Portuguese, I understand enough to know that as long as I've known him Avô Antonio never had a hateful or spiteful thing to say. Some of his notions regarding the unknowability of history (because, hey, were you there to see it? How do you know it really happened?) I found amusing. He gave a lot of time to contemplation; He had that understanding and empathy that so many people don't have, that allows you to see past the immediacy of situations and recognize life as a brief, fleeting opportunity to take care of one another.

Growing up, I always assumed that he had always been this way. When i was a toddler, he was a Giant to me. A Giant who always gave me a smile and a reassuring pat on the head or shoulders. A man stronger than any other i knew, and also gentler. He seemed to live utterly without fear. As I got older and started out on career paths that demanded long hours, and little time for family, he advised me to work to live, not live to work. I am told by family that the one time in my life i had been spanked, it was by his hand. Just a single swat from him was all it took for me to start behaving: not only on that day, but in perpetuity. Even in my young mind, I recognized that he wouldn't have struck me unless I had really done something wrong.

I discovered only much, much later in life that he hadn't always been this benevolent, kindhearted man. Stories i have heard of his youth are completely foreign to my conception of him. They are stories of an angry, even violent, man. Hearing these stories made me feel bad for my grandmother, my father, and his siblings. The more I thought about it, though, the more I appreciated the enormous change my grandfather made. He became someone completely different, in part because i think circumstances in his life forced him to reasses how he lived and behaved, the kind of example he set for the people around him.

He had devoted his life to caring for his daughter Alita, who is developmentally disabled and requires constant care. I think that drive is what kept his heart beating as long as it has, and I think in large part contributed to the dramatic changes he made in his outlook and treatment of others. His only concern in the last few years was taking care of her, and making sure that she would continue to be looked after when he died.

By accounts, he died in his sleep. He sat down in a comfy chair, dozed off, and for whatever reason, decided to stay asleep. When i first heard the news, it was described to me as "collapsing" followed by attempted resuscitation by the EMTs. I had, in my mind, imagined him walking down the hall and falling down... followed up by having current applied across his chest to try and get his heart to beat again. Not the peaceful end I had always imagined for him, but a frightening, painful struggle against the approaching end. It kept me up Sunday night, imagining my fearless, kind, strong grandfather scared and hurt at the end. To hear that he passed with a slight smile on his face put me at ease, and gives me some solace when i contemplate his absence in my life.

I will likely write more over the next couple of days as more thoughts come to me in my sobbing fits. I will talk about his numerous professions, his optimism, the effect aging had on his ability to be physically active. About his family and how much we'll all miss him.

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