Sunday, January 3, 2016

How many heartbeats?

Last Tuesday one man's heart stopped beating.  It had been beating for 90 years, after all.  It had started beating between the two world wars.  Its heartbeat no doubt accelerated while he lived during WWII as a young teen.  It fluttered when he met his wife, had his child, saw his grandchild and great grand child.  It beat all those years, without fail.  While he slept, while he worked in his garden, to the very end.  But 90 years is a long time for a muscle to stay so strong.  And it had to stop one day.

If you live to be 80 your heart will beat over 3 billion times.  That's a number we can't even fathom. Add a few more million if you live to 90.  Maybe the number doesn't even matter.  It's what we did during all those heartbeats, all those milliseconds that piled into minutes, hours, days, years.

In this man's case, my husband's grandfather, he led a full life.  He worked till his late 50s, retired, travelled Europe, then puttered in his house and garden.  It was a good and long life.  Much longer than some can ever dream of.  An exceptionally long life for a man, too.  Despite all that, it's still hard to say goodbye.  He might not have been my granddad, but in the last 13 years living in France, he became my surrogate one.  I lost my own grandfathers when I was a teenager.  I lost my paternal grandma in 2004 and my maternal one two years ago.

You could say I adopted Dédé, as we called him.  And he would call me, "ma fille", an affectionate term.  When I first arrived in France I couldn't understand all his jokes or his local dialect.  When my French got better I started to realize some of his jokes were frankly a bit off-color, so I pretended not to understand them!  And in the last few years his speech had become very slurred, so communication was tough again.

But even in the end when it seemed more like air coming out of his mouth than sound, or when he would nod off in the middle of our already broken conversation, I could see some glimmers.  He still recognized us and I noticed his eyes lit up especially when Juliette was there.  He would reach out his hand speckled with age spots to touch her or try to tickle her.  His laughs were heartier when she was around.  For her it was harder to see her great grandfather as such with his haggard face and crusty eyes.  I told her Dédé wouldn't be around forever and he was happy to see her.  Both were true.

So Dédé breathed his last breath, and his heart beat its last beat.  But along with my already departed grandparents, he's in that better place.  Another pair of eyes up there to watch over our family.  And as it always is after a death in the family, I'm more determined to make the most out of my heartbeats.


Lindle said...

Beautiful words. He was a very special man, and I am glad to have met him myself and seen those twinkly blue eyes as he cracked his jokes and held up his glass of flavored wine in a toast to our good health and fortune, surrounded by his mementos of his travels and his carpentry--the dark, rich wood of his beautifully carved tables and hutches in that little crowded dining room. And I'm glad that you and Juliette added some heartbeats into his life and made him happier after the loss of his dear wife.
Sweet Dede.

I Say Oui said...

Sorry to hear about your husband's grandfather. That's so nice that your daughter spent time with him00 I think it's rather rare to be able to know one's great-grandparent.