Sunday, February 26, 2012

Losses and Celebrations

Despite it only having been thirteen days since my last post, a lot has happened.

I did not mention in my last blog what my plans were for Karneval, which was last weekend. I had already received word some time ago that my friend Katie, another dancer from MN, was going to be in Cologne for the weekend of the 18th of February, and I had decided to go up to Cologne and see her. It was only afterward that we both remembered that this would be Karneval, and Cologne is essentially the place to be for Karneval celebrations in Germany. We forged on ahead, and despite some complicated arrangements regarding at whose place I was staying which night (with a friend of my friend, and then a German dancer that lives in Cologne as well), I ended up going up on Sunday, hanging out with Katie and her friend Christina (who is something of a Karneval Grinch), and had a great time. We saw the film The Artist, which I highly recommend; it's an exceptionally charming film, and very well crafted. We were at one point accosted by an Afghani man who wanted to ask me (hearing that I was American) why America was still in Afghanistan, and what we were doing there. He was not aggressive precisely, but very insistent, and as such the whole encounter was a little disconcerting; you never know in what direction such a discussion will go, under the circumstances. But he parted with us in a fairly friendly manner, so it was no problem.

We saw a couple parades while we were there, and although the parades themselves were nothing spectacular (the usual fare of bands of varying levels of skill, people in costume throwing candy, and various sponsors and organizations with floats), it was the spectators that really made the experience. Almost everyone I saw was dressed up in some way, costumes ranging from just a headband or hat to elaborate and fantastical. I loved the rampant silliness in the crowd. I had no costume, but after switching hosts to my friend Sanni, we improvised one with the supplies she had, and we went out to a Karneval party, which was also pretty fun.

Of course, the first part of the title tells you all that there's more to it, and there is. I also received the news on Sunday night that my grandfather had passed away. While surprising in its timing, of course, the actual idea of his passing did not come as too much of a shock, since his health had been deteriorating for a long time. He had suffered a number of strokes about seven years ago, and had been slowly sliding downhill ever since.

The loss of a family member under such circumstances is a bizarre thing. I am saddened by his death, and I will miss seeing him, yet in many ways the man I knew as my grandpa has been gone for years, and he had not recognized me or known who I was for probably three years. How to feel, under those circumstances? In many ways, I don't think that his loss will hit me until I am home and amongst my family members again. Being alone over here creates a real sense of distance, both physical and psychological, from the grieving process. I could not attend his visitation, or funeral, though I will certainly visit his grave when I return. And although his death saddened me, I was surrounded by an environment which he would have loved: the silliness and fun of Karneval. My grandfather had always loved to dress up, and to play tricks on other people, and I felt it was fitting that I was wearing his jacket during the weekend. He especially would have liked a camera I saw which squirted water into the face of the person who was trying to take a picture. I enjoyed myself during Karneval, in part despite my grandfather's death, and in part in honor of my grandfather's life.

The circumstances of his passing brings up an interesting question, however, on saying goodbye. I have not been able to attend the funeral of either of my grandfathers, as my Grandpa Heasty passed away while I was in college, just before finals, and since I had already taken almost a full week off school to see him before he died, I needed to be back at St. Olaf in order to make sure I was keeping somewhat abreast of my school work, little as I wanted to at that time. And yet, with my Grandpa Heasty, who passed away a little less than two years ago, I was able to speak with him one last time before he slipped into a coma in his last days. In that way I was able to say goodbye to him before he died, and I was also present at his burial.

With my Grandpa Hathway, it's such a different set of circumstances. As I said, in many ways, my grandpa had already been gone, for me, for a number of years before his body finally gave way. But there was no moment in which there was a sense of him being about to go, or a moment in which I had the foreknowledge of what was to come. He just gradually slipped away, being less and less present each time I saw him. It's such a strange and tragic way to lose someone; the gradual loss of all the things that make that person who they are. But even that knowledge is tainted with the evidence that some part of them still remains, even till the end.

Grandpa Hathway, who was always a tinkerer at heart, and was very mechanically minded, and when he was in the first nursing home he stayed in (which he was not happy in, as no one there knew ASL, and therefore he couldn't speak with anyone; we eventually managed to find a home where all the staff were required to know ASL, and he was significantly happier there) he escaped relatively frequently; he would watch the nurses and caretakers when they unlocked doors, and remember the number codes, or one time picked up a caretaker's keys, examining them one by one, and later taking the same keys, having already figured out which key worked for which doors.

It's a very strange feeling, and one I'm not sure I wholly understand. Funerals and visitations are a necessity for most of us; it's a time and a place to share in our grief, to say goodbye, to gain some closure in the loss of someone close to you. Yet when we have all been mourning the loss of my grandfather a little bit each day, his death is more of a time for us to express that grief publicly, and to allow others to share in it. However, in true Hathway spirit, we also celebrate one of the most remembered and missed aspects of my grandfather's life: his humor. My grandfather was a trickster, and I feel secure in the knowledge that more than a few angels will be wondering where they misplaced their harps, or when their robes were dyed pink.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa Jack.


  1. Thanks for sharing some of this. I never got to know your Grandpa Hathway very well, but it sounds like you all get some of your best qualities from hime. Praying that he rests in peace also. *hugs*

  2. I appreciate this post a lot. This line struck me: "I enjoyed myself during Karneval, in part despite my grandfather's death, and in part in honor of my grandfather's life." ...And then the rest of the post just kept hitting me. A beautiful tribute and a fitting way to mourn and honor, considering your odd circumstances. All the best throughout your experience of your grandfather's death, and your travels in general.

  3. Well done Ian, we will be placing a bench at Wisconsin School for the Deaf. I will wait until you can help me with installing it. Dad