My grandfather died on a Monday. Four Mondays ago today (and because it was February, it was also the 23rd), in fact. Each weekend since, my mind has inadvertently wandered back to that last Saturday, Sunday, and Monday spent with him. Rather than dates or numbers-of-days bearing much natural significance in my memory, it’s always the day of the week that gets me. What a weird number it is, really–28 days, or 7, or 14–but those intervals are powerfully affecting. My mind would say to me, “Oh, remember that Sunday morning with Grandpa?” And, “Ah, it’s Monday again. Another week passed since Chuck died.”
Up until his very last weekend, he was always concerned to know the time, so when I arrived about 7:30am in the frigid, brightening morning, I warmed up my hands and cradled his head and told him the day and the time and who I was. That Sunday morning was the last time we talked; he was drifting in and out of sleep, still making conversation with me at intervals–knowing I now live far away, he asked, “When did you fly in?” and after my answer, “Yep, yep.” He’d lick and purse his lips, blink a few times at the ceiling, sometimes turn his eyes and head toward me. I’d pray over him, mostly in silence, but sometimes out loud. He’d often insisted–while at home or in the hospital–on repeating the phrases I prayed; when bits of the family gathered around him, he’d lead us in the Lord’s Prayer.
The next Sunday, Grandpa gone for a week, I led worship at my church. During the Prayers of the People, when the names of those recently dead are read, I heard “Charles Thomey” listed for the first time, and I cried. Later, while I prayed the Eucharistic Prayer, we all said the Lord’s Prayer together, and my friend in the congregation could hear the tears in my voice. I feel closer to Grandpa and to those sacred, precious days on the weekends than I do during the week.
Today, our family is a month out from losing our patriarch. Tomorrow, we’ll be three weeks out from burying him. I remember the last Monday; I packed up early–I was flying back south that day–and spent a little time at my favorite coffeeshop in Minneapolis before driving out to the hospice facility in Burnsville. I finished and published this post. Grandma would arrive a little later, after picking out his urn, and Dad was coming after he finished tending to his morning’s patients. Grandpa had changed overnight. We could hear his lungs filling up with fluid, his color was ashen; the nurse told us it wouldn’t be long. About 10:30am, with his kids around, I administered Last Rites in a loud voice, remembering that hearing is the last sense to let go. Two hours later, he breathed his last.
Just as we gather and remember Jesus’ resurrection every Sunday, I treasure and relive the memories of Grandpa’s last days and death each passing weekend. It’s not a coincidence that these events are more real to me on Sundays and Mondays, the seven-day rhythm of our lives forms the way we experience time. Certain dates stick in our minds–July 4th, December 25th, birthdays, anniversaries–but certain days stick in our minds, too. I was once broken up with on a Saturday; for months, I dreaded the weekend. I count the clarity of memory on Mondays as a gift–one I hope to continue experiencing; time somehow feels closer to Grandpa and that special weekend when I revolve around again to that part of the week, more even than the measurably closer Wednesday or Thursday before.
I’m more aware of my wiring as a human living in time and my need for regular memorials since Grandpa’s death. Sundays, even throughout the fasting season of Lent which we’re enduring now, are “little Easters.” This is why Christians get together on Sundays to read Scripture together, to talk about God, and to share the Holy Eucharist–humanity is both frustratingly forgetful and desperately longing for memories.