Monday, April 18, 2011

Goodbye, Grampa

For the first time since arriving in Bhutan, I wish I was in Nova Scotia. Today I received word that my grandfather Adrian Bates has died. It happened on the 16th but because I accidentally left my laptop’s power adaptor at school over the weekend, I found out just a few hours ago. It was the end of my lunch break and the clock was telling me to head back to school and review three-digit multiplication. I split in half. Part of me went up the road to fulfill my responsibilities. Part of me went a hemisphere and two days away to process the news. Grampa is gone.

Grampa. When I was a child, I knew only a few things about him. He played cards. He called me Tweety Bird. He was proud to be Irish and loved St. Patrick’s Day. He was proud to be a veteran and loved Remembrance Day. I got to know him a bit better in grade twelve when I finally talked to him about the war. He liked to tell the happy stories: meeting the princess, driving the British Prime Minister, catching a spy, giving presents to the children at the Liberation of Holland. He left the horrible rest of it to far-off looks.

When I grew up, I began to see his secret strength. He had a love for his family that allowed him to do impossible things. He was an alcoholic before I was born but the story goes that one day, without any word, he gave it up cold turkey. He was a smoker when I was little but he gave up tobacco in just the same way. If he had not had that strength and love, we would have lost him years ago. Instead, he was there for my wedding. In Matthew’s suit.

Grampa was Catholic and most of his family will take comfort in the knowledge that he’s in Heaven with Jesus. In Bhutan, of course, I hear a lot more about reincarnation than Heaven. Every time I do, I think of a Cape Breton song that Grampa had sung to him by many of his grandchildren before their voices changed and they could no longer hit a high F: “When the light goes dark with the forces of creation /Across a stormy sky / We look to reincarnation to explain our lives / As if a child could tell us why / That as sure as the sunrise / As sure as the sea / As sure as the wind in the trees / We rise again in the faces of our children…”

It is stormy here now. The power is out and my computer screen is the only searing brightness in a world that is darker without Grampa. But I don’t need to look any farther than my own face to see his features reincarnated. I am one of over seventy descendants who owe their existence to Grampa’s love for Gramma. We all bear something of his likeness in our smile. If we all have a bit of his character, too, a bit of his strength, a bit of his self-sacrifice, a bit of his gentleness, a bit of his diligence, a bit of his love, then I think the world really isn’t that dark.

In Bhutan, the passing of loved ones is marked every seven days for forty-nine days. I’m going to do that for Grampa. I just wish I could do more for Mom and Grandma. Those of you who are closer, please give them a hug from me.


  1. Thank you for sharing your sorrow with ours. You know we are together in spirit. All our love. Mom , Dad and everyone

  2. Dont worry, They will get a big hug from me for you Kendra, thinking of you and as you know Grampa has been with us wherever we are, living or past and that will never change....forever in our hearts now, and until we meet again on heavens highest hill he will continue to be with us.....luv ya cuz/sis

  3. Beautiful tribute, Kendra.

    Great big e-hug-

  4. a beautiful tribrute, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your familly.
    Love Mom B.

  5. Very sweet, Kendra. "We Rise Again" is one of my favorite tunes. Hope you are managing well.

  6. A very touching tribute, Kendra. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your grampa. It must be hard to be away from family at such a time of loss but I know you will look to the beauty of the land and people around you and take strength from that.

  7. Your words dedicated to your Grandpa painted a lovely picture Kendra. He had a full life indeed and I'm sure it was made all the sweeter with your presence in it. I'm sorry for your loss and hope that you find solace in the love of your family and friends and in the enchantment of everyday activities. Hugs from Wamrong