Sunday, February 27, 2011

Funerals, Births and Earthquakes

I remember where I was, just 10 years ago Monday.  I had just left my Grandmother's funeral, which took place just a few days before her 91st birthday.  She was the kindest person I have ever known, accepted life's ups and downs with the quiet confidence, compassion and understanding of the rhythms of life and death.  She was pretty healthy until about two weeks before she died.  She lived in her own home until her last day, and had accepted the subtle losses of capabilities that came with advanced years with grace and common sense that is often overwhelmed in people as we age by the frustration and pride that makes us deny even to ourselves that we are not quite up to doing some of the things we used to do. 

It was an emotional day - my brother and I led the memorial service - and it was amazing to me that although I was very sad, and felt a keen sense of loss, I also felt a profound sense of gratitude and a feeling of having been uplifted by the hours of reflection I'd done as I thought about her and what I wanted to say about her.  All the things we'd done together, the laughing; all those memories, happy memories of her.  I was surprised to find myself feeling that I had been lucky enough to be a part of that rarest of all things:  a life well lived.  Even at the end of her life, we took care of her in her own bed.  I think it was a comfort to her, and it was a deeply meaningful time for me as well.  She was at peace with what was happening, and told me in the middle of one night "I didn't think it would take so long." 

I have just one regret related to my Grandma.  I wish my kids had been given the chance to know her.  I was also struck by the feeling that as someone central to my life and who I am, was leaving this life just as I waited for someone to enter and become central to my life - my son.  My parents have made my grandparents home their own, and my son and daughter love to go to visit them, the small farm and their uncle (actually great-uncle, who along with my Grandpa shaped so many of my memories and sense of self as a boy).

I had left Pocatello and was in an area of patchy cell coverage near the Utah border with Idaho, driving to Salt Lake to catch a flight home to Seattle.  I heard the news of a big quake, and did what the emergency services people hate: I did my part to clog the phone lines and called my wife, who was then just over 7 months pregnant with our son.  At first it wasn't clear how much damage there was, and I was 650 miles away, having trouble getting my call through.  Finally I did, and learned that both mother and son were fine, and the house was fine, too.

Flights into Seattle were canceled that day, so I didn't get in until the next day.  As I drove along the very empty Alaskan Way Viaduct.  I noticed a bit of misalignment on the railings between sections of roadway, and wondered if the bridge was indeed safe to be driving on.  It's easier to be paranoid when you're the only car in sight on a viaduct that everyone says won't survive a major quake.    I guess it wasn't so safe after all, because the  bridge was under inspection at the time, and the engineers noted it too.  Not long after that it was closed until it could be repaired and retrofitted. 

I was glad, but surprised that there hadn't been more damage, after hearing about areas of liquefaction and the collapse of some masonry structures.  I remember a similar feeling on a more personal level:  though I'd been hundreds of miles away, and could do nothing to help Caty if she needed it, things had turned out okay.  I was so glad that she and the baby were unharmed; but I had such a helpless and anxious feeling that it was not until I was at home that I could relax.

I remember being glad that Seattle (and I) got a wake-up call that seems to have caused a lot of people to be much more aware of what could happen - what will happen in Seattle, but hopefully a more prepared and structurally sound version.

Local News | Dangerous ground: Hard lessons learned since the 2001 Nisqually quake | Seattle Times Newspaper

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Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
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