As we approach the longest night of the year, my thoughts turn towards my Grandad Dempsey Aaron Calhoun who transitioned 5 years ago today. I recently found the email I wrote to loved ones to express the profound impact of his life and death on me, and I share it below along with some pictures of Grandad.
I welcome any D.A. memories others wish to share and send you all warm winter solstice blessings full of gratitude and connection to the bigger web.
december 22, 2007
i send you peace and love on this first day of winter and almost-full moon. after coming through the longest night of the year for our hemisphere, now the sunlight will slowly begin to return as we move towards springtime in this beautiful dance of the seasons (and moon cycles)…birth, growth, death, decay, and rebirth. i’m sitting in grandaddy d.a.’s bedroom, composing this message from his little armchair with a view of the pine forest out the window and his desk nearby where hundreds of hand-written pages lay from his almost-finished novel about love, connection, healing, and desegregation in the south.
one of my biggest pleasures and comforts in life is walking these woods with my family and over the last several days i’ve had two great rambles around pokeberry creek with some of my “boo boo clan”, identifying trees and medicinal plants as well as sites of family events through the years, like the big sycamore stump where grandad taught me to split firewood as an amused cousin sarah and grandma observed my laborious swings from the sidelines (this list could run for many pages).
grandma and grandad have lived on this “homestead” in chatham county all my life and it’s hard to believe grandad d.a. will not be coming back here in his familiar physical form. it’s with sadness, and relief, and awe that i share that our beloved d.a. calhoun passed over into the great mystery on thursday night, december 20th surrounded by his loving family at unc hospital. after 86 years of powerful heart-centered living and three weeks of struggling in intensive care to recover from back-to-back surgery then infection, grandad’s body and spirit decided it was time to transition. the hospital was able to notify our family of grandad’s decline and those who were able, assembled (grandma, aunt bev, uncle john, vanessa and her partner david, dad, susie, and i) to hold sacred space for his journey.
before they took the breathing tube out and increased his pain medication, grandad was very lucid and peaceful. he was able to look everyone deeply in the eyes and really connect and slowly knod his head “yes” as we wished him a peaceful surrender and release. as grandad took over breathing on his own, we shared some of what we love about him while honoring and massaging his physical body (“grandad, i appreciate your feet that walked thousands of miles behind a mule & plow and danced the buck dance on the farm”). for the next 3 hours around his hospital bed, we shared favorite memories, stories, an amateur buck dance by yours truly, laughter, songs, tears and even some wendy’s chili from the fastfood franchise located onsite (yikes!). we named the family members (including animals) who have gone on before grandad and would be waiting to welcome him. we watched as grandad took his last breath (and then, the life-long teaser/joker he was, took one more).
after hugging all the family goodnight, i stayed on to pray and sing and wash grandad’s body alone (nurse johnathon was very supportive of our family’s process and gave us all the privacy we needed). with a warm moist cloth dabbed with essential oils of sage and cedarwood, i asked that any trauma or pain be cleared away as i wiped grandad’s face, head, neck, chest, arms, hands, feet, legs. i sat and meditated with grandad and observed a movement in his energy field much like the gentle unwinding of a dna helix or ribbon. a sense of lightness came over me from the awareness that grandad’s spirit was free. i pinned my “i am loved” button to his hospital gown and slowly removed the last object on our impromptu altar, an angel from the forer family, before hugging the nurses and leaving the i.c.u. where i’ve spent so much time recently.
i feel incredibly blessed to have shared so deeply in my grandaddy’s life and death! i can’t even begin to tell how grandad has impacted my life and that of thousands of people: on the family farm in rocky mount, as a progressive preacher at mount gilead baptist church in north chatham, as director of a program that found jobs for folks with low-incomes in pittsboro, high school teacher in siler city, compliance specialist investigating discrimination in durham, and more recently as un-official greeter and storyteller on the benches of southpoint mall (an incomplete list by far).
grandad’s wishes were to be cremated and we’ll be organizing a memorial celebration (to which you will be most welcome) to take place out-of-doors in the springtime. right now, just the immediate family is gathering for continued storytelling, roasting marshmallows in the wood stove, sipping herbal mead, painting each others toe nails, woods walking, and naps at the homestead. thank you dearly for following this journey with us and sending such love these last 3 weeks.
one big love~