The Art (and Bernie) of Living
The doctor said he died of congestive heart failure. My dad says he died of a broken heart. My grandpa, Art, lived on for six year after my grandma, Margaret, passed away. They had met on a farm, raised a family of three boys in Yellow Springs, Ohio, moved out to Chico after the boys were grown up, and spent their later years gardening, cooking, and watching TV in their matching LA-Z Boy comfy chairs, side by side.
The years following Margaret’s death were absorbed with supporting Art. Mom and Dad bickered over which retirement home to move him into, what to do with all his no-longer-needed belongings, and their opinions on medical treatment. All the while, Art’s vitality vanished. I have more fond memories of my grandfather from when I was six than when I was twelve. When I was six he loved life. We played crazy eights and ping pong. We basked in the glory of our unemployed, frivolous lives. We shucked corn together. By the time I was twelve, we watched TV and ate lunch at the Brommer Manor Dining Hall.
My other grandparents, Bernie and Addy, had quite the opposite lives: born and raised New Yorkers forever and always. Whenever I visited, Bernie always told me, “Tallie, you’re in the greatest city in the world. Embrace it.”
Bernie’s birthday was one day before Art’s of the same year. Bernie referred to Art as “Kid.”
Bernie was an artist. Always doodling on anything he could find: napkins, newspapers, envelopes. Some called it OCD. I say it was genius at work. He was an abstract artist. Books about Picasso lined his shelves wall to wall. Even at age ninety-five, in the last few years of his life, his art only got better.
Though, he too, though, was dying from congestive heart failure, Bernie felt inspired everyday to create beautiful pieces of artwork. He had his wife, his city, and his art—all he needed. When he died, friends and family fought for his paintings.
Art didn’t have what Bernie had. He lived alone in his retirement home, approaching death with a broken heart. His grandkids rarely paid a visit. All he could do was standby while other people consumed themselves with his life instead of his well-being. For years Art wanted to die but couldn’t. Every new medication only bought him doleful time. Through medical advancements, people are able to live decades longer. But most of those who are on the brink of death only keep living for the sake of those around them, rather than themselves.
Bernie and Art lived equally jubilant lives, despite differences. When the bliss of living ended, for both of them, it was time to go.