Eliot Kingman Buckingham. December 7, 1924 – August 22, 2012.
The Catholic Church has a patron saint for good deaths, and it puzzled me for a long time – how can death be considered good? Even with my own fascination with all things morbid, seriously, how does death ever rise past “mediocre?” And now, I understand.
My grandfather had a good death. He died at home, peacefully, early in the morning with his wife and a hospice nurse with him. He was comfortable and loved and not alone. We should all be so lucky. Unfortunately, he did suffer from cancer (lung & colon) first – but his pain was managed and he was as well cared for as possible. I know without a shadow of a doubt that he was ready and at peace. A good death for a man who, while complicated, did his best to live a good life.
My grandparents (I call them Nana & Denna) have always been a huge part of my life. They were my babysitters when I was a kid and I spent almost as much time in their home as my own. While I’ve always been closer to my Nana, I still loved my Denna immeasurably. He not only read me stories, but he taped himself reading and used the recordings to make some pretty sweet primitive mix tapes. Mind you this was the early 80s, so it was pretty impressive that my grandfather was taking old records of the Vienna Boys’ Choir and some random yodeling and his own story telling and recording them on a series of tapes for his grandkids. We each had our own set of tapes and they were only for use at Nana & Denna’s house. I loved them so much I wanted to take them home and was miffed that I wasn’t allowed, but now I understand. They were his special thing and taking them out of the house would have made them more ordinary.
He was a huge movie fan and also made movie tapes – those ancient 8hr long tapes where you’d have to fast forward for ages to get to the right spot. Would he shell out for four two hour tapes instead? Oh no. Having grown up in the Great Depression, he was nothing if not thrifty.
Everyone who ever met him will remember Denna as a teller of jokes. Specifically bad jokes. Somehow, he had a new one each time. As if he’d saved up an entire lifetime of bad jokes and doled them out slowly like lollipops at a doctor’s office. Nuno and I tried to remember the last joke he told us, but the specifics evade us other than – as usual – he laughed quite a lot and we groaned. He could get away with laughing at his own jokes, he was that kind of joke teller. Perfectly dry in the execution followed by a big laugh. A lot of them were fairly off-color, but I remember a few kid-friendly ones that were recycled a lot in my childhood. Such as every time lamb was served for dinner – “Mary had a little lamb, and then a side of fries.”
From my grandfather I inherited his nose and a love of crossword puzzles.
I’m so very grateful that he got to meet his first great-grandchild and I’ll be able to tell Paulo how he would be running amok in Denna’s living room and Denna would smile as he clawed at the TV and ask him “So, Paulo, are you going to fix the VCR?”
We’ll be saying our formal goodbyes at the service on Wednesday (incidentally – missing my husband’s birthday to go to my grandfather’s funeral) so for now I’ll just put it out there that I hope wherever Denna is, there are some Dick Francis novels, a good bottle of sherry, and a good game of college football. I love you, Denna.