Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dreams | Bucket list: A gift to Grandpa

This post will be a little more personal... And I'm skipping to present day, for a moment. 2014 has been an interesting year to say the least. I haven't been doing many of things I enjoy this year, for various reasons. This year has felt like a constant struggle. It has been a difficult in many ways, yet I think there have been some huge changes with my insides. While I've felt like a sinking ship, I can tell other parts are growing in strength. I'm learning, I'm  letting go, and I'm filling my life with meaning (with what means something to me).

There is one amazing part to this year that despite the reasons behind it, I am incredibly grateful for: I have been able to spend more time than ever with my grandparents. I've been fairly close to them my whole life, as they attended every art show, sporting event, birthday party, etc. And they babysat me for my throughout my childhood. But this year was different, our relationship grew deeper. I spent a few nights at their house when I needed a place to stay, they welcomed me with open arms. One night, when Grandma was headed to bed, I gave her a hug and told her thank you. She replied "Thank YOU!" I asked her what she meant by that, as I'm not really doing anything for her, they're helping ME out. She told me "Thank you for being you" and let me know how she enjoyed my company. I had not fallen asleep feeling so at peace in quite some time.

Grandpa had a few health issues over the course of this year that landed him in the hospital. I offered to stay with Grandma, to help out with anything she may need and to just be there. Grandma and I really enjoyed spending the extra time together. We had deeper conversations than I've had with most people, she was always really good at reminding me of some valuable life lessons too.

Grandma teaching me some new techniques
It was such an cool experience to be able to witness my grandparents in a way no one else probably has (at this point in their lives). I got to watch as they helped one another, they each had their routines yet they also had joint routines that just worked, few/no words were needed. I loved catching a glimpse of Grandma peacefully reading, all tucked into bed, or waking up to Grandpa reading the paper-he'd always pause to say "Good morning" to me and ask how I slept. I talked with them about their travels, and about mine. They did not judge- even if they didn't fully understand my unusual lifestyle, they were great listeners, and they were kind. It was soothing to be there with them, things were calm and quiet. And they had a pretty good understanding about what matters in life vs what we shouldn't waste our time on. Just being there helped remind me and made it easy for me to get back to what's important.

Grandpa "trying on" pieces of the
blanket, the closest thing to a sweater
I could do...
While I was spending more time with my grandparents, I used it as an opportunity to do a few fun projects involving them...

In college, I learned how to knit for a class. Grandma helped me grasp the techniques that were a bit tricky for a lefty trying to learn from all right-handers. I did a few projects outside of school, but eventually stopped. A few years passed, and I decided to give it a go again. I had an idea for a gift for my cousin-we exchange gifts every Christmas. I thought it would be fun to make some sort of blanket. Grandma had also been on a knitting break, but was up for reteaching me the basics, and even joined in on the project. I quickly realized I bit off far more than I could chew-who thinks they can relearn how to knit and then make an afghan in just over a month?! I ended up enlisting the help of other family members and a friend (the pattern made it easy for multiple people to participate). The gift was incredibly late, but turned out great and came with a booklet of photographs of the entire process (everyone involved). We were all a part of making something cool, and Grandma and I were back into knitting. ( The image above and the image to the right are two from that project)

Now, to take it to the next level... I had only done square/rectangular things thus far, and only knitting (no purling or any fancy techniques). So Grandma helped me create some mukluks (slippers). Holy smokes! It took a lot more concentration, but I loved every part of this.

I was tired of babysteps...I had another project in mind... one that I've been wanting to do for a long time...but I was definitely going to need Grandma's help on this one... The only problem was Grandma was quite busy making baby afghans for family members. I decided to wait.

It wasn't long before Grandpa ended up in the hospital again. Suddenly the decision was made to put Grandma and Grandpa into assisted living--something they've never really wanted. My Grandpa along with my Grandma's father built their house, and they've lived there for nearly 70 years. It is more of a home to me than anywhere. So much about this process was unpleasant and difficult, and I suddenly was not able to spend nearly as much time with my Grandparents. I missed being able to spend time with them like I had been... and now I wasn't ever sure I'd be able to continue these projects.

Not long after being in the assisted living center, Grandpa's health started to show some signs of decline. I decided I needed to start this project now, on my own, or I may never have the chance...
I had already begun!

This project was for my Grandpa, a man who always had a sense of humor. He'd like to poke at ya, to get a reaction. Eventually you'd know when it was coming just by the smirk on his face. An example of this: ever since I started knitting, he'd ask me "So how's my sweater comin'?" Followed by his signature chuckle. Grandma and I would both laugh, I could barely knit a potholder! But it secretly became a bucket list item, to make him a sweater one day. I was so intimidated and felt there had to be this progression, there were skills I needed to develop before I can accomplish such a project. It felt so far away. Well now my time was up, I either had to jump in and give it a go, or simply let that bucket list item go. I couldn't let it go. Something inside me just pushed forward, making up my mind that no matter what, this was going to happen. I knew the color I wanted, I gathered up every shade in my collection and additional colors in case I wanted to switch it up-I generally use thrift store yarn, and rarely do you ever find enough of the same color to do an entire project.

I asked around, to friends who were also knitters, trying to feel out if I'd be able to get any help since Grandma's plate was pretty full at the moment. I didn't even know where to begin! I had no clue how to read a pattern, or tell the difficulty level. A friend was kind enough to send me a pattern that she thought may be doable, but she was more into crocheting. I took the pattern and ran with it.

I knitted with every free moment I had. My arms burned. My fingers ached and were starting to look permanently curled. I was determined.

Then Grandpa ended up back in the hospital... and this time, there was a good chance he would not be leaving...

I barely slept.

Knitting with Grandma
I had to enlist the help of my Grandma for the complicated parts that I just couldn't figure out (I swear knitting patterns are in Chinese!). When I first told her about the project, and revealed to her what I had completed already, she was blown away. She'd show it off to anyone who stopped by while I was there, proudly saying "Isn't it a beautiful pattern? She's really come a long way!" Various people would make comments, thinking I was crazy or that this project is pointless considering the situation. I'm not sure anything could get me "out of the zone" though... And this was something between me, Grandma, and Grandpa.

It wasn't long before Grandpa was no longer able to speak, his eyes now remained closed.

When I first started this project, I had it all planned out... I would complete the sweater (with Grandma's help) and set up a day with Grandma and Grandpa to visit, bringing the secret sweater, wrapped. I'd make sure someone was photographing/videoing the whole process, because I guarantee Grandpa would have gotten a kick out of this and that would be a reaction I'd want to be able to remember. I could almost hear his chuckle... But now it was too late... I wasn't going to be able to hear that chuckle again...

I visited him every day. The family took shifts staying with him, to make sure he remained comfortable. I brought the sweater to work on during my shift-I barely put the thing down through the whole process, but during my 4+ hour shift of just sitting in the hospital with him, all I wanted to do was hold his hand. So I pulled the recliner along side his bed, lied down, and did just that...

I didn't get the chance to show him the sweater while he was awake, but I did lay what I had done over his chest, and ran his hand along it, telling him what I was making, telling him the colors. He always looked good in blue.

Late night sweater work
I was supposed to leave town that week with Andrew Kufahl for a photo/art related adventure, but decided to do an abridged version of the trip. However, when it came to the day Andrew and I were supposed to leave, I felt some unexplainable panicky feelings. I couldn't think anymore, I couldn't function, I couldn't go. The only things I could do were knit, visit Grandpa, and visit/help Grandma (we brought her to the hospital nearly every day to visit Grandpa, letting her stay as long as she wished). Outside of that, nothing else mattered. I had been looking forward to this trip, a painting of mine was accepted into a show in Michigan, I was excited to meet up with a couple photographers, Andrew and I were finally going to be able to work together again, but I just couldn't do it. I barely slept that night, I just kept knitting. In the morning, early early, I woke up and debated on at least trying to make it to the art opening that night... but still, I just couldn't... not long after, I got the phone call. It was my aunt, unsure if Grandpa was still breathing or not. I flew out of bed and scrambled to throw something on and run out the door. I was interrupted by a second phone call, just minutes after... Dad called to say he was officially gone. I raced to the hospital.

The fact that he was 92 does not comfort me. I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful Grandpa, but I wanted him forever... so no matter how I look at it, it just hurts. And I miss him. He was a huge part of my life, and has left a massive hole in my heart.

Knitting has brought on some really peaceful moments. Max, 
who is in need of a home, was pacing a bit one day when I 
visited him at a kennel he's being temporarily housed at. 
I started knitting, and he laid down nearby...  I only had feet 
available,but started petting him anyway... he became right at 
home, snoozing for over 45 minutes! 
The sweater was nearly finished, but it still felt like so long to go. I asked Grandma for permission to  place the sweater in the casket with Grandpa, if I was able to complete it in time. She loved the idea.

I'm not sure how it is possible to get even less sleep than I was getting, but I gave up just about everything to continue this project. I was told that even if I don't finish, I can still give it to Grandpa. That wasn't an option. My dream was to make a sweater for Grandpa, a man who did so much for me, for everyone in the family and who I was never sure how to thank enough. I wanted to give him something special. I HAD to finish this.

That week was ridiculous. I can't even explain it all. But the day after my Grandpa died, my car died. And then a day or two later, my backup vehicle died (mom's). I was going to be bringing my Grandma to the funeral, but the way it was looking, we'd be walking! Thankfully, my aunt (on the other side of the family) was kind enough to let me borrow her vehicle. She also told me how to attach the sleeves of the sweater. ;)

I asked Grandma if she'd like to cut out a heart from a piece of her own clothing to sew onto the sweater. Despite her eyes being bad, she did it. (The next morning, she redid it because she felt she had done a poor job :) )

I didn't sleep at all the night before the funeral. The skin on my hands had been progressively cracking, my hands were a wreck. My body wanted to shut down on me. I think I laid down for less than an hour, and then was up and getting ready for the funeral... wondering when I was going to fit in the last part of the sweater...

I had to do the neck yet-still completely clueless as to how to do this.  I continued knitting in the back of the church during the family portion of the service. The neck was not well done by any means. I screwed it up. I'm not sure a head can even fit through there! I'm disappointed in that. However, I finished it and Grandma and I placed it into the casket together.

I dragged my feet on ever starting this project. There were a million excuses, some were totally valid reasons for pushing it off, some were just my messed up perception. When it came down to it, the love and passion I poured into that thing for my wonderful Grandpa made it happen. It didn't matter I didn't know how to read a pattern, or increase/decrease stitches. It didn't matter I've only ever made squares or slippers. It didn't matter I was still trying to get the hang of purling down. It didn't matter how badly my body hated me for pushing it so hard. It didn't matter I screwed up a lot (the second half was a nightmare!). It didn't matter I was sad, that I was tired, that I was stressed, or what outside people did/said. It didn't matter that there wasn't enough time. I wish I would have let all of those things not matter sooner, so I could have given the sweater to Grandpa when he was well. There is no changing that. I am so incredibly thankful for completing it in time to give to him at all.

As silly as this project may have seemed to some, it was loaded with meaning for me. It pushed me well out of my comfort zone, I was able to create something I never thought I could yet always wanted to, I was able to finally give Grandpa something special (that was a thing between us), and this project reminded me that with love and passion, you can do some insane things! It was also a great reminder to NOT drag my feet... and if for whatever reason I still drag my feet, every moment is a new opportunity to change that.

Thank you Grandpa, for all the love, laughs, and inspiration.