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Absolutely Heaven

The joy of grandkids, being there for family... and COVID diagnoses after a funeral



The first three months in Bend have been the best time of our lives!

To be honest, I've been known for hyperbolic pronouncements in my day, so let me break it down for you. I've had a great life. A rewarding career that hopefully won't ever end. Loving family and dear friends. Relatively good health. Wise teachers. Many trips down into the Grand Canyon. Rock climbing adventures, too many to count...a great life.

  • Courtesy Burt Gershater

But living on basically the same property as our family here in Central Oregon, with Livi and Lyza, our grandkids, skipping back and forth multiple times a day, takes life to the moon. Wendy and I pinch ourselves, tear up regularly and say, "Is this really happening?" We feel awe nearly every time we look out the window and see their home up the hill.

Since graduating from high school, I have lived between 300 and 2,000 miles away from family. Wendy, the same. Family contact has mostly been by phone my whole adult life, except for the occasional heart-warming, but insufficient visits. Departures are always sad, with tears, long hugs and always planning for our next reunion.

When our own children grew up, they hit the road and found places roughly the same distance away. We lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, and they moved off to Oregon, Idaho and Colorado. Miles-and-miles-away has been the family tradition.

We were all living our dreams just like our grandparents who made their way out of Eastern Europe to America in the early 1900s to escape persecution. Freedom seekers. Pioneers. Adventurers. These are all deeply fulfilling life paths, for sure, but the built-in cost for all this has been family separation.

Not anymore. Finally!

We have been soaking up the delight of our new family-compound life—loving every joyful teardrop. How long can paradise last? How long does any high last? It is a question worth pondering. All of us know, by now, that no feeling, whether soul-soothing or soul-wrenching ,lasts forever. Life is more ephemeral and much more interesting than that.

And then it happened...our perfect, joy-filled Bend life began to slip away.

Jessie's lingering abdominal pain led to an emergency appendectomy. Bless you, health care workers. You are life savers! The surgical procedure went well but post-surgery did not. Lasting fever. Searing pain. Endless nausea. Weakness. Day-after-day-after-day... Anxious children. Pain medicines that caused more toxic side effects than relief.

Heaven came tumbling down to Earth, but still we felt blessed to live close together and help however we could. We provided many dinners. Drove the girls to school. Supervised at the trampoline site. We became the support team even with all the COVID-19 precautions lurking, if not always strictly honored.

Then Granddad, Allen Elston, the Texas cowboy, family patriarch, holy Baptist preacher, fix-anything-genius who ventured to Central Oregon with Grandmother 60 years ago, peacefully passed away at home. He was surrounded by his entire loving family—a truly great man who touched more hearts and souls than could ever be counted. Sadness seeped deeply into our lives. All this, while Jessie was recovering from surgery.

A week later, an outdoor service was held for family members and a few others. It was the most inspiring going-away gathering I have ever attended. Everyone agreed. Relatives and friends told stories, played music and spoke of Granddad's lasting impact. I'm crying now. What an honor to have known you, dear Granddad. Songs were sung as he was lowered into the earth in his simple pinewood coffin.

It was a joyful and equally painful celebration.

The family loaded up in the back of Granddad's pickup and headed slowly back to the farm to speak more words of praise, say more prayers, sing more songs and eat a meal fit for the king.

Heaven? Absolutely, this was heaven.

Two days later, nearly the entire family was slammed by COVID-19. They are still struggling nearly two weeks later. Their grief has been disrupted by quarantine, isolation and the harsh symptoms this virus musters.

Life happens wherever you go...

We are blessed to be here with family, in Bend, celebrating, mourning, healing and deeply loving each other.

Editor's note: The online version of this story has been slightly altered from the print edition to preserve the privacy of the family.

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