For the second time in as many weeks, I had to say goodbye to someone I love. George Raymond Harrison, my sweet father-in-law, passed away quietly in his sleep on Sunday morning. He left us knowing he was loved and appreciated.
While I am sad to see the pain his death causes my husband and his sister, I celebrate what an amazing man George Raymond was and the sweet legacy he leaves. I’ve often said I don’t want my tombstone to read — “He was a damn good PR guy!” — and nothing else and George R is a wonderful example of a life well-lived. As we grieve for George, I’m reminded of how important the little things are.
While I met the elder Dr. Harrison late in his life, after age and Alzheimer’s had ravaged his body and mind, his sweet, gentle spirit always came through. He was always happy to see us, even if it took him a minute to figure out who we were. He smiled, laughed and made jokes. He told lots of stories from his childhood, the war, his early years teaching. Some were true, others a bit jumbled, but all full of love and energy, just like him. We bonded immediately through our shared love of crazy socks and fancy ties. He was smartly dressed in both every day.
I have come to appreciate the rituals of death that scared me a few years ago. It is an event as important as birth and marriage. To sit with a loved one after their spirit has left their body is very special. Death has become so sanitized and secretive today that the mystery of it was what scared me. I know differently now. To say goodbye in the comfort of your home, surrounded by family and friends was commonplace years ago, and so special. After he died, George and Diana lovingly dressed their father in the same suit he married their mother in nearly 70 years ago so he would look his best when he was reunited with her. He looked so handsome. And he had on a great tie and fancy socks. They tucked a poem their mother wrote for him on their second wedding anniversary into his breast pocket, close to his heart. It was the same poem read at our wedding just a few weeks ago. These rituals are deeply healing.
George Raymond lives on in all the wonderful stories people are sharing via e-mail and Facebook. I learn more about him every day. I’m only sad that I didn’t get to meet him sooner and that he didn’t get to meet my father. They were nothing alike, but would have enjoyed each other, because they both embraced life.
At 93, he has no peers left to mourn him. But he has so many other people he touched to celebrate him. People he knew for decades as well as people who cared for him the last few months of his life. They will all miss him. Life is a little emptier without him. He had a great run.