Like many people, I have fond memories of my birthday. As a child, the night before my birthday I could barely sleep - what surprises awaited me the next day? As an adult, the excitement of the 20th has calmed. I no longer expect presents and surprises. Today the 20th is another day that I reflect on another year - and realise that I am getting older.
This year was different. The morning of the 20th opened and I went to work. It was a half day for me, as the family was preparing to travel to my parents house for the Thanksgiving holiday. I remember playing with my son, Kajetan, before we loaded up in our Suburban. We had been driving for only 20 minutes when my mother called.
"Hello dear. I have some news for you. I'm very sorry to tell you this on your birthday, but your grandfather passed away this morning."
I know I'm not the first person to have a family member pass away on their birthday. There is a 1 out of 365 chance it will happen. Initially I was upset. Out of all the days my grandfather could have died, it was my birthday. After much thought, I now see his death as a kind of present. It sounds harsh, but let me try and explain.
My grandfather was not someone who I knew extremely well. He purposely isolated himself from his family his entire life. It was 1998 when I first met him. Early in our relationship he learned that I liked to play the guitar. The next time I visited him, he had a present for me - a guitar. I was blown away. Anything he had previously given to me was nothing more than little trinkets - or cooking supplies. The guitar was different. This was a gift that he knew I would enjoy. Afterward, every time I visited, he managed to ask me if I was still playing the guitar he bought for me. I do. It was the best present he gave me.
My grandfather also knew that I loved film and photography. He knew I was a documentary filmmaker. During a visit in late 2009, I asked him about making a film about him. He agreed. Excited, I planned to visit him for a week in 2010. When that week came and went, I was left with a lot of stories, but not a single frame of footage. I clearly remember telling myself that my film would begin the day he died.
Obviously, I never told him this. Did he give any thought to his agreement to make a film? Then why the constant delays to start? It was while I was filming in his empty flat, just days after his death, that all the pieces began to fall into place - almost as if he planned it all. I felt that now was the time, and he was giving me permission to make this film.
MRD January 2013
On November 17, my Grandfather broke his hip falling from his kitchen stool. The next day he had surgery to repair the damage. He rested the 19th, and passed away on the 20th.