On Monday, I walked past a framed picture of my grandparents that sits on the etagere in my living room. I stopped, picked up the frame and inspected my grandpa’s photographed face. The picture was taken in June – so after his health had started declining but before the beginning of the end (which seems a morbid way of describing those last few weeks, but that is indeed what they were). Looking at that photograph, it occurred to me: I’ll never see his face in person again. No more hugs. No more conversations.
It seems obvious, but this is a realization that I keep having, in different ways.
His funeral was well-attended, though it was not what I would have chosen, had anyone asked me for my opinion – too somber, too ritualistic, nearly completely ignoring the intricacies of his quirky and lovely personality. The mass left me gutted and sad and heart broken, but I found no comfort in the priest’s words, I found no familiarity in the hymns that had been chosen, and I all too distinctly remember the last time I sat in that church: I was a child, I could hear my grandfather’s deep voice belting out the songs and he passed me a roll of LifeSavers to keep me entertained during a Sunday service. There were no LifeSavers and I couldn’t hear his voice.
At the private graveside service, we were encouraged to share memories but hardly anyone did and it seemed then that the moment for such sharing was gone and that by then, in the heat of a summer afternoon, we were all weary, full of church lady luncheon food, and ready to just stop feeling. I was grateful to those who did share kindnesses, wished more had.
I saw where his ashes would be interred. I was given a rose from the floral arrangement.
My grandmother is lonely. My sister and I took my daughters to visit last night and my grandmother is lonely. “We had no happy memories of this place,” she told us. “He’s not here. I don’t feel him.”
I had never given much thought to her beliefs beyond the fact that she, like my grandfather was, is strongly rooted in her faith and that she believes in heaven and believed there would be something…more. I didn’t realize she was expecting his presence, or that she’d be so profoundly disappointed when his presence couldn’t be felt.
“He went back to the house,” she said, referring to the home she and my grandpa purchased what was probably light years ago for $10,000 and a mortgage payment of $75 a month. They raised four children in that house. Grandchildren spent time under that roof. That’s where the memories are and so, says my grandma, that is where grandpa is – his spirit is in the home he loved and not the nursing home he hated.
My mom says we need to tell her that she carries him in her heart always – that he’s there whether she can feel it or not.
Who am I to say?
I was worried about how it’d look when I left town Friday afternoon after the funeral, as though I was fleeing for some umbrella-drink vacation where I would be kicking up my heels and celebrating and disrespecting so soon the loss that I have been feeling.
I am grateful, though, to have been taken away for the weekend. To be wrapped in hugs and warmth and love and to be shown peace and glimpses of normalcy away from the scene of such recent loss. To be in a place with no memories attached gave me a chance to let go of some of my grief for a few days – to breathe in air, to watch sunsets, to spy on deer playing in a field, to pet dogs, cook tacos, spend time on a lake with sun smiling on my face, drink wine from red Solo cups. I am glad that I didn’t surrender to the guilt telling me I shouldn’t go.
And when I came home and walked into my house, the sadness hit me in the face once more, still like a ton of bricks.
I am loved. I love.
And those are things that are helpful to me when I am hurting.
“I love you as much as he did, you know?” my grandma said last night.
There are moments when I feel completely normal and I can lose myself in HGTV or lament the 80 degree weather with 90% humidity. Where I can watch my daughter touring middle school for the first time and meet teachers and try to remember to pick up dog food on the way home.
And it makes me sad but this is a new normal and this is how it will be and he’s not going to be here again and I’ll never hear his voice again and why didn’t we make video of him talking, why didn’t we? We could have, it’d have been so easy. And I don’t expect his presence, I can’t imagine a tangible feeling that he’s there, but I do carry him in my heart and I will always and it’s really an awful thing, grief. But I know he’d hate it.
My cousin posted a picture on Facebook – a cabinet front and duct tape – “Grandpa approved!” he said. And I laughed, how I laughed. I need more of those moments, the moments of celebration. Joy in what was amazing will be what gets us all through this.