At the beginning of this year, my grandfather passed away. He was one week shy of his 97th birthday, so it seems absurd to say it was “sudden.” However, he looked and acted FAR younger than his years, so we often forgot how old he really was and took for granted that he would be around forever. A little over a year before his death, he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and had all sorts of issues after that. In the end, while in the hospital, he had a massive stroke from which he never awoke, and that was it.
There is so much to say about that man. He was amazing and inspirational – and, I maintain that you could not have had a more perfect grandfather if you had gone to the Grandparents Store and invented him yourself with equal parts, love, compassion, humor, sage advice, and awesome hugs. He was just the best. Needless to say, it was a huge blow to the entire family to lose him. He was my Mom’s father, and she had an especially hard time dealing. I made it my job, from the moment I landed at Logan, to try to distract her and help take care of her and do any of the logistical things I could to help take some of the planning off her plate. Really, I just didn’t know what else to do. Words are so meaningless at that point, and I had my own grief to deal with, so maybe I needed the distraction as well. He passed away in January, so it was freezing in Boston and we were in the midst of massive snow storms every few days. We actually waited longer than the traditional 3 days to have the wake and funeral so that we could get on the other side of a big blizzard, so that my grandfather’s relatives who live south of the city could make it up. When I first arrived, my mother was in a bit of a fog trying to sort out details, and I didn’t have any appropriate winter funeral wear, so we had to go to the mall. I think this probably helped keep her busy, but at one point, I could tell she was about to get weepy on me. She is the youngest of five, and was especially close with her parents (my grandmother passed away when I was in college) and older sister (who died a few years ago). So when I said (duh) “What’s wrong?” I was almost sort of prepared for this response: “It sucks being the youngest because everyone dies before you and then you’re all alone!” Imagine this, coming from a woman who is almost 60, said with the fervor of a child pissed that they can’t have more cookies. I disparage, but I felt her pain. Being the smart ass that I am, the only thing I could think to say was, “Well, maybe you’ll get lucky and die before Uncle Johnny.” She shot me a dirty look and said, “I knew you would say something like that.” But, I considered it a successful conversation because she didn’t end up crying in the middle of the mall. Yay!
The night of the wake was a busy one. We got there at 4 PM and it didn’t end until after 8. I think. It was a blur. The room was filled with pretty much anyone I’ve ever known in my life. It is such a sad reason to see them all, but so comforting to have them all there. Still, by the end, we were exhausted, hungry, and in need of a stiff drink. I was kicking around with my Mom and Dad, so we went to a nearby restaurant for some food. We each ordered a cocktail – not wine or beer, but the hard stuff. Then we had another. Then our food came and my Mom’s drink was empty and she said, “I think I need a third.” So, in an effort to be helpful, I said, “Let’s all get thirds!” The upshot of this was that by the time we got home, I was kind of drunk.
The next morning was the funeral. My Mom was on serious edge and I could tell that any little thing would have caused her to freak out. So I was treading carefully. Despite my evil hangover, I pulled it together to get ready as quickly as possible, because I could only imagine that if was even 30 seconds late, she would have gone postal. My Dad had the same strategy, although we never communicated about it. Fleeting eye contact as we silently passed each other in the kitchen told me we were on the same page. I panicked at one point as I got dressed and put on my new funeral dress and tights. The tights were defective and had a massive hole on the back of one of my legs, under my ass. It was covered by my dress, but definitely was in danger of spreading. I went downstairs and showed my mom, and she whipped out some hairspray to stop it from running more, and then a hair dryer to dry the hairspray on my ass. The entire scene was pretty comical, so I said, “Hey, when you feel really sad at any point today, you should just try to remember this morning when you had to blow dry my ass!” It got a chuckle, but she was still pretty tense.
We left for the funeral home early, just about the time that parents are dropping their children off at school. We’d just had another snow storm the day before, and with the massive amount of snow that winter, all of the side roads were totally narrowed by snow banks. On many streets, only one car could travel at a time, and you’d have to pull over to let opposing traffic pass. Since we were going from one suburban town to another, taking surface roads, this was not an ideal situation. Every time we turned a corner, we’d be at a dead stop, battling to move with school buses and minivans. From the back seat, I could see my mother’s shoulders up around her ears from the tension of it all. My Dad, as he usually does, had on the local AM news radio station, which no one was really listening to except me because I needed a distraction from the inevitable volcanic eruption that was about to come out of the front seat every time my dad would say, “Wait, I’ll go this way!” in an effort to get around traffic, only to turn a corner and get even more stuck than we were before. My Mom reminded me of a cartoon tea kettle about to blow. On the radio station was one of those ridiculous, hardly-newsworthy local interest stories. The newscaster’s lead in was something like, “Bostonians deal with the fall out of even more snow!”, which was followed by a quote from the interview they did for the subsequent story. The interview was with some kid in Southie who was shoveling for cash (presumably the only fool they could find outside to interview). He was probably no more than 13, but for some reason his voice was that of an old woman, and he had the worst Boston accent I’ve ever heard. So the lead in came, “Bostonians deal with the fall out of even more snow!”, followed by this gem: “My aaahms kinda hurt.” It was amazing and hilariously funny. Clearly, the producers of the segment also thought the quote was funny, because they played it about 15 times. I wanted more than anything to burst out laughing, but just looking at the back of my parents’ heads told me that would be a bad idea. So, I kept it in. The more tense it got in that car, the more they played that quote, and the more I wanted to laugh.
I think the whole experience left me with some sort of PTSD, rolled into the fact that I never did get a chance to truly, properly grieve because I was so worried about my mother. When I think about my grandfather, I still feel horrifically sad that he’s not here anymore. And still, to this day, I will think of that morning and hear that weird kid’s voice in my head and want to burst out laughing no matter where I am. My grandfather would totally appreciate that.
Read Full Post »