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>[Circle of Life]

May 20, 2010

>My maternal grandfather died when my mom was twelve. My paternal grandfather died when I was six, and I remember being at his funeral, very vaguely. I have few memories of him alive, but I remember that the funeral was the first time I saw my Dad cry, but only for a second (the second time, and possibly only other time I’ve seen this is when my brother pushed me into a mirror and broke my front tooth when I was 8). Strangely enough, and I may be mixing memories here, I remember standing on the church steps and looking up to watch the pallbearers carry the casket. Memories are so weird. My maternal grandmother died when I was a sophomore in high school, living with the after-effects of a pretty serious stroke for a few years. I regrettably remember being upset that I had to leave for the weekend for her funeral and miss a stupid high school event that the guy I was dating was hosting.
The older people in your life are supposed to die. It is not something that we like to think about, but we know it. When you’re a kid and your grandparent gets sick it is upsetting but your bond with this person, for the most part, has been a child-adult bond and you’ve expected to outlive them by many, many years. My relationship with my Mom’s Mom had, fortunately, had the chance to go beyond the child-adult bond a little bit before her stroke. She knew a little bit about the me that I would eventually become, but mostly I was still a child. It wasn’t until later that I learned what it was like to feel the loss of someone you care about. This isn’t to say that I don’t think about my Grandmother or Grandfathers and miss them and wish that we could have relationships now, but it is just simply different.
Since high school, my aunt, uncle and a very close friend have all passed away. No death is easy to come to terms with, but the inevitability of it is mind-boggling to me. I don’t know what to do with the information. Obviously, losing a friend to a drunk driving accident was a whole lot more difficult to come to terms with than losing my sick grandfather, but it’s the thought that that person is never going to be around to talk to, see, call, etc anymore is what’s the hardest.
My last remaining grandparent passed away this afternoon. My dad’s mother was 95 and a half years old (I think you should give the children and the elderly those halves to celebrate). I didn’t want to write about this today, but I think it is helping me to put it down into words. I was waiting in line at Dagostinos on Lexington and 82nd when my Dad called. I don’t think there is any good way to hear information like that, but waiting in line at a supermarket cannot be among the best. I waited until I was off the phone to start crying (I think I thought it would be rude to cry when my Dad wasn’t crying…which is ridiculous), but mostly just thought about how it came out of nowhere. We had just moved her from her apartment to a more assisted living facility, and with the move she had given me a big living room chair and a bunch of cutlery items (among them a nutcracker, which is totally useless, until you accidently buy whole walnuts and realize that you’re trying to open them with a can opener-not that I’ve ever done this). My dad said, “We knew this was coming”, but really, I wasn’t ready for it. It’s amazing the things that start running through your head when you hear news like this. What measures goodness? What of a person carries on? How can we move on when people we love keep getting taken from us? What is going to happen for holidays? Thanksgiving and Christmas used to be littered with my aunt’s laughter and phone calls from my uncle in California bragging about how he was sitting on his patio drinking wine in a pair of linen pants while we were all wearing sweaters, and we’d respond that he wasn’t lucky enough to be eating my grandma’s Braciola.
I want to go back to what I was saying before, though, about having an adult-adult relationship with an older family member. November 2008, my parents asked me to do them a favor. My grandma had just gotten eye surgery and needed someone to pick her up from the doctor, drive her home, and stay the night. Kicker: it was election day, and my grandma was a 94 year old, Roman Catholic, Sicilian, widow of a Conservative, District Attorney/Judge. Needless to say, she and I were voting differently. There was something amazing about sitting with someone who was born in 1914 and, when Obama was announced victorious, said, with no hint of judgement or dissatisfaction, “I can’t believe I’m alive to see a black President”.  Of course I was upset I wasn’t in the city celebrating with hoards of young people drinking to a “new era” and “change”, but it may have been cooler to be where I was, talking to my grandmother one-on-one about one of the (arguably) most important moments of both of our history.
The selfish feelings won’t go away, though. The feeling that no matter what, I will not have any grandparents at my wedding has been rumbling around my head all day and I hate it. Why does it matter? Why is it so important? Why do I need validation? What about the story that she told me about how she first started going out with my grandfather? Why can’t I remember it? Can I go home and smell the chair that she just gave me? Am I being self-indulgent with my feelings? Am I not upset enough? What can I do? What should I do? How do I act? Should I keep my mouth shut, or should I tell people what happened? What happens next?
But most of all, without necessarily believing in God or Heaven or anything like that, I know that she is with her husband and her two eldest children now, and that she had been waiting for this day for a long, long time. She can tell them about the rest of us now, tell them that the babies are healthy, that Isabel is just like Judy, tell Papa that the Mets still haven’t won a series since ’86, so he’s not missing much, and then they can all sing Sinatra together while Papa smokes a pipe in the corner.

Me and Deda, Christmas 2009
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