It’s a funny thing grief, not like funny haha, more like ‘do they make lifetime specials about me’ kind of funny. For me, experiencing the loss of a loved one, specifically my grammy when I was 11 to brain/lung cancer, was a very abstract and confusing thing. She had been sick for a long time but it had been kept a secret from us kids, even though the signs were there. I remember finding a wig in her closet when I went digging for dress up clothes. Being a kid and never knowing anyone with cancer, or ever really hearing the word cancer, I actually thought my grammy just really liked playing dress up to.
“Oh you look so grown up! You could be 14!”
I thought I was a hot shit, being 8 or 9 , 14 was basically an adult. I mean , you could go to the movies with your parents and not have them sit right behind you, so shit, 14 was fantastic.
Then after repeated falls, confusion and a scare with her wandering from the grocery store into the busy main road into on coming traffic , we were told. Grammy had cancer. Grammy was sick. Grammy was going to die. Like the dead kind of die. Growing up on a farm with parents who made brutal honesty an art form, I understood the solid permanency of death. You die , you go into the ground and thats it. No more dress up and glorious over zealous compliments. The dead kind of die.
I think maybe from the time we were officially told Grammy had cancer until the date of her actual death was a year, I’m guessing. Something inside me changed. I became terrified of my once best buddy soul mate wing man Grammy. She felt like a stranger, we no longer stayed for weekends as hospice took over, and my Grampy in a turn of world’s shittiest luck, had to have major life saving heart surgery at the same exact time. My parents would bring us over for the obligatory visits but I was very standoffish. Previously my Grammy would hug and smush me up (I’m the only girl – so yeahhhhh I was a pretty big deal back then) and I let my head inflate and it was the best thing ever in history. After the sickness I could barely look at her. I have no idea where this fear came from, maybe subconsciously I was emotionally seperating my self in order to soften the blow of her death. I remember my Grammy sitting at her kitchen table talking about the conversation she had with the doctor about ‘buying the farm’ and when I was with my mother card shopping for my grandparents anniversary (2 weeks before her death) she made a comment to the effect of having to try and find an anniversary card that did not have the phrase ‘and many more’ attached to it. The one she found had a red rose on it.
“Grammy died” . Mom hung up the phone and walked out of the kitchen, delivered with the same emotional veracity usually reserved for voting registration or town council meetings.
My 11 year old self had been sitting at the table doing homework and sat there alone , staring into an empty kitchen, confused.
In truth the Grammy I had known had died when we were told about her cancer, but now she was actually dead. Died dead. In the ground and that’s it – dead. My brother who was 6 at the time went with me to say good bye at the hospital , or atleast thats where I remember saying goodbye. I think she had one of those towel turbin wrap things used after the shower on her head, and it looked like she was sleeping. I don’t remember if I cried or not, emotions were a real awkward thing in our house, kind of like when you accidentally walk in on someone in the bathroom.
My Grammy died May 24,1994. It was a sunny beautiful spring day when my childhood died. Before the sickness it was a weekend bender of Dunkin Donuts, trips to the penny candy store and being as loud and obnoxious as we wanted without being yelled at , ever. The summer meant these weekend benders turned into week long excursions and care free living by the pool, a sweet ass in ground pool. Yeah that’s right, we even had our own kid sized loungers. Be jealous. I learned to swim in that pool, I remember someone throwing me in around 4 years old and say ‘ok now, just kick and paddle like a dog or else you’re going to sink – I don’t have a bathing suit so you better not sink since this net won’t reach”. And I swam.
My grandparents were Portuguese, my Grammy’s parents married at 15 years old in St.Michael’s and caught the next raft over to the United States. Portuguese gatherings were always loud, large and full of awesome food and traditions. That’s where I picked up my affinity for corny old school holiday and family traditions. My house was 180 degree difference, working class, farm, off the beaten path, ain’t nobody got time for no social gatherings. The grandparents house was vacation land complete with holiday itinerary. After Grammy died it was like the record player stopped. Nothing. No grand goodbye,farewell, that’s a wrap. Just dead,died,in the ground.
I suppose in the ground would’ve been easier for me to process. Grammy was cremated. We had always assumed she was underneath a tree in the yard that had a plaque dedicated to her. Turns out no one ever picked up her ashes and after a year the crematorium had to spread them in the closest cemetery. That cemetery is an hour away in a town with no other ties, my Grammy was left to be dumped in a random cemetery. That’s the kind of awful that escapes your emotional capacity until you are thrust into it.
An empty kind of awful.
Cemetery’s or special dedication sites allow those left behind to come and grieve and work through the emotional and mental torture that death leaves us with. My Grammy was the one left behind, and I feel like I’ve been spending my whole life chasing those ashes.
From there forward we would still visit Grampa, but there were no more weekend extravaganza’s. No Holiday parties, cook outs, mega epic yard sales. He would come over our small, cramped, unfestive holiday gatherings that were more pragmatic than nostalgic. I love my family and was lucky to have the childhood I did, but the contrast was so striking and unfortunately hit at a time I was entering tweenhood and was quickly losing the childhood enthusiasm that had propelled me before. I think I was 14 years old the last time I enjoyed the legendary inground pool, and then the lining had started to fail. It was a lot of upkeep, and replacing the lining was very costly. That would be filled in shortly there after, and the cement patio turned into the grilling area. Visits continued to wane, even after I got my license and a car I failed to see how precious and short life is and didn’t visit Grampa when I should have.
Shortly after my husband and I had our son we could no longer afford our apartment , and with Grampa’s health seeing better days , we worked out staying in his in law apartment while helping him maintain the property and he didn’t have to be alone. It worked out for awhile and we moved out after 3 years. Grampa’s health roller coaster took a turn for the worst the day before our son’s 8th birthday. March 1, 2014 Grampa finally allowed himself to give in to CHF and passed away (what I was told) was a comfortable medicated nap with hospice caring for him. Since then it’s been a mad dash of figuring out the reverse mortgage mess. It is my understanding that we have until September to sell my grandfather’s house or else it goes to auction.
Auction. Like nails on a chalkboard. Every meaningful childhood memory is wrapped up in that house, can you imagine having a piece of who you are , your most innocent carefree moments, up for bid? Auctioned. Dumped. MOTHERFUCKER. When I went to help clean up the house after the relatives who had been staying there since just before Grampa passed, the empty bitterness of loss gave way to hell hath no fury rage. Hell to the no is my Grandfather’s house, the one he built not once, but twice (there was a fire when my dad was around 9), a respected contractor, very talented and skilled, the one I grew up in – HELL NO my grandfather’s house is most certainly not going to be dumped just like my grandmother’s ashes were. I didn’t have the ability to do anything at 11 years old, but 20 years later I do know that I will do anything in my power to make sure my Grandfather’s house get’s the respect it deserves.
This isn’t just some ‘thing’ to get rid off to get out of the way and be done with. This is something I care about with my whole heart and soul, so much so that I am showing all the feelers to you people. I wish with all my heart that my husband and I could afford to take it over, but I’m afraid that is just not a reality for us. However , while we have the ability to, I will care for it like it were my own and hopefully find it a new family who can love it as much as I did.