Dealing with death

This is going to be a hard post to write. Not only because thinking about death is an unenjoyable thing, but because articulating my sadness and fears is likely to cause an emotional reaction as I sit here typing. Expect rambling and a tear stained keyboard.

A few years after I was born my maternal grandmother died of cancer. I was too young to remember her, but I remember the love my family had for this woman, this stranger. At times I was jealous of my older sister because she was given the opportunity to form memories with my grandmother before I got the chance. All the family photos that included my Nana were without me, and it always felt like my story started only after hers ended.

I don’t remember specific instances of my maternal grandfather mourning his wife, but her presence was always there in the background. Photos of her on the wall, the book she wrote on the shelf, a piece of jewelry kept in a box on a dresser. I know now that he missed her terribly. When I was a teenager my mom told me that when Nana was dying she saw the movie Ghost with him, and it gave them a tiny bit of hope that after she died she’d be able to reach out to him, to love him from the afterlife. That story still breaks my heart.

I was lucky that I had 27 years with my grandfather. I was given the chance to form so many incredible memories, each summer driving a million miles in a hot car to stay at his condo in New Hampshire. He loved his children, and adored all of his grandchildren (and at the end, his GREAT grandchildren). He was a tall, formidable man, and all the grandchildren would fight over who would be the next one to ride on his shoulders as we walked in the harbor to get ice cream. He would swim with us, play tennis and golf with us, he would play the piano for us while we all danced, and he would tell us stories of his incredible travels. The greatest gift he gave us were these vacations to exotic locations, each year taking a different child and their family somewhere amazing. Because of my grandfather I’ve been on 3 cruises, I’ve gone whale watching in Alaska, snorkeling in the Caribbean, fed a red panda in China, and rode Space Mountain for the first time at age 7.

He was, without a doubt, the smartest man I ever met. I have a great memory from our 3-week trip to China. We were on an overnight train, and me, just 16 years old and a raging insomniac, got bored laying awake in my bunk. So I made my way to the diner car where I found papa watching the scenery through the windows. We spent an hour or two there, just talking while the rest of the train slept. It was wonderful, and the picture he painted of the world made me want to explore the entire thing, to see the things he had seen.

When Kevin proposed I had originally wanted a long engagement, but by then Papa’s health had already started to decline. We decided to get married within the year so that he could be there. It was up in the air for the months leading to wedding. One month he’d be fine and healthy as a fox. The next month he would be in and out of hospitals and seeing specialists all over New England. It came down to the wedding week, and he was advised by his doctor not to make the journey. I was heartbroken. The whole family pitched in to make him feel included though, and as I walked down the aisle and said my vows, my grandfather was in the first row, watching me from home through an iPad my brother in law held.

I’ll admit I did (and still do) feel jealous of my sister. She’s five years older than I am, and as a result, Papa was able to come to her wedding and meet both of her children. My children will never know him, and that breaks my heart.

I n the middle of my depression this winter my grandfather died, sending me into a tailspin of emotion. I would cry at work, at home, while driving…all these feelings that I had locked up for so long came pouring out at inopportune times and, for lack of better words, inconvenienced me. That’s how messed up my views on emoting were. I was afraid to grieve for my grandfather, afraid that showing sadness would be seen as a weakness, that I would be made fun of or people’s views of me would drastically change.

In my mind there was a time and a place for emotions, and that was at home, alone, for fifteen minutes. Then you wipe your tears, push everything back deep inside of you, and grimace your way through the rest of the day. We won’t even open the pandora’s box of explanations for why I became this glass case of non-emotions. That’s for me and my therapist to figure out.

I still miss my grandfather. Things remind me of him all the time and I find myself with tears in my eyes, wishing that I could have spent more time with him, shared one last story with him or gone on one last adventure with him. I’m glad my husband got to meet him, and I find myself telling my dog stories about him, much as I told my grandfather stories about the brand new puppy we had gotten after our wedding, when I saw him for the last time in the fall, months before he passed away. I’m lucky that my last interaction with him was a happy, healthy one. We had no idea then that his health would deteriorate so quickly, and though I am one of the few family members who did not visit him in his last days, I am selfishly happy that my memory of him is untainted.

And I think he would have preferred for us to remember him as the man who lived, not as a man who died.

I have so much more to write, but I will save that for future posts so that this doesn’t turn into a novel. I love you Papa, and I consider myself so lucky to have had a wonderful Grandfather like you in my life. I miss you so much. I hope I continue to make you proud.