At the time that they leave, it feels like we will never be the same again. And it turns out that that is true. We are redefined after we lose someone who was a big part of our lives. We will be different, and it will eventually be okay, but just a different okay.”
I miss my grandfather.
I feel like I really didn’t get to know him on any substantive level, because he was a remote guy, and he was not physically around for very long in my life. As I have grown older, and have been through several episodes of personal and family archaeology, I have discovered quite a bit about him that I feel he and I have in common. We both have a tendency to keep notes and papers for longer than necessary. We both have made either unfortunate or derailing career decisions based on what we saw through our rose-colored glasses. A tendency to be meticulous about some things yet leave some things unfinished; a tendency to go unnoticed when it is easier to do so; a shared bent towards the quiet but grand one-time gesture, and a lack of salesmanship influenced by our place in the family in which we originated. I was very young when he died, but I still think of the questions I might have asked him, and the stories he could have told.
I miss my other grandfather.
He was the only one who went to most of my little league games, and he spent many summer days taking us to the pool and the racquetball courts. He was complex and had many demons that followed him from childhood into retirement, but he was always trying to be cheerful, if not for his own sake, then for the sake of those around him. I think of him often—the sound of his gruff voice and Jersey accent, mixed with his deep lack of self-esteem and his humor born from deeply hidden pain that would sometimes surface in disastrous ways. There are definitely parts of myself that I got from him, and parts like his ability to take huge risks and succeed with them that I would like to have gotten. I would love to have heard more about his childhood, and why it made him cry when he was given his first ever birthday cake after he was engaged to be married.
I miss my godbrother.
He always had such a seemingly interesting life, filled with international travel and outwardly bohemian parents (my godparents) who made every birthday party a homemade carnival, and who always seemed to be doing things that were romantic and exciting. He spoke French, had been to Africa, and was intelligent and focused. But under it all there was multi-generational mental illness, various personal tragedies, and a feeling that the kids were left alone to fend for themselves, as if they were small adults in the world of academics and the quirks of the intelligentsia in which they lived. He told me once, after returning from his stint in the Peace Corps, that he did not know how to live like a normal person, and that the point to it all had escaped him. As he proved later. Both he and my godfather’s deaths came as a surprise, and way too closely together.
I miss my grandmother.
She always had food, and she was usually smiling, and when she typed it sounded like a machine gun. I remember the holidays at her house, and the way she seemed pleased about the smallest things. But when bad things happened to her, she always took them as if she deserved them, and was bearing up under the strain. She was not able to keep friends around, and at the end her circle of relationships had shrunk to a miniscule size. She lived long after her mind no longer functioned, and she was only marking time in a warehouse of barely functioning elderly. I wish she were here to tell about the old days when she was the receptionist for the San Francisco Giants’ doctor, because my sons would have gotten a massive kick out of hearing about Willie Mays in the waiting room.
I miss my other grandmother.
She was independent until the end, a former teacher and Navy wife, who was tiny and jolly. She cooked dishes that reflected her farm background, and had very specific ideas about right, wrong, and silly. She was interested in making sure that we kept our family traditions, and made sure that holidays remained similar to how they had been before. After her husband had died, she decided to travel. I went with her on a couple of those trips and it was interesting to see that she was very stoic about the fact that the rest of her life would be independent. She lived for more decades, and she never stopped doing the Times crossword in pen. She is the reason our family tends to think first of “walking it off” when we are ill or broken. I would have loved to have talked with her about current politics, because although she was a Republican, she had no time for clowns.
I miss my dad.
And that is all I will say about that.
The thing about people who have an effect on us is that they stay with us in our hearts and in our minds. Sometimes they answer questions for us long after they have gone, and sometimes those answers bring a smile to our faces. Sometimes they bring a tear to our eyes, because they are not there to answer the questions, or they are only there by their afterimage and the hole they left behind. But their presence did enrich our lives and the fact that they were there for as long as they were was a blessing and a gift.
At the time that they leave, it feels like we will never be the same again. And it turns out that that is true. We are redefined after we lose someone who was a big part of our lives. We will be different, and it will eventually be okay, but just a different okay.