We have been on the verge for a while. I could feel it coming and knew it was inevitable. Death. There is really no way around it. And when you’re a thirty-two-year-old woman who still has all of her grandparents, it is only a matter of time.
Then it happened. I got the call from my sister, barely able to speak because even though you know it’s coming, you’re never ready. Grandpa, my dad’s dad, passed away while out to dinner with my grandma.
No matter how many times you think about it or try to prepare yourself, you imagine it will be while he’s asleep or when he’s in the hospital so you know it’s coming. Not when he’s out to dinner in a crowded steakhouse with my grandma. Not when he’s eating steak and chokes which causes a heart attack. (Or was he eating steak and had a heart attack and then choked? We don’t know.) Either way, it doesn’t sound real or believable.
It doesn’t seem, in any stretch of the imagination, that your grandfather will lie on a restaurant floor while strangers and paramedics try to bring him back. While your grandma watches. While the whole restaurant watches.
It’s not supposed to be like that.
It is unfathomable that the coroner’s assistant will bring all your grandpa’s possessions to your grandma while you’re sitting in the lobby as people make their way to Sunday dinner. That you’ll stand next to a steakhouse bar with your dad as he watches strangers pick up his father’s body from the ground and cover him with a sheet. That the last memory of your grandpa is of his Saucony tennis shoes hanging out from beneath the sheet.
It’s not supposed to be like that.
My grandfather was a gruff man. When we were younger, my sister was scared of him which he found hilarious. He was a truck driver with a truck driver’s mouth and when I think of my younger years, I think of my mom always sighing and saying, “Oh, Ira!” after he was finished speaking. I said my first curse word in front adults with my grandfather standing by encouraging me. I remember he laughed and laughed. He loved to make my mom uncomfortable. He called me Mary Barf from as far back as I can remember. He ate an onion like an apple, covering it with salt and then taking a big bite. He drove fast and reckless everywhere he went and if you traveled through Indianapolis anytime between 1960 and 2000, you probably passed him in his grocery-store semi, hauling the food that fed our city.
Now that he’s gone, it’s not what I imagined it would be.
When I thought about losing my grandparents, it hurt to think about them not being here, about my children not knowing them, about my own mortality, about selfish things. Now that it has happened, I think mostly about my grandma and my dad. I think about my grandma losing her constant companion since she was sixteen. I think about a son losing his father.
Dads are supposed to be invincible. I am a grown woman with kids of my own, but I still have this idea from long ago that my parents can handle anything. They can fix any problem, they know every answer, they can make anything better. There’s a place inside of me that still feels like a child who needs her parents. And I know that since I still have that inside of me, my dad probably does too.
As I stood there that afternoon with my dad, as we stood there watching that truth disintegrate, it took everything in me not to sob for my father.
It wasn’t fair for him to have to see that. It was ugly and humbling and dirty. It did more damage than was necessary.
It’s not supposed to be like that.
If you told my grandpa something was expected of him, he would do the opposite. He was an ornery and stubborn man, something that has been passed down to me. He was defiant for no other reason than because he could be. I’m sure he was a horrible student to have in the classroom, but he was a fun grandpa because of it. The evening he passed away, we gathered at my grandma’s house for no other reason than you need to be with family when you lose someone. We got on the subject of GPS systems for cars and my grandma said that they went through three of them before my grandpa just stopped buying them. He would return them because he said they didn’t work, but my grandma said it was because he would never listen to them. He still went the way he thought was best and then when he’d get lost, he’d blame the faulty GPS map. He took one back just because it was a woman’s voice and he didn’t like her telling him what to do.
That might be my favorite story.
My grandparents met at the roller skating rink when they were sixteen. My grandma had a boyfriend who wasn’t there one night but my grandpa was. He was known for getting into fights and being thrown out of the rink and my grandma felt sorry for him. So they started talking. And they didn’t stop for the next sixty four years.
That must have been one great conversation. A lot of it was probably yelling, but love-yelling, I think.
The older I get, the more ugly truth I learn. I learn that life is not like you think it will be. It’s never neat and tidy, never cut and dry. It’s painful and wonderful and messy and beautiful. There are moments that are so brutal you think you can’t go on, that this new reality is so ill-fitting and joyless that there is no way things can be normal again.
But then things settle and it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. Sometimes you feel guilty for laughing and enjoying things. Then other times you can’t find anything to enjoy. I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, that death is hard, but sometimes when you get smacked in the face with it (twice in one weekend, unfortunately), it just makes it a little harder to get back up.
I’m getting up again, as we all have to, it’s just a little slower than I planned.
I’m SO sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how painful it was.
I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. One passed away when my dad was 4, so even he didn’t really truly know him. We lost the other one when I was an infant. I’ve always envied people who had a relationship with their grandfathers because it was something I never was able to do myself.
But then there are those moments when I’m almost thankful that I never had to endure such a heart breaking loss.
Just know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of many, many people, including myself.
Thanks Kate. I have so many friends that never knew their grandparents so I know how blessed I am to have had him for so long. And that’s a whole other level of grief. Thanks for sharing.
I know that this had to be so hard on you to write about…but I’m proud that you have shared with all of us! I think that I used an entire box of Kleenex just reading your thoughts. Hugs sister!
Thanks Heather. It was therapeutic, for sure. And I still remember going to your grandpa’s funeral in elementary school. Now I realize how young he was. Wow.
Daria Hezel says
Your Grandpa sounds like he was a hoot! Makes for great stories and memories ~ focus on those instead of the last memory. Thanks for sharing this beautiful tribute.
Yes, Daria! I am working hard on focusing on the good memories, he deserves that. And he was definitely a hoot! 😉 Thanks for reading.
I’m very sorry for your loss, and the dramatic way it occurred. Love reading stories of grandparent generations.