It takes a while to realize that we all are born, grow and then pass away through essentially the same physical processes. Well, it took me awhile, anyway. As a young kid (and I’ll go ahead and assume this would apply for most maturing teens), I never really thought about my grandparents or my parents as having endured those processes – and then it hits you one day: your teenage ego is slowly drifting away like a balloon that gets released to the open air. And your fading teenage ego realizes that your parents and grandparents are actually people, too. Real people, yes, with heart-beats, tissue, nerves, brains and a skeleton – just like myself. They’re full of quirks, tremendous qualities, negative attributes, funny anecdotes, fundamental flaws. The works.
We buried my grandmother today. She wanted a quick, small service and she got one – that’s the way she wanted it. My opinion is that she didn’t want her passing away and her funeral to be a burden to anyone’s time. That’s the way she was. But she was something else, and I mean that in several ways: the way you describe an odd but hilarious person, “boy, she really is something else!” And she was “something else” in the sense that at one time, she was a little girl, probably like all the other girls – innocently spent summers as a child cackling with delight in the ocean water, riding the waves and never wanting it to stop. Or licking around and around on an ice cream cone, racing against time and heat to make sure none of it dripped down her hand onto the cracked pavement in the parking lot of the ice cream stand. Nothing else mattered. It took years of my life to realize that she did the exact same things as I did when I was a kid, or a teen, or an adult. Okay, she probably didn’t operate an online journal, but you get the picture.
So I knew her only as my grandmother for the longest time. Couldn’t picture her doing anything else than being my grandmother. Then in the mid-1980s my uncle, her son, died at 31 years old, and that’s when my teenage ego started to evaporate like a fart in the wind. I went off to college and her second son died in a tragic accident. I then realized that she had more – infinitely more – wisdom and experience than I could ever hope to have. It may have helped me, and it may not have – doesn’t matter. But it sure was fun getting to know her all over again in an entirely different, meaningful, human way.
Furthermore, it’s not the fact that she died that makes me sad, hell no. She had a terminal illness and her suffering, compared to other stories I’ve heard, was relatively minimal. I’d much rather have it that way than to have to endure the painful process of watching that flower slowly wilt, victim to something so completely out of our control. My memories of her, thank whatever higher power you believe in, are completely and utterly intact. Not sick, not ill, nothing – I remember her just like she was for the 32 years that I’ve been alive and the 10 years that I feel like I got to know her as a human and not just my grandmother. I see where some of “my type” of humor came from now. I miss her already and wherever she is, she’s already probably bought a scratch ticket or is re-creating watching the Red Sox win the World Series – something she never got to do. What I’d like to think is that she is the winning scratch ticket, because her arrival somewhere right now is enriching someone, or something.
What makes me sad about the whole thing was the fact that a piece of everyone who is still here was carved out just a little bit, with no novacaine to soften the blow; this particular passing so sadly affects those still with us who were close to her. This inevitably is a very positive thing, though: it just means that my grandmother was loved and left our world knowing that. Specifically, my mother and her sister (oh, so different and yet so similar – another one of those “human” things) had the privledge of being incredibly close to their mother and having known that, it will slowly start to take over their emotions as the dominant, positive remembrance of her. For now, they (and we) mourn.
On a more personal note, I should point out that my grandmother did not end her life like a high amount of elderly cross the finish line: she’d been taken all over the place: cruises down near the equator, a trip to Ireland, countless quick jaunts to Foxwoods Casino – and that was only in the last three years. What I liked about her most: she was funny. I mean – hilarious. And she told it like it was – an old Irish woman with, sometimes, a sailor’s diction and no room for nonsense. Gotta love that. Oh, she also bought us dinner this afternoon. That’s the way she wanted it.
On the drive home from the service on Cape Cod today, my girlfriend Stephanie asked me “what do you think happens when you die?” I’ve never really thought about this, and being the speak-before-I-think person that I am most of the time, I blurted out “nothing. I think once it’s over, it’s over.” Ten minutes later, after conversation with her on the topic, maybe I’m wrong. Stephanie’s good like that. Real good. I know this: I would love nothing more than to be able to go somewhere else after I pass on, but more importantly, I really want to believe that I will. That feeling of believing so strongly in something that you don’t even consider science must be incredibly powerful and damn-near life-affirming. Am I getting religious? Probably not. I’m not there……yet. But when I do die, I hope somewhere down the road I get to see my grandmother again. Can’t wait to say hi.