a reflection on my earliest loss
There are two memories of my grandfather that stand out to me clearly. I’m not referring to assimilated moments of often-occurring events, such as how he looked lounging in his favorite armchair, reading a newspaper or a romance novel, or how he yodeled and told corny jokes. These are solid scenes, etched in my mind in some detail.
The first occurred when I was twelve or so. We’d just arrived at my grandparents’ house, and while my mother took her time getting out of the car, I hurried up the wooden steps of their worn deck. He was there, sitting quietly on the porch swing in his undershirt. He beckoned me forward, and I went to sit beside him. He hugged me close and told me, “I love you,” something he said to me often enough in parting, but rarely out of the blue.
I, of course, said it back.
My mother came up the stairs then and asked, “How’s grandma?”, meaning his mother.
He told her, “She’s gone.”
The next memory happened maybe a year or so later, soon after my grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer, but before I knew (did I ever know?) that it would take his life. We were visiting him in the hospital, my mother and brother and I and maybe my dad, too. We all sat in the waiting room. I was bored and wanted to leave, but enough time hadn’t passed yet to start complaining.
A woman came in, maybe in her fifties or so, and came up to my grandfather and asked him, “Are you James Edgar?”
He affirmed this, and she quickly continued. I don’t recall her exact words, but the gist of it was this: she remembered him from when she was a girl. Her family had been struggling one winter, and my grandfather, who worked at the local Agway, had helped them out with food and feed for the horses.
Something about her account really moved me. I had always known that my grandfather was an exemplary person. It sounds cliched to say it, but the man was really that good, that special. My grandmother is the same way, and together they were that couple. The one that had occasional arguments, maybe, but never fights. Who always treated each other with understated, tender affection. They were a perfectly-matched pair; both sincerely benevolent, devout, and patient, the latter which could maybe be attributed to the fact that they had raised five children. I was — and am, as my grandmother is thankfully still with us — beyond blessed to have them in my lives.
But that moment in the hospital was special to me. I felt something like pride; something I rarely feel for other people, if I’m honest. His goodness overwhelmed me, and I wasn’t sure how to express it.
A few months later, he was gone.
When my grandfather died, my entire family cried at the funeral. This was typical funeral behavior; I knew that very well by then. I was supposed to cry too. My grandmother, my aunts whispered at my mother, “Is she okay?”
Maybe something is wrong with me. I’ve always wondered. Typically I can cry in front of other people, and often I can’t help it. But I can’t bring myself to grieve so openly. I just can’t. Instead I cry alone at night. I grieve with the weight of my thoughts, alone with them in my head.
I still cry that way for him, sometimes, and for the other grandparents I’ve since lost.
What struck me the most about his death — and this has stayed with me for years — was his age. Seventy-seven may be a perfectly ordinary age for a man to die, but the thing is, his parents, my great-grandparents, both lived well into their nineties. It struck me as terribly unfair that they should live such long lives while their sons both perished some two decades sooner. My grandfather passed away approximately two years after his mother; his younger brother had died around fifteen years before that.
Death doesn’t follow rules. Perhaps that’s why I can’t follow the rules about grief.
As a Christian, I understand that the most anticipated grace of eternal life is meant to be finally, at last, coming face-to-face with God. But for sincerity’s sake, I must confess I long most to be reunited with those I’ve loved. Those I’ve lost.
I’m not sorry.
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Anne Marie is a writer and entrepreneur. She lives with her husband and daughter in PA. You can find her at her online home, www.inspiration-kindled.com, or follow her on twitter @InspireEach_Day.