11/5/08

"Losing" a Grandparent


Last year, on my 18th birthday, my grandpa died. My mom told me of his death over breakfast. Oddly enough, I don't believe anyone in my immediate family shed a single tear.  Although he is the first grandparent that I've ever "lost" and dealing with death is something very foreign to me, I didn't find the situation especially troubling. Sure, I felt a little sorry for my dad but the rest of my day went about in its usual way. The following day, my family and I drove the four hours to St. George where we attended my grandpa's funeral. A feeling of indifference seemed to pervade most everyone there. 
Now, over a year later, I have a softer feeling. 

I came back to Draper today for a short stay before I fly out tomorrow morning. While driving around with my mom, she enviously informed me that Karen, my widow-grandma, had stopped by for a visit last week and that I had just missed her. I counted my blessings. When I went down to my room, where my grandma had been staying, I found everything how I had left it except for a few added boxes that stood in the corner. I curiously looked through them until I discovered that all the boxes contained were old odds and ends that had belonged to my dead grandpa. A little annoyed at the clutter, I decided to find another place for it. Thinking that I could carry the stack of boxes in one armload proved to be a mistake. Before I could slip them onto an empty shelf in the storage room, the top box slid off and landed upside-down on the floor. My annoyance heightened as I stooped to pick up the spilled papers, photographs, and souvenirs from World War II. Some of the photos caught my eye and I seated myself on the floor to look through them. In the photos I saw my grandma and grandpa as they had always been to me: frustrated, poor, drunk, rednecks. These photos were interesting enough and I decided to look through the rest of them. I flipped over a photo that had 1949 scrawled on the back of it. I was dumbfounded to see a barely-recognizable man smiling up at me through sepia tones. Although I knew this was my grandfather, I could not dismiss my shock at finding his countenance so different from anything I ever knew of him. I suppose it is foolish to assume that the people you know have always been the way you know them now but I had never put much thought into the type of person my grandpa was in his younger life. But now I couldn't tear my eyes away from his happy, intelligent, hardworking face. This is not the grandfather that showed up every five years or so when he had spent all of his money on liquor or had gambled it all away. In the photo, his future looked promising and he radiated with health. What happened to this man between his youth and his old age? What change him into the grumpy old man I knew? I pondered these questions as I stared into my grandfather's youthful face. I wished so much that he were here now so I could ask him to tell me about his life. I tried to recall anecdotes about his life that I had been told but I don't ever remember hearing any. All I wanted was to ask him what put him on the path of drunkenness and poverty when he once was  just as vibrant as the young men I know now, but I couldn't. He died last year without me ever taking the opportunity to know him, to learn about his life. I felt a deep sense of lose. I understood what it is like to lose a grandparent. Those who have real relationships with grandparents can't really call it "losing them" when they die because the grandparent isn't lost. All the knowledge that the grandparent accumulated throughout their life will not be lost because the grandchild will remember it. I know what it is "lose" a grandparent. A feeling of regret sunk deep within me. As I contemplated all the life lessons that I could've learned  if I had just seized the opportunity to talk to my grandfather, tears welled up in my eyes, rolled down my cheeks, and splashed on my grandfather's boyish face. I sat on the floor and wept, with papers and mess all about me, because I understood the full magnitude of what I had lost. Looking at the photograph, I decided to throw my pride away. I decided that any mistake I have made or have yet to make will be relayed in full detail to those who know me so that when I am dead all my life learnings will not be lost.  My grandchildren will never speak of my death and say that they "lost" their grandma. I decided that once I am dead, the world will have full access to all of my journals, which is an idea that had previously struck me with terror. Looking down at the photograph I had a strong desire to keep it, so I did something that I had never done in my life. I stole. The photograph is now pressed between the pages of my journal to serve as a reminder that I am an open book to anyone who thinks they can learn from my choices, whether they be bad or good. 

14 comments:

Sky said...

I don't think one can ever go wrong with truth-telling.
One question--what do you mean by "enviously informed me"?
But, you've got me interested also now. What did happen? Ask your mom and write the answers?

I suppose there were no fireworks, as in San Francisco, in Draper, UT last night, huh? My son, Beau, texted, "Fireworks. Amazing. They're blazing color over the whole city. People hugging and dancing. This is beyond politics. I told friend, "I have to call my mom." He cracks me up.

Sign your stuff, Britt, and be careful on your trip with those protests in CA. They don't sound too friendly.

I hope you write your grandfather's story.

Another question? Britt writes and posts here. Where is Kaitlin, Katie, etc.?

Britt said...

By "enviously" I mean that my mom wishes she was the one to have just missed my grandmother's visit. They don't really get along on account of my grandmother really doesn't like my mom and she is crazy, literally. She has been in and out of psych wards for the past few years.
I would ask my mom for the story but I know she doesn't know. My dad's parents have never been very close with us and they really don't like my mom much. My dad might know but I doubt it. My grandma probably knows but she is crazy and is always making things up so if I did ask her, I'm sure she would just come up with something bogus.
And nope, no fireworks here, just a bunch of depressed mormons.
Thanks for your comment and concern. I will behave like a safe and responsible adult. I promise.

Dan said...

I almost got married three years ago, but I didn't because of my grandpa. Everyone told me I should go for it; he told me I shouldn't. He was the only one who told me it would be better to wait. "Why are you in such a hurry?" he asked me. That question stayed with me, and when he died a week later, I knew he was right.

Matthew R. Hall, Esq. said...

Dan, I missed the connection between your grandfather's death and him being right about waiting. If anything, I think that shows life is short, so you should have rushed into something.

Maybe I'm just not very clever.

Dan said...

Maybe.

Britt said...

dan, could you explain that a little more. I'm with Matt, I don't really see the connection. But I love when you tell stories about your life. So please, go on...

E. Anona said...

Last words are important, and death puts a lot of things into perspective. Maybe it made Dan look a little harder at his life. Maybe not. But I doubt you'll hear more from him. Dan values his privacy.

Sky said...

"Maybe"? Ha. Dan, that's funny. You sound so mysterious--like you're having a Byronic day.

Sky said...

And no one knows this better than Anona (how the heck are you?), since she tried to nail him down on every issue she could think of--even waited behind trees to ambush him from the shadows.

Dan said...

Maybe there is no connection....

Other than stupid little stuff that no one really cares about--like how I was doing in school or what I wanted to be when I grew up--I never really talked to my grandpa until about two weeks before he died. I was really surprised when he called me one day at the beginning of the winter 06 semester. He told me that he'd been thinking about me and wanted to know how I was doing. At the time I was struggling because Hannah was about to leave on a mission. She told me that if I asked her to marry me she would stay. Our conversation that night was more than two hours long, and we talked nearly every night after that for the next week. His words felt more right than the advice of all the other people who told me I should get married--so I didn't.

He told me he was going to send me some money. I expected no more than fifty dollars, but he sent five thousand.

I don't remember the last time I talked to my grandpa. I went to visit Hannah, and on my way back I was in a car accident. Between the concussion and the drugs, I don't know much about what happened the few days before and after the accident. I think I talked to him on the phone in the hospital, but I don't know for sure. I don't know if I even said thank you.

A few days later he was dead. My mom called to let me know. He said he felt like he needed to go to Provo to visit his mom (who is over a hundred years old) because he thought it might be the last time he would get to see her. My mom and dad and my grandpa went to her house where she lives with my aunt and uncle.

He said he wasn't feeling well and went to the restroom. When he didn't return, my parents were worried. My dad knocked on the door, but got no response. Fearing something was wrong, he broke down the door. (*note* I have a really hard time imagining my dad breaking down a door.) I don't know what it was like for my dad to see his father lying dead on the floor; I don't want to ever know. He tried to give him CPR, but it was too late.

When I hung up the phone, I felt the tips of my fingers go numb. I wasn't sure how to feel, what more I could feel. But it felt like I should feel something. I just didn't know if I had any emotions left after Hannah leaving and getting hit by a semi truck. I relaxed onto a pile of pillows and closed my eyes. Within twenty minutes I didn't know if the conversation with my mom had really happened, or if it was a dream--or maybe it was just the pain medication.

Britt said...

Thanks Dan, I loved it!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Sky said...

Whatever! If you're going to judge this blog, you'd better, at the very least, sign your name.

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