This day is emblazoned within my mind. I would learn so much within a forty-eight hour span of time, and I would be permanently changed. But no one tells you that when you’re a child. No. They try to keep you “innocent”. Except in my family. My mother decided I was not going to be lied to or be told nonsensical stories. I’ve been treated like an adult, with free thoughts and a free spirit, my entire life. There’s much to be said for this methodology because, even today, people do try to shield their children from many things. There’s no perfect way to be a parent. Did you just shake your head? You can disagree. That’s fine.
There are so many moments in life, but as someone with extreme intuition, this one still gets me.
I remember a full day of fun, spent with my mother, brother, and Grandparents. I remember exactly where we were, and that we had been in a specific store just minutes before the tension began. I remember feeling confused when some form of visibly silent arguing began, which is when my mother and her parents would switch languages in front of my brother and I. My brother probably doesn’t have any recollection of this, but I do. Whenever another language was spoken around me, I paid attention. I still do.
I remember my mother becoming frustrated, bordering on furious. The plans had changed and she was hurt, trying to rein in her temper. She was trying to put on a brave face in front of her children, but I felt the shift in emotions immediately. Once again, my Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle would get their way, and my mother was not pleased. She was not manipulative and didn’t appreciate manipulative people. She was never fake by nature, but in those final moments, she was putting on a show.
Me, always questioning everything, precisely as she taught me, demanded to know what was going on. “Where are they going? Why are they leaving? I have to say goodbye to Grandpa.” At that point in my life, my entire world revolved around my mother, Grandfather, Aunt (my mother’s sister), and brother.
My mother, of the softly spoken everything, of her calm, easy-going nature, would reply with a tone better suited for a teenager that arrived home at four a.m. drunk, without a phone call. “You don’t need to say goodbye. You’ll see him tomorrow.” I remember trying to get one final hug and kiss, and being forcibly taken away from him. I was angry. He and my Grandmother waved, promising me tomorrow. Tomorrow didn’t happen the way any of them expected, I am sure.
It was extremely early in the morning. Ever the night owl, I left the room I shared with my younger brother to find out what was going on. I remember facing my Grandmother, her always stoic expression conveying something was wrong. I had never seen her so quiet, so sad, so lost.
“Where is Grandpa?” I demanded. You rarely saw one Grandparent without the other, even though my Grandfather was the predominant force between the two. She looked up at me with a blatantly sad expression on her normally expressionless face. “He’s gone.” was the answer I received.
Gone. What did that mean to me? It made no sense. “Then we have to go and find him.” was my reply. I was adamant. I knew he would not leave without me, without talking to me, without saying goodbye. The fiercest part of me knew that he would never leave by choice. Never. She shook her head and waited for my mother to explain to me that the single most important man in my life was “in heaven”.
I quickly learned that NO ONE understood this concept. They would look at me sadly, point up to the sky, and tell me my Grandfather had “gone to heaven”. I did not believe them. I had already extensively searched the clouds and he was not there. Because they all pointed up, I believed he had gone to a castle in the clouds. He would always study the sky with me and show me things, so this made sense in my mind at the time.
I remember his funeral. The entire chapel was filled beyond capacity. People were huddled in to make additional room. Hundreds of people had come to pay their respects. My Grandfather was beloved, respected, admired. I remember looking at all the people, so many of them strangers to me, and everyone looked back at me sadly.
I remember the cemetery. The line of cars was unreal. Again, a testament to this great man. I remember my Great-Aunt Minnie and Great-Uncle Charlie wanting to dote on me from the funeral home to the burial site. I remember my cousins, Gloria and Lenny, trying to lighten the mood in the car. Lenny was known for his sense of humor. My Aunt Minnie tried distracting me with cookies. I was not to be distracted, though. I was this man’s only Granddaughter and I knew I had a purpose on this day. After all, I fought to be there. No one thought I should be “subjected to death”. I’d heard this stated quite a bit in the previous day, and knowing myself, I was paying exceptional attention to who said what and how they said it. I’ve always been a keen observer.
My mother sat down with me and explained everything and asked what I wanted to do. I remember her friend Ellen saying “Don’t you want to stay home and play with me and your baby brother?” I remember looking up at her coldly and saying “No. He is MY Grandfather and I AM GOING.” My mother actually stared at me, shocked by the tone of voice I had used. Before that moment, I had always been described as the “little girl with the ancient eyes”, even as a baby, but in that moment my mother knew I was the fierce warrior she had prayed for. There would be no further argument. I had stood my ground.
Cemeteries are for the living. It’s how we remember those we’ve lost and try to honor them. There is nothing more final than seeing someone’s name and the dates of their birth and death etched into granite or marble. Is it bizarre that my Grandparents’ headstone is the same as my parents’ stone? Not really. I remember asking my mother what she wanted for my father and she said “Just bury us together. Get one stone. Something similar to the one for my Mom and Dad, okay?” Her only concession was that her side have a specific design. I custom-designed that stone with the help of someone who does that sort of work. The final result was startling, same as it was to see my Grandparents’ names etched in finality.
After my Grandfather’s death, I remember heated discussions. My Great-Aunt, my Grandfather’s only sister, asked my Grandmother if she could still go on her vacation, despite the traditional 3-7 days where Jews sit Shiva. My Grandmother acquiesced, as she always did in situations such as this. My mother didn’t speak to my Great-Aunt for YEARS after the fact, and my own anger would become part of the mix as I got older and heard the entire story. If, G-d forbid, anything ever happened to my brother, I would not be on a plane the day after his funeral to go anywhere. I would never show his life such disrespect. It’s nonnegotiable. How the hell does someone claim to be in mourning and then get on a plane to go anywhere to enjoy themselves?! I will forever feel haunted by that move. In reverse, I can assure you my Grandfather would not have done something so despicable.
My Grandmother never spoke about it. She had friends, family, tons of well-wishers, and her children and grandchildren by her side. She became a prominent, front-and-center Grandmother in the wake of my Grandfather’s death, whereas she was very much in the background most of the time before his passing. There was NOTHING she did not do for us, take care of, or handle if my father refused. If my brother or I ever needed something, it did not matter what it is, she was there. She went to all of my gymnastic competitions, every drama performance, every Glee club performance, every Graduation. If it was during the day and my parents had to work, she was the face we saw in every crowd. She loved us, she helped raise us, and she was always right across the street. With her, we would get extra time before cancer came and took her from us. The insidiousness of that disease, coming along and taking someone who stayed out of the sun (I always remember her being under an umbrella or sitting in the shade.), never smoked, rarely drank, was devastating. It just goes to show you that no one is immune.
For roughly the next three years, after things had settled down, I would openly discuss suicide, a word that had NEVER been used in my home or in my life. My family did not discuss such things, EVER. My parents would stare at each other in dismay, and I know what they were thinking. “Where did she get that word from?” I had never been exposed to it, but it was constant. I was determined to be wherever my Grandfather REALLY was, and I made this clear. Every time I would talk about it, my brother would become hysterical, clutching me and telling my parents “She’s my sister. She can’t leave. Don’t let her leave me.” His face would turn red and he’d cry himself into an asthma attack at times. We were incredibly adult for kids, I now realize, but back then, I thought all people had similar family lives and discussions. They did not. They do not.
It’s important to discuss loss, grief, death, and every aspect of mental health with your children. I have suffered the majority of my life because my mother was afraid for me and my father was in denial. But as someone recently said to me “You could have harmed yourself so many times by now, and you’re still here. You’re still in one piece.” Only, I’m not truly in “one piece”. I’m very much a broken, pretty mess, but people only focus on the visual on front of them. They are sitting across from someone who is dressed appropriately, someone who is clean, hair done, makeup on, and they think that someplace, somewhere, I have it all “together”. Sometimes I do, but mostly, I do not. I don’t pretend. I am as imperfect as the amethyst I wear around my neck nearly all the time, except during a Full Moon.
To this day, I still suffer. I still hurt, wondering how different life might have been if he had lived another ten or fifteen years. I miss him terribly. But most importantly, I remember. I remember it all.
copyright © 2018 Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
“The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight:
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears til later:
But my grief will never go.”
“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.” ―Sarah Dessen
It’s hard to be patriotic today, at least for me. Perhaps others are struggling with it, too. Regardless, I hope everyone is having a safe, happy, and healthy time.