My dad in my grandparents’ backyard, May 1974
My grandfather, my dad’s dad, always made sure to get individual portraits of everyone in the family on a regular basis. He’d make the rounds during holiday gatherings or at our annual summer camping trips and get everyone to give him a few seconds. There are a lot of us, so it was a bigger job than it sounds. He’d send packages to my brother and me in September or so with pictures from the summer and a note inside from him and my grandmother.
I’ve never much liked posing for photos, but thanks to him I’ve got pictures of just me from when I was nine, fifteen, nineteen, thirty. You couldn’t ever tell him no. Sometimes I was a little cranky about it, but of course now I’m glad to have them. Even more glad to have copies of so many of the shots he got of my dad – from the time he was a baby up until my grandfather passed away several years ago.
When my dad died, I was in Houston with my stepmom. We were sleeping and the hospital called after 1 in the morning, telling us to get there quickly. He maybe died while we were driving there, I’m not sure. He was asleep when it happened, I know, because the next day the funeral director, who’d grown up with my dad, pulled me aside and told me that his feet were relaxed. That his toes were pointed down. People who are awake when they die, she said, have their toes flexed back toward their head. Resisting. That was the nicest thing anyone said to me during that time. Or it made me feel better somehow more than anything.
After the funeral as we were all saying good bye at my grandmother’s before going back home, my uncle told me that I’d find myself thinking about my dad all the time, probably much more than I ever did while he was alive. That’s been so true. Usually the thoughts are more comforting than painful, but I wouldn’t say that I’m coping well with his death. Not at all.
You know how there are events in your life that mark a shift in your thinking? In the way you prioritize things and react to things? This is one of mine: Going to visit my dad in the hospital in early April and seeing him unable to lift his hand up. All my life he was so strong. My brother and I used to arm wrestle him and sit on his feet, holding onto his legs while he walked around the house. He was the guy you’d hand unopenable jars to. He had a great handshake. Seeing him unable to lift his hand up broke something in me, and I felt it right when it happened. I don’t know how to say it, but it’s something along the lines of The world isn’t really how I think it is. Nothing lasts. Nothing is even real. If I think about it too much, it quickly turns to What’s the point? That’s when I get out the old answering machine that has some messages from him. Hello, he says, this is your Daddy – or Granddaddy, depending on who’s listening. And I remember him saying to me, I sure do love you, kiddo, and rubbing his knuckles on the top of my head.
It’s hard for me to call my stepmom and my grandmother, even though I so much want to talk to them. I feel like a traitor if I talk to my brother on the phone and we don’t talk about our dad. But talking about him sometimes is too hard. I’d like to be able to hurt less, and I know he wouldn’t want me to spend as much time grieving for him as I do. But the thought of letting go seems wrong. I love him so much I should always be this devastated, right?
Today is my mom’s mother’s birthday. Tooty. I miss her like hell, too. We used to talk a lot, and she’d have me tell her what I was cooking, then she’d tell me about a new thing she tried, usually something one of her church ladies brought to her. That’s goooood eatin‘ she’d say. And, my all-time favorite way to describe someone entirely selfish came from her, too. Well, he’s just sweet on hisself, that’s all.
I miss you both. Save me a seat. xo
I feel your pain Jen and extend my continued sympathy. I would not be honest to say that it gets better over time. I lost both of my parents when I was a kid, so I cannot really say I miss them (except in missing HAVING parents), but I had a very special bond with my older brother and although we were placed in different foster homes – when I was an adult I moved to the town he lived in and we truly found a relationship that siblings were supposed to have. And then he up and died on me, at the age of 34, of the same thing (brain aneurysm) that took our dad at the age of 36. That was in 1997, and I still think of my brother nearly daily. Sometimes I can hear his laugh at smoething goofy I’ve done. Sometimes I want to pick up the phone to tell him something exciting that one of the kids has done. I still tear up when I talk about him. He had my back and I had his. Keep the memories alive, and keep writing them down as that’s one of the best ways to help you cope and to have a lasting memory of him for your children.
“The thought of letting go seems wrong.” You don’t let go, you just hold on in a different way. I’m thinking of buying some of Mom’s perfume to try…….the scent is on everything I have from the house, even the black chest. At first, I couldn’t wear her pearls because they smelled like her……now I can.
Tammom – thank you so much for your words and for sharing your story. I’m very sorry about the loss of so many of your family members, and all far too early.
I love your quilts and am happy to see that you’ve got a lovely and supportive family to hold you as you face your health challenges. I imagine having them means more to you than it does to a lot of people. xo
The suitcases and Poppa’s cameras and cases still smell like her, too. I don’t even know what perfume it is, but every once in awhile someone will be wearing it while I’m out and I love that. Love you xo