The summer of 2003 was a really interesting summer for me, I was at the ripe age of twenty years old and wasn’t sure which way the road was leading me. Granted not much has changed in that factor, but as a college student, who was working for the summer and trying his best to live life to the fullest. Life suddenly got real.
Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the passing of my paternal grandmother. It was tough, it was something we were bracing with for a few years leading up to it. She had been diagnosed with cancer and was going through treatment. She was fighting if off pretty well, for a few years at least. Then the disease just started to win the battle.
Sometime during the summer she had been placed in hospice as she needed more help day-to-day and hour to hour. It was a sudden shock for me, a realization that she wouldn’t be able to fight this off anymore. Obviously is was a worse shock to her, to my grandfather, my father, my aunt and my two uncles. The woman that they loved and who had helped raised them.
It sucked for all of us.
The summer was like any other summer really. The weather was warmer, as a lawn care worker at the time I was getting a lot of hours working. And yet, I had to visit my grandmother. The money was good, but the love of a grandmother and her first grand son, now that’s a little better, right?
I finally found the time, looking back, I wish I had found it sooner. I had made the plan to go out on August 21st to go and visit my grandmother. My dad had gone out previously and was spending a few nights at my one uncle’s. Being that we lived in the Albany area and the rest of our family lived in the Syracuse region it made visiting her and them a bit difficult.
I was going to finish my work day on Friday and then head up to my uncle’s and spend the night there. In the morning we were to visit my grandmother in hospice and well, hope and wish for the best. All I had to do was make it through a few more hours of work and then shower, pack the car and drive the two and a half hours to Syracuse.
So there I was working, I was in charge of weed wacker at the time, it was my friend’s dads business and he had hired me along with another one of our friend’s. We were all working on this fairly big job, it was a location with a few houses, a pool, and a bunch of trees. Which meant I had a lot of work to do. As I’m working away, my one friend comes up to me and stops me. I don’t remember the exact words he had used but it was around the old “I’ve got some bad news” one of those sayings.
My stomach drops, the world pauses and I suddenly make the connection of what he’s about to say. I think to myself in those brief few seconds before he continues on to tell me what actually is the problem my first thought is it has to be something with my grandmother. Now I’ve got thousands of thoughts rushing through my head, worried, scared, sad, and a million other feelings.
My friend goes on to tell me about a friend of my brother’s had passed away. He was in horrific car accident.
Any thought of my own well being goes from 100% to zero. I jump right out of feeling bad about myself but about my brother, my brother’s friends family. About how my brother is going to deal with all of this. With that and his grandmother being sick. I was in tears just from learning my grandmother was in hospice. Imagine how I’d be if one of my good friends had passed too.
My brother and his friend were very close in elementary school. They’d spend the weekend together being kids. They’d either stay at our house or at his. They’d build forts, play games, you name it they did a lot of stuff together. And yet, now it would be no more.
I didn’t know what to do. Do I still go out and see my grandmother? Do I stay? Ultimately we, as a family, my mother mostly, told me to go see my grandmother. I’m not sure if they were going to come up too at one point and visit, probably, but my brother was playing football and they had practice and all. But after work, talking to my brother a little bit. I washed up and headed off to Syracuse.
I got in a little late to Syracuse, probably after 8 or so, because I think it was dark. Not really sure of that. But I hung out with my dad and my uncle and we just sat around talking about life, about my grandmother, about my brother’s friend. We probably spent a few hours just talking. Then we all hunkered down and went to sleep. My uncle had a L shape couch, one of those sectional couches. My dad took one side and I the other.
During the night, I’m not sure what time it was. I can remember my uncle waking me up and saying that grandma had died. Half asleep and barely aware I didn’t know if it was reality or just a misplaced nightmare. Yet, in a few hours I had to deal with the reality of my grandmother dying.
I had distant family that had passed away. From cousins that I met once when I was real young, I had a great-uncle that I would see a couple of times a year that passed away. But other than that I was kind of lucky in the regards of having people close to me pass away. It never happened. But my grandmother’s death that was very close. It gave me that realization that life is precious, you can’t live forever, and sometimes for whatever reason people you love are taken away from you.
After waking up, instead of visiting my grandmother in hospice, we ended up visiting the funeral home. Which for a grandson, it turned out to be one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me. There we were talking things over with the funeral director. My aunt, my uncles, my grandfather and me.
My grandmother had written out her final wishes. Things she wanted to happen with her remains, how she wanted to look when her final demise accrued. Sadly, having cancer gives you the power to reflect on how you want your final moments to be. She had picked out an outfit to wear, they had already picked a spot where her body would be laid to rest. Everything had been already predetermined, and we were just going over the finality of it all.
The event, the day, all of it was so surreal. I couldn’t believe what had occurred and I doubt any of my family did either. I remember bits and pieces of things, I remember riding in my uncle’s car. We went over and picked up my other uncle so there was the four of us in the car. My uncle, who I spent the night with was driving. We were all in such a shock and a bewilderment, that at one time my uncle while driving ran a red light. I think the statute of limitations is up now, so I can talk about it. We came to a red light at a three-way stop and he stopped looked both ways and turned left. It took us all a few minutes to realize what had happened and we all got a little chuckle out of it.
It’s just we all didn’t realize what was going on at all. None of us knew how to cope. Heck, thirteen years later, I still don’t know how to cope with a death of a loved one. When the cancer took my mother, I didn’t know. When my great-grandmother passed, I didn’t know. Even when my maternal grandfather passed I didn’t know what to do. It’s death, there’s no way to deal with it. We all know it’s going to happen one day, but when it does, it’s just I don’t know. It sucks. That’s the truth of it.
The following days were pretty tough too. Instead of having fun as a 20-year-old or my brother having an enjoyable summer as a 16-year-old, we had to attend funerals. He had to attend two funerals, one for his grandmother and one for his childhood friend.
As I look back at the time, it just makes you realize how suddenly life can change. How you can be this fun-loving person to having to deal with the most serious situation in your entire life. The funeral for my grandmother was pretty easy emotionally. I had done a lot of crying a few weeks prior to her passing. I had written down my feelings in a notebook, I should try to find it, if I even still have it.
There were some fleeting moments that I remember about it. I remember standing in line, like a greeting line when people came to the wake. A few people thought I was her son, I got to meet a few cousins I didn’t know I had and some other distant family members. I remember a bunch of crows outside, which for someone who is a fan of The Crow, a series of movies and graphic novels about death and a crow bringing a soul to the land of the dead. While this situation was quite different from those stories it still gave me a little “Hey, everything is going to be okay” as weird as that may seem.
I didn’t realize how fast the time would have gone, and how the pain of losing someone sometimes just gets lost in the mundane of life. But yeah, it’s been thirteen years. And while I recite some of this it seems like just yesterday. If only it could be like yesterday, or the last actual time I got to see her alive.