If I get sick, I get better. If my grandad gets sick, he gets better. That’s just how it’s supposed to work. When he passed away recently, my ability to live in denial of the sickness that overtook his body as he aged was shattered. The day after his funeral, I had a moment to myself when I thought “I have one grandparent left…” and felt shook to my core.
On the day of his burial, I was a pallbearer. It felt only right that as my father’s only son, I help take care of the father he had just lost. Uncertainty danced through my body, though. Would I even be able to fulfill my duties? What were my duties? There were no rehearsals, run-throughs or explanations of how to be a pallbearer.
After my grandfather’s obituary was read to a modest crowd in a simple church, the service began to conclude and the pallbearers were called forward. I took a big breath and joined my cousins who were in the same position as me. Back when my grandad was a young, vibrant man, he was the man. There’s also a photo of my granny, his wife, from decades ago where she’s got her legs crossed as she’s looking straight into the camera with a mischevious smile on her face. They were so boss. So, to help send my grandad off, I opted to wear a crisp white shirt with a gray textured tie, cropped wool trousers, black suede boots and a long, tailored camel coat. Was it very “fashion” for a funeral? Sure, but my grandad was extra in his own right so it felt appropriate.
I was afraid that my coat would be too restricting when trying to lift and carry a casket so I left it folded in my chair. “Your coat, your coat!” a few people quietly mouthed and pointed to me as I stood in line. I snapped that I knew it was my coat and it would be fine sitting there. It was snowing outside but something told me the cold wouldn’t bother me that much. I was right. I literally felt nothing.
After his casket was loaded into the hearse, I got into my rental car and immediately put on the saddest music I could think of. As the procession of cars in the funeral line made our way to the gravesite, Coldplay’s “Fix You” came on which was a massive mistake. Too many tears were streaming and I was afraid of crashing so I switched to Colin Hay’s “Waiting For My Real Life to Begin.” This was another mistake. Hay’s “Waiting” brings out every emotion every single time. It makes me think of my family, my journey, my struggles. I know the lyrics so well but they take on new meaning every time I hear them.
And down this beaten path, up this cobbled lane / I’m walking in my old footsteps, once again
My grandad was no longer alive on earth but was happily walking in his old footsteps in a better place, right? Fuck. I was a mess.
Before taking my place to help remove my grandad’s casket from the hearse, another round of tears escaped my eyes. I was able to pull myself together and get the job done but soon was crying yet again as my dad placed his arm around me. I dropped my head onto his shoulder feeling like a small child. Two military officers folded the American flag that had been placed over my grandad’s casket. He had served in the Korean War which I hadn’t been aware of. Watching them fold the flag didn’t move me but when one officer took the final product and marched it over to my granny who was waiting in her warm limo, there was a sudden burst of tears from most people present.
This concluded the funeral services and people began to head back to their cars for the repast, an opportunity to celebrate life even when dealing with death. The day after, I sat in the living room of my parent’s home eating Gino’s pizza with one of my sisters, one older cousin and one younger. My older cousin shared so many family truths that I was secretly wishing I had both a strong cocktail and a Xanax to keep me calm. Why is it when you bury one person, ten secrets come to the surface? I wasn’t surprised at what I was hearing as I’ve always been very sheltered and oblivious to bad things happening around me. Since birth, my denial game has been strong.
One thing that I can’t deny is that I loved my grandad. I have two all-time favorite memories of him and they couldn’t differ more from one another. The first includes him pretending his knee was a bull and I was a brave cowboy mounting to see how long I could stay on. He would shake his leg fast, dip it to the left and then to the right and then back-and-forth. I giggled and squealed trying to hold on. In these memories, I see a beaming little boy with a face full of glee. When he told me I had gotten too heavy to play that game, I was crushed.
The other memory is of him chasing me through his house so he could give me a whooping. My sisters and I were sleeping over and I continued to bother my sisters even though we were supposed to be sleeping. When they ratted on me, my grandad came after me with such swiftness. I slipped past his grasp and flew up the stairs but when I turned around, he was on top of me. I squeezed by and flew down the stairs and under the dining room table. I eventually slipped up and went left when I should have gone right and sailed right into his waiting arms. This story ends with me receiving the most glorious ass whooping. This story is now looked at with a certain “fondness” even though his heavy hand made it seemed like my world was ending that night.
Apparently, though, my memories have more of a rose-tinted hue than others. During the aforementioned cousin-sibling pow-wow, the younger cousin revealed she didn’t hold such lovely memories of our grandfather. As she shared her reasons and her own stories, my heart broke. Before I knew it, the extra large pepperoni I had ordered was all gone. After getting back to my hotel room, I mindlessly watched HGTV and thought how one person can be so many different versions all at once.
For me, my grandad will always be this bigger-than-life man who preferred the Duke Blue Devils men’s basketball team, was a part of a bowling league and was in various music bands. I miss him but I began missing him and my other grandparents the day I left home and moved to New York City. There’s a part of me that feels horrible for not calling more and for not spending more time with him when I visited home. When my mom called to tell me of his passing, one of the first things that came out of my mouth was “I never get to say goodbye.”
Luckily, something tells me he knows how much I loved him. In my mind, he’s in heaven but it’s his own version of heaven. This isn’t some all-white place where people sit on clouds watching over us like big brother. Heaven = hanging out with our favorite versions of those we loved + the brilliant fantasies we daydream about.
When people say those who have passed are “in a better place,” this is exactly what I imagine for them. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my grandfather here on earth but we’re still together in a more fantastical way. That’s okay in my book.