A year after my grandfather passed, my family held an unveiling, the traditional meeting at his grave to reveal his tombstone/grave marker/plaque on the ground. I don’t know what those are called. It was, obviously, a somber day. My grandfather meant a lot to me, my brother, my parents, my aunts, uncles, cousins, what felt like half of Florida, and of course, my grandmother. I loved my grandfather, but my love for him has turned to regret as I get older. He was one of the only artists in the family, and he embraced it through and through, while still being a kind and loving family man. And I feel that at this point in my life, I could really use some advice about that from someone who made it work…
Anyway, after the unveiling, it was time to share a meal in honor of my late Zaidy. My grandmother picked the restaurant, and when we walked in, we all knew something was wrong. The kitschy, TGIF-style setting was completely inconsistent with everything my grandfather was. When asked if Zaidy really enjoyed this place, my grandmother admitted something to the effect that “He hated this place, but he’s not here to disagree anymore.”
Now, normally I’d… no, I did what I usually do when I’m mad. I seethed with a burning fire. Being with family, they got the hint, and when I ordered a beer in a 20 ounce glass and sat silently in the corner, no one objected or tried to coax me into a better mood. I didn’t want to fight anyone that day, but the only way to make that happen was to disengage, so that’s what I did. I’m lucky I was with people who understood and accepted that.
It’s hard not to take what happened that day personally. We were all raw from the loss of my grandfather, and my grandmother’s callous words rubbed salt in the wound. I had lost my Zaidy, and it still hurt so much. But she had lost her husband.
My grandparents’ relationship always seemed complicated, at best, but they spent the better part of 60 years together. They raised a family together and grew old together. There was a unique bond there, as there is in any marriage; they saw sides of each other that were never shared with me, or with anyone else in our family. And in retrospect, I can’t really fault her for trying to be cold that day, because the alternative was feeling it all.
I was there when my grandmother heard the news of Zaidy’s passing and broke down crying. When she went to see his body the final time. And from that day to this, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a positive word about him. I rarely hear her talk about him at all, to be honest. I suppose she’s dealing in her own way (or not dealing). And for someone older, it’s hard not to have some sympathy for how long life has been and how much shorter, and yet still longer, it just got when someone so integral is taken away. It takes a unique person to deal with that well, and I have yet to see a single person process death in a healthy way, myself included (I mean, there’s hundreds of pages of backlog to prove it). It takes a while. It takes dealing.
Last year, I visited what was once my grandparents’ house, now just my grandmother’s. It wasn’t until I walked in the door that I realized I hadn’t been there in five years, since Zaidy passed. It was a more powerful experience than I thought it would be. That thing I said about dealing? Still waiting on that. I realized just how hard it was when I lost it at the sight of one of his paintings. It wasn’t his best, or his favorite, or his most popular. But it was the one I went back to every time I saw them. It was more than just the paint on the canvas. It was waking up to the smell of egg in a frame and wet paint. It was his laugh and the remains of cigarette butts. It was Zaidy.
And when she saw what the painting meant to me, my grandma gave it to me without hesitation.
We all grieve. How can I hold that against her?