At 11:55 am on October 8th, 2011, I was studying for a college paper. As always, I balanced this action with a healthy dose of Facebook. A cousin of mine suddenly sent me a short message. It was one of those short sentences that carry little meaning and, yet, seems to convey heavy emotion. It was as if my cousin was channeling her thoughts through virtual space so that I felt her emotions as I read.
I walked out of the library just as my phone rang. My grandfather had a heart attack that morning and passed away in my grandparent’s living room. This came as a complete shock. He was only 71! I know that’s close to an average age of death in this country, but I still couldn’t believe it. He had worked hard, had lost weight and the doctors were getting ready to take him off his cholesterol medication because he had lowered his to so much.
The shock alone was enough to give me the shakes. I thanked my cousin and hung up. All attempts to maintain mental stability in public failed me. I called D in tears as I walked through the city streets back to my apartment. Everything was a blur and I have no idea what we talked about. Eventually it became clear that my grandmother needed me. I thanked him for his support, hung up.
My first course of action was to figure out why I heard this news from my cousin instead of my parents. I tried calling both their cell phones repeatedly, but no one picked up. I then called my brother, who told me my parents were gone. Logic was a bit beyond me at this point. The only thing stopping me from audibly crying was that I had to be strong for my younger brother. When he told me they were gone, I immediately assumed they had left for my grandmother’s house. Looking back, it makes no sense why they would leave my brother behind. I wish I would have thought of that before I said, “then you’ve heard about grandpa.”
No. No, he had not.
“Isn’t that where mom and dad are?” I asked. No. No, they were on a motorcycle trip, which was why they weren’t answering their phones.
I had said too much to stay silent, so I told him what had happened to our grandfather that morning. I could hear him break down over the phone. At this point, I had made it back to my apartment and was packing. I told him we had to go to our grandmother. That’s where we were needed. Worried about him being alone in the house with this news, I asked if there was a friend’s house he could go to until I came to pick him up.
Normally, I would have asked my parents’ permission if I could take my brother anywhere. He was still a minor, after all. This time, I took things into my own hands. I left them a message telling them where we both were, picked up my brother and began the long drive. My grandmother lives about three hours away from where I grew up, so we had all the time in the world to ponder what had just happened.
The sun was setting when we were about an hour away from our destination. My phone rang, but, since I was driving, I gave it to my brother. It was our mom and it was her father that had passed away that morning. I could hear her ask what was wrong and my brother asked if he could instead speak to dad. My chest felt tight because my brother would now be forced to put into words what had happened.
“Grandpa had a heart attack,” my brother said.
I could hear my father ask, “what?”
“Grandpa had a heart attack,” he repeated, this time choking up around the word heart.
“Did he make it?”
We left my father to deliver the news conveyed in the countless missed calls on their phones. It was late in the day, so they waited until the morning to head out. This ended up working out well since my brother and I hadn’t given any thought to packing funeral-appropriate clothing.
My grandmother was reasonably shaken up when we arrived. All my aunts and uncles were there. It was a feeling like no other, knowing that just that morning my grandfather had woken up like it was any other day. Less than twelve hours ago, he sat in his usual chair. Less than twelve hours ago, he was alive. Now, he was gone. He was gone but you could still feel him everywhere. He was like a substance that thickened the air. Everyone moved slowly like we were all in the middle of a surreal dream.
My brother and I kept my grandmother company and stayed the night at her house. Everyone else went home for the night. I remember being in disbelief of her strength. We could have slept in the living room, next to her bed room, to keep her company. That wouldn’t happen, though. We slept upstairs while she laid in her bed, alone.
The next morning was Sunday and my grandmother, being a church going woman, did not let her troubles deter her from waking to attend the service. My brother and I were there by her side. I remember standing next to her after as she explained to the priest that her husband had passed away the previous day. I was so impressed with her strength.
Things progressed as they do from this point, with the funeral service being held less than a week later. I could tell you how that went, but we all know how it feels. I think it’s common to think out loved ones were taken before their time. That’s not really the purpose of telling you this story today.
Yesterday, Culture Monk discussed the troubles of one of his acquaintances. At 60 years of age, his older siblings still treated him with disrespect. He resented being treated like a child after all he had accomplished in life. Reading his post, I couldn’t help but think of this moment in my life. You see, I always felt a bit different from my peers, even as a child. Looking back, I think I had a level of maturity that may have been unique for my age. I always felt like I was trying to prove I wasn’t like the rest of my peers and I never felt like I was heard.
For example, D and I had dated for less than a month when my father told me there was ‘no sex allowed’ in their home. The very idea offended me as I intended to wait a long time to take that step. Who did he think I was? Did the man who raised me have no idea of the kind of person I had become?
That’s not what it was though. What he saw we he looked at his 19-year-old daughter was a college child with big ideas and no clue about the real world. He probably assumed I took part in stereotypical college activities and perhaps he listed sex among them.
After the day my grandfather died, however, the way both my parents treated me changed. It’s hard to explain, because it’s not as if they gave me a trophy awarding me the status of adulthood. The change was in the tone they used when they gave me advice. It was in how they trusted my decisions more readily. There was just a little more respect there. I felt like I was suddenly an adult in their eyes.
…or, I had at least taken one step closer. I’m not sure they would call me an adult quite yet. Far be it from me to put words in their mouths.