Tag Archive: death

Mind the Gap(s)

I took my mom to visit her eldest brother and extended family for Easter weekend. When I was a little girl, we’d go down for a week or so every year and we never seemed to have enough time to get around and visit everyone. She and I began to make a list of who to see this time and came up with only a small handful of people. We hadn’t really thought about it until that moment, but everyone else is gone.

We drove past houses where people used to live; now they’re just…empty.

That made me remember one of my flights home from a work gig. I was seated across the aisle of a 3/2 seater from an Honor Guard accompanying the widow of a fallen soldier whose casket was in the cargo hold. I observed the way they were seated; she was closest to the window on the 3 side, and her escort was on the aisle. It just struck me deeply that, to her, that empty seat between them must feel like the most empty seat in the world.

When people die, regardless of the circumstances, they leave holes in the lives of everyone around them.

I wonder what shapes those take?

Gram is an empty chair at her kitchen table and a number in my mobile that I had to label “Gram’s House” because, the first time I got a call from there after she died, I forgot for a split second that she was gone. I had been so  excited to talk to her– only to realize my mistake and feel I had lost her all over again.

My grandpa, a brown recliner…and popcorn, Mexene chili powder, eggs fried in bacon grease, cold fried chicken with potato salad, holey socks, and a broomstick pool cue.

I always think of my friend, Bill, whenever I see someone with a unibrow because his was spectacular. My friend, Jim, is a red, 1970 Chevy Nova. Lifesavers and Chivas Regal are my Uncle Randy.

And here’s the odd thing: The void in your life, even if we lose the same person, might be a different shape from the one in mine.

The one person my mom and I didn’t visit this past weekend, her cousin “Big John”, once told us a story: He and his friends went around and bought every bottle of Boone’s Farm wine they could find in an effort to collect and drink thirty bottles for his thirtieth birthday. They cleaned out the entire small town! I always think of him when I see that nasty stuff.
My mom called last night to tell me that he died yesterday…

When my Uncle Dale (suspenders and peppermint tea) died unexpectedly in February, his daughter asked on Facebook whether these things get any easier. I still have my dad –which seems like sheer luck once you know his medical history– and I didn’t feel it was fair to comment at the time. I do understand loss, though, and I understand surviving things that forever change you. What I wanted to tell her was, “No. Sometimes, you’ll want to reach over and shake the person talking to you about their trivial crap and you’ll want to scream, ‘Don’t you understand that something HUGE just happened to me and that I will never be the same?!’ It never gets easier; you just get stronger and better at ignoring the fact that there is a gaping hole in your life.”

Sometimes, something –like the phone call from my Gram’s house or the trip my mom and I just took– makes us confront our emptiness. I don’t think there is a way to be ready for that, so appreciate the spaces people occupy in your life while they are still filled.


My Gram

When I was little, Gram always said things like, “You better eat something! You’ll shrivel up and blow away!” When I was a vegetarian Gram, bless her heart, would try to convince me to eat the potatoes and carrots she’d cooked in with the roast because, “They’re vegetables, aren’t they?!” It didn’t matter how many of us showed up for Sunday dinner, nobody would ever go hungry in her house. She was always feeding people– which was no small feat in a family of 6 kids, 20-odd grandkids, great and great-great grandkids and, now, even one triple-great grandbaby.

Uncle R and I were talking the other day about when exactly it was that Gram was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure; it was 1993, the year after we lost Grandpa. Her first heart attack was three years after that and I was at the hospital with her when the doctor told her that she would get to a point where she’d only be able to sit in a chair and wouldn’t have the energy for anything else. That was 16 years ago and, until recent years, she’d barely slowed down!

Grandpa always said that Gram was the most stubborn woman he’d ever met and I don’t think most of us saw quite what he meant by that until he wasn’t around anymore.

She held on to every plastic container and glass jar that anything ever came in– probably an effect of surviving the Great Depression and knowing what it is like to truly have nothing. She’d get really, really upset if we tried to get rid of any of those things, however, she’d eventually forgive us and just begin collecting more.

I can’t count the number of times we all had to warn her that the basement stairs probably weren’t safe for her anymore. She never even stopped climbing up into the barn loft until we took away the ladder– and that wasn’t very long ago!

I know that quite a few of us inherited that stubbornness and without it we wouldn’t be as strong as we are today. It was that stubborn spirit, that force of will, that gave us all 20 more years with her than we had with Grandpa. And we all loved her and were so thankful for it.

The last time I sat in her kitchen and talked with her, Gram told me she wasn’t having any more birthdays; she didn’t want them. When I rose to leave I told her I loved her and, like all the times before, she exclaimed, “Oh! I love you too!” and she hugged me as tightly as she could, pressed her soft, wrinkled face to mine, and kissed my cheek.

And, in the hospital on August 28th, she did the same thing. I had spent the whole day before holding her hand and talking to her, wondering if she knew I was there because she hadn’t really acknowledged anyone. But that day I said, “I love you, Gram!” and she said, “I love you too!” as clear as anything!

That was the real secret about Gram: her capacity for love was infinite and the force with which she loved us all was just as stubborn and tenacious as everything else about her.

So, if you believe in an afterlife, you have to believe that there will be one hell of a Sunday dinner waiting for all of us when we get there…and that there will always, always be containers for leftovers.

In loving memory of M.E.R. September 19, 1912 – September 11, 2012