Previous Entry Share Next Entry
In memoriam
The Dime
wilowisp
My grandfather, whom I called Dede, passed away on April 3rd, 2011 – well over two weeks ago. I have been struggling ever since with how to mark his passing in writing. I have started and paused and given up several times already, and I feel like each day that I fail to capture something in his honor (a story, a sentence, even a thought) is a day further from the honesty of the moment. So I try again, to get something out, a standing stone against the currents and eddies of time moving on.

My mind rejects a narrative. I don't want to walk through each moment chained in procession. It was not a linear event, and trying to frame it as such feels forced. There was so much sameness, saturated with a grief that had tired itself on choking sobs, and we rode this like waves together. But I still need a place to begin.

I remember the day my grandfather died. Where else can I start by there?

The call came from my father at 7 in the morning. I knew before picking up the phone – there are no good calls at such a time, at least in my family. Maybe there were lingering hopes that this was just another trip to the emergency room. I don't recall any. I heard my father crying, and it was a foreign accent to me – words I understood from a voice so unfamiliar. When I hung up, I told Andy "Dede is dead".

I regret that, and it is my only regret. I didn't say he had passed away, like my father had done. I didn't say he was gone, or he had left us or any of the other euphemisms that sit so culturally close at hand. I said the heavy, cruel words "Dede is dead". I sank face first into my pillow. Why were those the first words to come to my lips? Why do they haunt me so much as the wrong ones?

We left immediately. The early morning sky was gray with enough clouds forming to give it shape. I remember the curve of the road from street to freeway, and small bits of golden light escaping through the edges of the clouds. The sun had risen, and I knew that it was not that the sun did not care. The sun rose as it did every day exactly because it cared for my grandfather and his passing. The sun never broke through the clouds, quickly subsumed again by a sky returning to uniform gray.

And then there is the road along the graveyard, lined with crab apple trees still so removed from their riot of springtime color, still bare-branched from the stubborn winter. You can see down the road for a good mile, your own procession spread before you. It was a gray scene again, and empty, but my mind keeps wanting to wash it in the same golden sunrise I had momentarily seen. It is a beautiful image, the long morning shadows of the trees, the air alight with a mist of coral and amber. It's not the truth. It's one of the reasons I write this – memory itself seeks to be distorted, perhaps to make our past worth living with.

"My love, my love," my Baba cried, every utterance a love letter to her departed husband. For days, her words linger with me, lessons of a love that lasted over 60 years. And I do mean a love, not just a marriage. "He was a perfect man, loved everyone one of you, never said a bad thing about anyone".

There I pause. For Dede was not a perfect man. To call him a perfect man seems so easy to me, so flippant. Calling him perfect seems to rob him of the struggles of being human – struggles that he overcame to be a man capable, wise, loving, stern, reliable, wry, keen and a pillar of his family. I would call Dede many things before calling him a perfect man. I would call him a good man, with a profound reverence for the phrase and all the victory implied in it.

Like the sunrise moment, I feel as if no one in my family would understand why I feel that way about such a simple epitaph like a 'good man'. Or how, in a house of hysterics, I can come to the unoccupied seat next to Dede's body (why was no one there, in that moment?) and find a stillness to my weeping. I place a hand on his shoulder. It is the most real moment I have in the entire ordeal, and the most private. Ever so briefly, I am serene.

It was him in profile only in the casket, two days later, but not when you saw him face-on. Everyone said he looked so much better than he had, what a good job they had done in preparing his body. I didn't have the strength to speak my heart. That his hands were awkwardly placed, that his face seemed contorted by the angle of his head, that his chest could never be right BECAUSE IT WASN'T RISING ANYMORE. Screaming in my silence. Grief rejects the dead in their imperfections compared to the memory of life - again memory seeking to be distorted. How could any body compare to the true, breathing form of my grandfather? Of course I would find the imagined flaws.

Despite that, I believe I found something truer in his face on the day he died, sitting next to him for an eternal moment, my hand on his shoulder. I felt strong. Then they came to bring him to the hearse, and I refused to watch him be loaded like a thing. My choice, my reaction, nothing against the solemn people who make their living among the dead. I did, however, step back into the room to watch the hearse drive away with him, and something cold hollowed me out. The two moments of finality in it all were watching the hearse drive away, knowing he would never return to the house. And the closing of the casket, knowing I would never see him again.

We ate and drank deep that night, each night, a procession of food and drink and stories from when we first shook ourselves from dreadful reverie on the morning of his death until the night of his funeral, when we were too empty to weep. Again it begins to blur together, a growing swell of family as each of the distant grandchildren made their way across the states to my grandparents' house. I drank only water from Sunday until after his funeral. My reverence-in-ritual is an odd, capricious thing, spawned in moments of intuition whimsical and unknown. He wouldn't have cared, I know, for drink is drink. But he would have not begrudged me it.

After the casket was closed, Baba told me that Dede made her promise that she would dance at my wedding. I clung to her, making such noises that I did not know if I were laughing or crying. The reception is planned for the Varsity Theater, it all its eccentric, post-modern glory, and is hardly in Dede's aesthetic. But Andy and I toured the balcony and found a single chair on the far edge, overlooking the entire first-floor spectacle. And we declared it to be where Dede would end up, watching the buzz of the crowd. He would love his space removed, but he would love the event too, because he loved the both of us. Of that I have no doubt.

I think it is the hardest for me when I remember he will not be at my wedding. Nor will he be planting his garden up north at the cabin this Memorial Day, or sitting in his chair at the dinner table. (A chair my father left open that first day. Oh, how my heart bled for my father, who is already at the center of my universe! Oh how I saw the seeds of my own soul in him and in my grandmother.) When I think on events that are so firmly rooted in family, it is there his absence remains a cold, keening knife.

The rest of the time is a strange place. So many ask 'how are you doing?' and I am at such a loss for what to say, as if I might be too sad or not sad enough. He passed in the best of ways (no lingering in pain for months or falling into a coma, he was surrounded by loved ones for the two weeks since his diagnosis), and that has allowed many of us to live without many regrets, only the grief. I do wonder for my cousins, who were not there, who only saw him in the casket. Do they regret the distance when he died?

I am among those with few regrets, save that he died and that I said so in such a base manner. I usually respond to people's inquires with a cursory honesty. I am well, most days. But that is because most days, I do not remember, truly know to the core, that Dede is gone. I feel somewhat conflicted, as if I should know better and let the grief renew itself upon me daily. But, even when gathered around the table, his chair unoccupied, it is so easy to believe he has just stepped out for a moment.

And just now, I feel some kind of peace arrive around this conflict of mine. Epiphany if you will, less flash and trumpets and more the click of a cog falling into place in a long silent machine. He has just stepped out for a moment. Like the rising of the sun and the stillness at his side and drinking only water, perhaps it is too intensely personal for anyone to feel it alongside me. But it satisfies me. Dede has just stepped outside for a moment. That moment may be the rest of my life, and it may resolve by me stepping outside to join him eventually. It is enough for now.

Dede was a good man. He passed on April 3rd, 2011 at home surrounded by family. I miss him.

Comments Disabled:

Comments have been disabled for this post.

?

Log in