Death In the Family

I found out today that my grandfather on my father’s side, the last living grandparent I had, died yesterday at the age of 84 from COPD. Much like when his wife died 8 years ago, this news has essentially zero affect on me. I’ll save the sordid details of my childhood but suffice it to say that my relationship with my dad is essentially nonexistent at this point in time. The next time I suspect I’ll see him is when one of my three sisters gets married, since she’s the only one that speaks to him anymore.

I’ve never had much of a relationship with anyone on my dad’s side of the family. My parents divorced when I was five and despite my dad having custody of my sister and me until I was eight or so, we never spent much time with his parents. Then again, my dad didn’t have a good relationship with his parents either. It’s a whole bad cycle thing that you can pretty much figure out on your own. Ultimately, the interaction I had with them was limited and due to my father’s psychological issues (I’m convinced he’s a sociopath. He fits many of the criteria but as yet is undiagnosed) most of the things I heard about them as a child were less than favorable.

I can’t recall having a single positive visit with them. There was always arguing, name calling, insulting one another… it was just ugly. I remember my grandmother saying some pretty terrible things about my dad that I understand now, but as a child it was pretty detrimental. It completely destroyed any interest I had in building a relationship with her because no matter how big of a fuck up my father is, he’s still my father. I’m still his child. To hear his own mother say the kinds of things she said just shook me. I couldn’t imagine my mom’s mother speaking of her children in such a way, especially not in front of her grandchildren.

The men on my dad’s side of the family are particularly tall. My dad is 6’4″ or so . My grandfather was taller. To a child, he might as well be a giant. He was an intimidating man and nothing about him screamed warmth. There were no card games like with my Papa on my mom’s side. There were no family trips or stories of his youth like with Papa. I never remember him hugging me or even really trying to talk to me. He was very much a children should be seen and not heard kind of man. There was no affection, no attempt to relate.

When my Papa died back when I was ten, I was devastated. I cried for days. I wanted it to be a joke when Mom told me he was gone. I get sad now when I think of how my youngest cousins will never know him because they were born after he passed. I wish I had more time with him. I wish I had paid better attention to his stories and got one more game of War out of him before he went on to the next life.

My mom’s brother Bill died just a few weeks before my 20th birthday. That was even harder to deal with. There is regret there as well. I kick myself sometimes for not staying longer because if I had known that time was winding down for him, I would have. I know that I couldn’t have saved him so it’s not about that. It’s about that one last conversation. What lame joke could he have told me that would always stick with me? What would we have talked about in those final hours? Would I have some great memories to share with his kids because they were so little when they lost him. The younger one doesn’t remember him much at all and it breaks my heart.

Then my Gram died almost 3 years ago. I knew it was coming and her death didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it would. The only reason I can figure for that is because she knew it was coming. She was ready to go. She was ready to be reunited with Papa and Bill. She chose it. I got my chance to say goodbye. I got to see her laugh one more time. I got to hold her hand and sit by her bed with the rest of my family. We were all there to see her off and it was as beautiful as a death can possibly be. She left the world knowing she was loved and that she would be missed. Every time I smell skunk I know she’s close by. That’s not as weird as it sounds if you knew my Gram. To me it’s her way of saying hello and reminding me not to forget her. I won’t. I couldn’t possibly.

I had relationships with Papa, Bill and Gram. I love all of them. They helped to shape the person I’ve become and I know they live on because of my memories and the values they instilled in me.

With my father’s parents it wasn’t like that. I don’t even know my grandfather’s birthday. That’s pretty pathetic. To some extent it bothers me that I’m not bothered by his passing, any more than I was bothered by his wife’s 8 years ago. I was at a friend’s house watching a tape of American Idol when my sister called to tell me about it. I panicked because I thought she meant Gram. When she clarified, my response was, “I’m at Nick’s. Can we talk about it when I get home?” No emotion, no tears, no sadness whatsoever.

I don’t see myself getting any more emotionally invested with this death. It should bother me. I should miss him. I should be sad. I should be feeling all the things I felt when my other grandparents and my uncle passed away, but I don’t. I’m not sure what that says about me, other than it’s proof that I had no emotional ties or connection to either of of my paternal grandparents. I won’t miss them, I won’t grieve for them and I won’t feel any regret over the missed opportunity to get to know either of them better.

Ultimately the sad truth is, I think I’m better off not having known them.

 

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