Albuquerque, NM – 1993
My grandfather was a great man with a meaningful presence in my life. As a child I spent every weekend at his house, and lived with him and my grandmother for some time. He told stories and sang songs, recited poems and told jokes. He grilled burgers and played cards. He embodied warmth and good humor.
On a day like any other, I walked home after school. I had made a friend that day, a kid named Dustin, and he walked with me on his way home. As we approached my house, my dad came out to meet us. This was very strange; my father was never home in the day. He worked 7am to 6pm every weekday of my life. I waved as we approached.
“Hey dad, this is my friend Dustin from school.” I said. My dad was curt and unfriendly: “Dustin needs to go home and you need to come inside.” This was not the greeting I had expected. Dustin went on his way. I walked inside to find a woman from church in the kitchen doing our dishes; this was a very strange situation. My mom was in her room packing a suitcase.
My dad called us into their bedroom. I stood with my brother and sister as he knelt down on one knee. He put his hands on our shoulders:
“Grandpa died today.”
He barely uttered the words before his eyes filled with tears. He pulled us all into his big arms and wept uncontrollably. We joined him. This is the only time I can remember seeing my dad cry. Later when I saw my cousins, they noted the same surprise, “My dad cried.” Tyler told me as soon as he saw me, as though it were news equal to the death of our grandfather.
We packed our bags and headed to Oklahoma.
I remember very little about the funeral itself. I remember my grandpa’s brother, Uncle Dave, touching my grandpa’s corpse in the casket. He patted him heartily on the hands and chest with tears in his eyes. Uncle Dave passed away on Thanksgiving day of the same year. His heart failed while he was seated at the dinner table in the full company of friends and family.
The funeral was sad, but the company of the family was comforting. The epitaph on his tombstone reads “Loved music and laughter.”
My grandpa had experienced trouble with his heart for many years. He was a heavy smoker early in life and ate what he pleased. At the age of forty five he had his first heart attack, followed by triple bypass surgery. He often told us about his near-death experience: he saw the light and felt the peace and everything. He even pushed the doctors’ hands away as they attempted to revive him.
The day he died was a normal day like any other. He and my grandmother were running errands in the morning before meeting friends for lunch. She dropped him off at the doctor’s office for a physical and ran to the dry cleaners. He sat in a gown at the doctor’s office, telling jokes and laughing about the coldness of the stethoscope when he keeled over on the table.
The doctor immediately began resuscitation procedures and called in the other staff. But despite it all he died on the examination table in the presence of a full medical team. My grandmother returned from her errand only to be given the news.
The death of my grandfather triggered my decline in school. I was absent from class for a whole week to attend the funeral. When I returned, I was handed a week’s worth of homework in every subject to complete over the weekend. I was still grieving and was of no mind to cooperate.
I felt that if they didn’t understand what had happened – if they didn’t understand the emotional state I was in – and actually expected me to do school work despite it, then they would be sorely disappointed. In fact, fuck them for suggesting it. I didn’t do a lick of it.
School was all downhill from then on. A new emotion was born within me – defiant resistance. This was my first conscious, stubborn refusal to play ball. The depth of my grief was the strength of my intransigence. And as school began to suffer so did my home life.
Thus the death of my grandfather ushered in a decline in the total quality of my life. The next several years would be some of the most difficult.
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