There were so many people at my high school graduation party that June. I remember feeling surprised by how many there were, family members, friends, neighbors. I had the same feeling at my sixteenth birthday party. I didn’t understand why all those people were there to celebrate something I found so insignificant. I understand, now, as a parent, that the people weren’t just celebrating ME, they were celebrating for my parents. She made it this far. She’s doing okay.
That’s a pretty big deal.
I get that, now.
Everyone came, even my grandfather, who was ill, dying of prostate cancer at the time, but he was still doing okay, a little tired, a little weak, but he still had his same good-natured self, his dry, slightly strange, sense of humor. He was always a good looking man, and even then as an old grandpa, I admired (and patted) his buzzed-cut hair and his square jaw, that always held a smirk. He was a strong man, a sports-watching, billiard playing, beer drinking man. He was sarcastic, silly, and usually quiet, though it might be because he just couldn’t get in a word edgewise, being married to my Grandma. He was caring. He loved us all so much, and he was never afraid to show it.
That party was the last time he made it to our house.
By Thanksgiving, at his house, he was so thin that at one point when he stood up at the dinner table, his pants fell off, and his Depends undies, with his thin little thighs poking out, were exposed. Oh, how we LAUGHED, because that is what we do, and that is how he was. And it was so funny, even while it was so sad.
When he knew it was the end, he wanted all of his children around him. He could not speak, with his mouth, even though he could still speak with his eyes. I love you, they said. You crazy suckers, they added, with a wink, that could no longer physically occur, but that was still there, in a twinkling sort of sense. And he waited, an extra day even, for one of his children to fly in from out of the country, and once we were all there, we circled him, hands held together, in prayer, and said goodbye together. And then he was gone. If a death can be beautiful, then this was that death.
And even though I didn’t totally get it at the time, a comment my aunt made at my graduation party always stuck with me. “You’re lucky”, she said, “to have known him”. Teenage me slightly scoffed at the remark. Of course I was lucky to know him. Did she think I didn’t know that? Because teenagers know everything and everything is about them.
I wasn’t fully able to process the fact that my aunt’s daughter, my cousin, was only a few months old at the time, so she wouldn’t remember her grandpa at all, who was so witty and so loving and so kind. And that she was really missing a lot. She is still missing a lot, from not ever knowing him.
Now that I’m a Mama, I get it. I see my daughters with my parents, my in-laws, my grandparents, their aunts and uncles, everyone, that they are so lucky to know, now.
None of us are promised tomorrow, and every day that my kids get to spend with a family member that loves them is a gift.
It’s sort of everything to know where you come from and know how you became you. We don’t emerge from isolation, we are products of our genetics and our familial environment and the interactions between the two.
I’m trying to wrap my brain around how important it is, or why it is, but I know that it JUST IS. Maybe it’s that it is a good reminder that many of our traits aren’t solely ours, but are mostly a modified collection of characteristics and quirks and beliefs passed down from our relatives, most of whom we didn’t ever know but who have influenced us nonetheless. I think about my grandpa often, and how right my aunt was.