Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Gramps (Epistolary Wednesday)

On Wednesdays, I write letters...

Dear Gramps,

When I looked through the photo albums at your visitation, I saw you in that orangey-gold Hawaiian shirt that still hangs in your closet. The year marked in the album was 1995, which means you’ve been wearing that shirt for 19 years, at least. And that night after the service, I slept in your bedroom with the closet that contains the Hawaiian shirt. This room is where you've been sleeping with Grandma for, oh, at least sixty years. For all those years, there were two single beds pushed up against one another. To a girl of my generation, that seemed odd and distancing. But for you, born in 1921 and married in 1941, was the beds-pushed-together bit actually a little edgy? Was it a little outside the box for you and your peers, signifying a radical kind of devotion?

Your twin bed had been moved to another room and given to the Filipino caretaker, Josefine, who moved in during your final weeks and months. She whispered prayers into your ears as you reposed on a hospital bed, positioned right next to Grandma’s single. The hospital bed was removed shortly after you died, so your bedroom on the night of your funeral just held the one bed and and showcased the yellowed turquoise-and-white striped wallpaper, the wood-framed antique plates painted with boats, the crumbling ceiling along the outside wall where water damage was never restored. And then your closet: Grandma has eight pairs of colored slippers, at least, hanging in an over-the-door shoe holder there—one pair of slippers for every set of pajamas she owns. She’s had these for, I don’t know, decades, just like your shirts. The closet is about an eighth the size of mine at home and it holds all of your clothes, the same ones you kept wearing. How often do you go shopping once you hit 90? 

You’re everywhere and nowhere in the aftermath of death. The basement was just like you left it before the stroke, little corners where you’d set up shop for various activities. The police radio still works, the drill press, the soldering iron, the buffer you rigged with a light switch for powering on. Your paintbrushes upright in a coffee can. And everywhere, for storage, your Dutch Master cigar boxes neatly shelved and housing metal objects, washers, nuts, wires, trinkets I have no words for. And, I can hear your voice in the house, can almost anticipate your grunty, “Good morning,” can see you at the breakfast table reading horoscopes and joking that Grandma ought to be wary of jilted lovers.

My children were a little afraid of you. They’re afraid of anyone white and wrinkly, really. And they were afraid to go to your funeral because, well, all that death. Actually, I empathize with them. Your passing makes me feel like I’ve moved up in the line for Staring Death in the Face. And not just me, but my parents and my other elders. “They’re going to die and have a funeral,” I think whenever I look at, say, anyone, this week. I'll admit I'm shocked, Gramps. Your living to the age of 93 set me up for feeling as if old-age might actually fool death, even when cancer and car accidents cannot. (And when my father, at age 71 has no noticeable gray hair, I begin to think I can avoid pigment loss.)

The day after the service, I tried to convince Grandma to swallow her crushed-up medication for Alzheimers. She trembled at the bitterness and told me she wouldn’t eat it all, and then she began to cry. “What am I going to do? I’ll never get over this!” she exclaimed. She may not get over you; she probably shouldn't, after 73 years of marriage. But she forgets about how she once hoped in Heaven and, when I suggested that she would be reunited with you again someday (I would think sooner rather than later), she looked at me with a touch of bitterness and asked, “Yeah, if you think that’s even possible.”

I do, and I did, and I have to believe that our spirits are connected by a thread from this world to the next. Something filmy and ethereal that we can’t see so well like spider’s silk,
five times stronger than steel, that strung you along from this world to the next when you slipped out of sleep and into eternity in the mid-June of the year. A thread that must hold up longer than the Hawaiian shirt in the closet, a thread that must outperform any mattress or drill press, police radio, colored slippers, and my 93-year-old Gramps-in-the-flesh.

I'll see you again, Gramps, when I know more about it.

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