Losing a parent but holding the memories
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When I was 7, my granddad died. I remember the funeral. I remember the repast. I remember being back at my grandma's house and at some point all of the adults sending the kids outside so they could talk (and drink). My cousins and me swapped our own stories and questions for a while before disintegrating into wild unsupervised play.
What I remember most was when we found out my grandfather died. My parents were going to have a party that night. I was excited as only a child can be about what seemed to me to be a gathering of very interesting people to spy on. Plus the food. Appetizers are so exotic for a kid. And the kids of some of my parents' friends were coming and we were going to have a sleepover. We got the news just hours before the party. My mother calmly told my sister and I what had happened and that we were cancelling the party and leaving for grandmas in the morning.
I was mad. I was really disappointed that the party was cancelled and I was mad at my granddad. I don't remember much about him now. He used to call me sweet pea and he would sit me on his lap when he came home from work and tell me about his day and he would always take my side because I was the baby. I remember he was very strict. The "Do as I say, now" kind of strict. But I loved him and that night the first reaction I had was anger that my party plans were quashed. After a "talk" with my dad, I straightened up my attitude pretty quickly.
My friend's kids are going to experience something similar. Her dad died on her daughter's birthday. She continued with the birthday plans but they left to come back home the next day so at some point on her daughter's birthday there was a discussion about grandpa and why mom was so sad.
As a child seeing your parent deal with the death of their parent is a watershed moment. You realize early on from the stories you are told and the pictures you are shown that your parents were once kids. Seeing them deal with losing a parent also makes you realize they had a childhood. They had parents who told them to brush their teeth and do well in school. They had someone who cuddled them and kissed their boo boos. They had someone who grounded them or spanked them or gave them long, boring lectures. Someone who spoiled them or was really hard on them. Someone who forced them to go on endless road trip vacations and who taught them life lessons. They had parents just like you. Parents they loved, fought with, were mad at, depended on and parents whose death left a whole in their heart.
My mother's father died when she was about the age I am now. She was also going through raising an 7-year-old and a 12-year-old, getting her full professorship and conducting her research on her life's work and maintaining a marriage and a social life. And I have no idea what her relationship was like with her dad, but like most of us, I'm sure it was complicated and conflicted and cherished. There was love, so the loss goes deep.
Every year when I watch the U.S. Open tennis tournament, I remember that is when I lost my dad. I watched the majority of it from the hospital. The two are forever linked for me. I don't know what memory will be forever linked in her daughter's mind with her grandfather's death. I do know that one of the happiest days in my friend's life will now forever be tinged with sadness.
My friend's dad was my dad's best friend. His boy. They spent many days and nights hanging out. I remember times when he would come to my house and he and my dad would spend hours sitting in the car in the driveway talking. He was funny and always teasing. He wasn't perfect, but from what I saw he was a good dad and a great friend to my dad.
Where there is love, the loss of a parent is an unforgettable pain. It will fade. It will become bearable. But it will never end because losing a parent is a loss that goes deep and leaves scars. Another good friend of mine said recently that nothing dies unless we let it. It hurts to remember, but as long as we hold on to their memory they live, and ironically, that makes the pain hurt less.
- Mariel Blake write a weekly column for The Daily News.