On April 10, 1982, I grew up. Or maybe it happened in the very early morning hours of April 11th. But on that night, I crossed the threshold into adulthood, even glimpsed what it might yet be like a few years down the path when parent and child roles morph and merge and somehow I find myself taking care of my parents after all the years they put in taking care of me.
After years of fighting a cancer that wouldn’t let him go, my grandfather found his final release that night, only hours before Easter. We surrounded his bedside after the nurses removed the machines, the room eerily quiet without the constant beeping we’d become immune to hearing until we felt the gulf left by its absence. They’d assured us it would take mere minutes once the artificial support no longer forced air into his lungs. It was almost an hour.
Now that Dancer Girl is the same age as I was that night 26 years ago, I’m almost positive that in her own grief my mother forgot I was in the room. None of the other grandchildren were present; my siblings–only 8 and 9 at the time–stayed home with my grandmother’s sister.
I’d never seen anyone die before, much less a man who’d been so important in my life. When it was clear that he’d take no more labored breaths, I ran from the room, down the hall to the handicapped restroom. Where I locked myself in, sat on the toilet, fully clothed, and sobbed. I remember clearly I had worn a new outfit–blue “bubble” shorts and a blue and turquoise striped polo style shirt.
At some point, I got myself together and went back into the hospital room. No one seemed to have missed me, everyone lost in their own thoughts as they waited for the funeral home personnel to arrive. After what seemed like a very long time, we went home to my grandparents’ house–where my brother and sister slept, dreaming of the Easter Bunny’s arrival the next day.
And that’s when it happened. Yes, I’d experienced death for the first time, but it was asking my mother to tell me where she’d hidden the Easter candy and basket stuffers that launched me into adulthood. Growing up, it was common knowledge that no one who expressed disbelief in the Easter Bunny, Santa, or the Tooth Fairy would benefit from said characters’ largess. I had never discussed such matters with my parents.
But that night, I made the baskets, and I hid them. The next morning, I hunted with my brother and sister, taking plenty of time to find the basket I’d stashed for myself only a few hours before. And there was chocolate, and Peeps, and hardboiled eggs to hide and find. And time to think about Resurection and not death.
And after that day as well, we spent our time thinking about life. Through the sometimes bizarre custom of open caskets and sitting in the funeral home receiving room, our family celebrated PaPa’s life. We told stories; we laughed. People came bearing not just casseroles and the best meringue pies you can imagine but also the stories of a man who never lost his sense of humor or his concern for others no matter what his own health challenges brought his way.
Though one of my greatest regrets is that my own family didn’t have the opportunity to know him, PaPa lives on in each of his great grandchildren. And I know he would have loved all of them as much as he loved me–and that was awful lot.
This post is written in response to Dawn’s request at Alex Year One for stories about the loss of loved ones. Please keep Dawn in your thoughts and prayers as she and her family deal with the loss of her father at far too young an age.