It’s a bittersweet sentence said to me by my grandmother the last time I would see her in person which would be little more than a half a year before her death. I have agonized over that sentence from the moment she said it until the moment I got the news that she had passed. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t though about that woman, sitting there in the living room of my mother’s house knowing that her time was coming to an end. I can barely handle typing about it now.
I remember so many great and meaningful things about Gram (yes, we called her ‘Gram’) so it’s difficult to pick just a few to talk about. From showing compassion and love to feeling the back of her hand when I acted up, this was a woman of strong convictions though you might never know that if you didn’t get close enough to her to realize it. She treated everyone she met with a compassion that most are unable to understand, and this is one thing I will try to emulate for the rest of my life.
My Grandmother is a person who I cared about deeply. The way I viewed our family when I was growing up, she was the matriarch of the empire that was our family. It was a house of smaller houses and she was the queen of them all. I loved how our family was special and unique in comparison to other families. It was a massive gathering of people at Jewish Christmas which we handled with too many presents and way too much food.
Passover at my Gram’s house was always fantastic when my uncles would come and tell stories of who was cooking for whom and doing burn-outs in their hot rods and showing photographs they took of famous people. Summer days were filled with the smell of the ocean air and the grill cooking up burgers and hot dogs for an army of people. It was really special for me when I was young to have so many amazing people in my life. While it seemed so normal to me to be where I was, who I was, living where I was and in the family I was in, I would later understand that this was not how life really was, and that the innocence of childhood shielded me from many ugly things I would later come to learn.
My biological father left when I was very young, but not before he had done significant damage causing a massive financial strain that caused my immediate family to move in with my Grandmother when I was a little more than an infant. Nearly every childhood memory I have of ‘home’ is at a pale blue house in a small beach town on the coast of New Jersey. We were very fortunate to have a loving grandmother who didn’t want us stuck on the street and it would be her compassion that would help shape me forever. We had little financially, but we had an immeasurable amount of love. That was hard for a child to understand, but it’s all this adult wants to remember.
Like the stark contrast of black on white I remember the day things fell completely apart for the empire of families and broke what I thought was an unbreakable family. The landmark would be the selling of the house I grew up in. It was sudden for me but I guess you don’t discuss finances with a 16 year old who isn’t doing well in school. Or maybe they did mention it but I remember the whole thing as a surprise.
My family had been joined a couple of years earlier by the man I am proud to call my Dad and while we didn’t have any real money, we weren’t dirt poor anymore. My family moved to an apartment that made sense for us and my Grandmother rented a place where retired people get homes that are quiet and have a nice view. Life would never really be the same after that. I didn’t see my extended family very much and this woman I saw every day of my life was now far away. I basically grew apart from everyone.
Time went on and eventually I found myself living in Philadelphia with my now ex-girlfriend. One day we decided to move in with my Grandmother in the retirement community and just like that I was living with this amazing person again. Some of her friends in the retirement area didn’t really like that because, well, look at me. But Gram didn’t care and she never hesitated to say yes. It was as if we didn’t even have to ask.
I would say that I am probably the luckiest person in the family because I was living with her the last years before she had a stroke that would change her life forever. Before the stroke, Gram didn’t have too many visitors other than her retired friends and I would sometimes help them out by bringing food or doing ‘man’ things. Don’t tell my friends this metalhead was helping the elderly but I never said ‘no’ to any request. Major holidays would come and I would see some family but not all and life never really had the same feeling as the house I grew up in.
I learned about how some family didn’t really like other family and there were a ton of petty things that I may never understand but they all piled up into this sibling rivalry that has only peaked in its ridiculousness with the death of my grandmother. And honestly this is one of the things that pains me the most.
After the stroke happened my Gram recovered a bit but then had many mini-strokes. None of them would take her life, but they did make things very difficult for her. She could no longer stay in the retirement community and I remember several family members talking about putting her into a retirement home where she could be looked after. My mom wouldn’t have that and she took my grandmother, myself and my ex into her home. Gram would live there for just under a decade before her death.
When Gram’s inevitable death became a reality a few years back, I always assumed that her passing would give way to a revitalized family that would come together in a time of pain to support each other. They would go through this thing together and come out the other side with a new-found sense of family loyalty. Ally the petty bullshit would be put to the side and things would finally become like a real family again… like the family from my childhood. Instead, the opposite occurred.
Lies, immaturity, secrets, pettiness, disloyalty and an all around unwillingness to show any sense of compassion that their mother had taught me so well; these things have been what has come out of their mother’s death. My pain is doubled to see that none of the siblings would be the one to give way into something more loving. I love them all, but all are guilty of adding fuel to the fire. It’s not my place to say anything more about those people but my hope for this family being what is was when I was a child is nothing more than a fantasy that is impossible to revitalize (if it ever really was that way in the first place).
Some people have friends and then some people have friends that are family. I have been very lucky that over the years my family has been built out of a mixture of those two things. My grandmother taught me how to love and how to feel compassion and with those I became a metalhead. How the hell that happened I have no idea, but lo and behold I found myself surrounded by many others who have a similar background, similar beliefs (or lack thereof), similar views of family and wanted to be a part of my life. I found many others who were not dressed so similarly but take life with the same passion that I do. I have surrounded myself with a huge family that loves and lives and comes together the way my childhood family once did. No one judges, no one hurts anyone else and everyone brings their stories of life to the table. I have recreated my childhood family.
When my Grandmother’s sister died I think I was the person at the funeral more visibly broken up than anyone. I was a mess. I had to convince my uncles to help my grandmother down a snowy hill because they thought it was too dangerous. In that discussion I looked at them with what I assume was a look of pure agony and said, “It’s her sister.” We all helped her down after that.
At the bottom of the hill I stood next to my grandmother and cried my eyes out as she held me (imagine a five foot nothing tall woman shaped like a little egg hugging a giant who was sobbing like a baby). I didn’t cry for the woman in the pine box being lowered into the ground. I didn’t cry for her children who one by one took the shovel and covered the box with earth. No. I cried because my Grandmother’s sister died and I didn’t ever want that woman to feel any pain. I was inconsolable as a reaction to her pain.
In her last years my grandmother was taken care of by my mom and dad and in many ways the amazing compassion she had shown to my family when we were young was repaid. Personally I can never repay what I owe for the lessons she taught to me, but I can only try to apply those to all facets of my life.
Death is the end of all things for one person and it leaves everyone around the deceased in pain. My grandmother would never want anyone around her to be in pain and said she was upset over the fact that my mother would be in pain when she died. They cried together in the end. I cry now thinking about it.
I don’t really know how to deal with death. I don’t deal with most things the way anyone else would and I don’t think there’s any real set way to grieve. My friends die and sometimes we play shows and scream as loud as possible. Sometimes we drink and celebrate their lives. Sometimes we give money to the families left behind. When the queen dies, there is no show, no gifts and no amount of drinking that will console those loyal to her and her empire. I will play my bass and go through the motions of life pretending I am numb, when really the agony of this death strangles my heart.
There’s really nothing more to say.