I was going through some of my old stories I’ve written but have never really shared and decided the piece I’m about to post was something I needed to. It’s a bit of creative non-fiction pertaining to my great grandfather. I won’t go into detail with what the story is about, instead I will let you read it. Enjoy.
I didn’t cry the night by mother called to tell me my great grandfather had passed. We knew his days with us were short because of the cancer eating at his body, so hearing the news game me a feeling of relief knowing he had finally been set free of the pain. I was saddened to lose such a wonderful man, the pillar of our family, but his release was also a joy to me.
I spent that night in my friend’s dorm room playing video games trying to keep his death to myself. I knew if I talked about his passing it would hit me he was gone, and I would have trouble not showing my emotions. I wanted to go to my room to remember what he meant to me, but I couldn’t; I was scared of what I would think about; I was scared I would cry alone.
My great grandfather was a strong minded man whose faith in God was the cornerstone for all he did and believed in. He continually strived for knowledge, challenging himself to learn even as the years added up and his strength slipped away. He was a self-taught artist, songwriter, and poet who worked at perfecting everything he did. He spent hours sitting in his chair, with bright colored pencils on the side table, sketching from the memories of his travels in brilliant colors. The mountains and deserts of Arizona were the subject of many pictures he drew. The splendid reds, greens, blues, and browns found in the landscape of the southwest found a home on the paper in his drawings.
He didn’t let his shaking hands due to old age or the pain from his sickness keep him from drawing. He continued until a couple of weeks before he passed, drawing his final piece, a red rock mountain jutting into the blue sky above with trees framing the scene. He wasn’t able to put the final touches of color in the bottom right corner of the picture before he died. The pain finally taking away the energy for one of his passions, leaving it as a lasting testament to never giving up no matter what might be blocking you from achieving your goals.
Two days after my mother called I went to his wake. It still hadn’t completely hit me he was gone, and as I wandered amongst my grieving family; aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, I couldn’t say goodbye. I walked in and saw his gaunt face covered in makeup, no longer the bright smiling face I remembered from my childhood, but something fake like plastic. His lifeless body rested in a large colorless room decorated in ornate gold light fixtures and lifeless yellow wallpaper. The room was filled with flowers sent by friends who mourned the loss. The vases surrounding his coffin; the vibrant reds, blues, and yellows a contrast to the feelings we were sharing. His children were standing in a line greeting those who came to pay their respects, hugging and drying eyes with words of love and adoration.
I stood back, not ready to see my dead great grandfather, scared to see death up close. The thought of his dead body on display for the living to stare at and mourn put vivid images of him jumping up to scare me in my imagination. I had been to funerals before and watched as distant family members laid their loved ones to rest, but I had never lost someone close to me and the thought of his soulless body lying in the box at the front of the room horrified me.
My dad consoled me while my mother greeted those who came to say goodbye to her grandfather. He put his arm around my shoulders and guided me to the casket. Tears began to blur my vision as the sight of my great grandfather’s body became real. I shuddered with grief as I stood looking down upon his stiff figure. The tears I had tried to keep inside the past two days surged out of my body and into the room. I couldn’t control myself, blubbering as I stood there, family and friends turning to see what the commotion was.
I never said goodbye. The las time I saw him alive was a few months before and I felt horrible not being there for him. He welcomed me with a voice weakened from pain. His once booming tenor sounded wispy as he tried to sit up in his bed to have a conversation. The voice that commanded attention when he wanted to tell one of his corny jokes and could fill the room with such contagious laughter was now barely audible over the beeping machines standing next to his bed.
No matter his pain he was always interested in what his family was doing and made sure to make each one of us feel like the most loved. I started to tell him about some of the sights I would be visiting while in New York and watched as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back to try and fight the tears the pain was bringing. After a short conversation his energy was slowly fading. I told him I was going to leave and let him rest and would be back after my trip to talk more. He looked up and gave me a strained smile and nod. I leaned down to give him a hug and I saw the grimace creep across his face from the pain of trying to lift his body to meet mine. I remember looking down at him, lying on his hospital bed in the nursing home, his body a shell of what I remember it being. The man I once watched tending his garden, laughing with his family, and loving his wife no longer existed. He was replaced with a feeble mortal who was fighting the pain and fighting to stay alive.
My dad gripped my shoulder and pulled me close, allowing me to cry, allowing me to let out the agony deep inside. He held me tight, letting me know he wouldn’t release me until I was okay. The tears wouldn’t stop. I stood in front of his casket crying, not ashamed of my emotional outburst, but ashamed of how I hadn’t been as good of a grandson as I could have been, ashamed I would never be half the man he had become. I searched for comfort in the arms of my parents. I searched for answers from the ones I loved. I knew they would console me in my pain because we all felt it, but I knew they couldn’t help the failure I felt and that was what hurt most.
Family was what kept him strong. He loved being surrounded by the many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren he so often said he was blessed with. If there was an opportunity to have his family over for any occasion he would, just to hear what we were up to and to share the joy of family and life.
Every Christmas Eve we would all gather from the many towns and states we had scattered to and join my great grandfather in celebrating the birth of Christ. Before the children began opening gifts and playing with toys, and before the adults began eating the feat laid out on the tables, he would gather all the small grandkids and great grandkids around his gold recliner to tell all of us the Christmas story. He’d look out over all the small faces and once the children were quiet and still a smile would spread across his face. He’d pull out his worn leather bible, pages folded to his favorite passages, the binding barely holding on, and gently open the page to the Christmas story. He didn’t need his bible, he knew the story by heart, he had been reading it since he was the age of the children sitting on the floor in front of him, but he wanted to share with us all what joys could be found within his favorite book. His booming tenor voice becoming soft, to share the story, would fill the room with the words I remember hearing so many times.
I shouldn’t have seen him yet. His funeral wasn’t for a couple more hours, but there he was, lifeless and still, lying in his casket in the hallway behind the chapel. I looked at him, startled by the calmness they had painted on his face and I was scared.
The man I called great grandpa lay silent and still. His eyes closed tight, a look of peace spread across his face. His cheeks, with a slight red hue, contrasted the paleness of his forehead. He was wearing his best dark suit, two buttons, a shade of charcoal. The white shirt was crisp and bright. A dark blue tie ran down the middle of his chest covering the buttons. The pillow cushioned his head inside the soft white interior of the light grey casket. Silver handles ran along each side; pallbearers would use these shiny handles to carry him to his final resting place under the headstone bearing his name.
My eyes searched for the familiar smile I had seen so many times before and I hoped for the expression of joy that spread over his face whenever someone he loved walked through his door. I searched for the sound of his laugh and the gentle voice he always greeted me with. I searched for my great grandfather. I wanted him to open his eyes and say hello; he didn’t, he laid still and silent in a deep slumber.
My great aunt and uncle sat at each end of his casket as if they were trying to keep him from rolling away. Watching his lifeless body, their somber eyes shared the sorrow so many of us were feeling that day, showing the pain of losing a loved one who was a large part of their lives and not wanting to say goodbye. I looked at my great aunt and uncle, eyes filled with tears, and said no words; nothing came to my lips for me to say, nothing could be said to relieve the sadness. Sitting on the red velvet chairs, hands clasped across their laps watching me walk by, our silence said everything that needed to be said.
In the short eighteen years I knew and loved my great grandfather I learned much about family, God, gardening, and love. I remember the afternoons spent in the warm summer months mowing his lawn and helping him in his garden. The vibrant colors splashed against the greens of the surrounding trees. He’d wade out amongst the reds, purples, and yellows preening the delicate flowers and plucking a fresh bouquet of the brightest and fullest for the woman he adored.
His infatuation with my great grandmother was an example of how love could be joyous. His eyes would brighten when she’d enter a room and a childish grin would bring a shade of red to his cheeks that rivaled the dahlias he’d placed in the vase for her. You could hear the love in his voice when he cooed her pet name Brownie whenever she entered the room and even after sixty plus years of marriage he would watch her glide through the house with the yearning like that of a teenage boy.
We laid him to rest December 8th 1993. The chapel was full of his family and friends coming to say goodbye to a man who gave so much to those around him. The air was crisp on the sunny winter afternoon. The drab colorless trees hung over our heads as we watched the man who had brought so much color, joy, and love to our lives being lowered into the frozen ground. The chill didn’t seem to bother any of us as we crowded around wiping tears from our rosy cheeks and saying our final goodbyes. As I stood there looking at the mourning faces I wondered if his soul was watching his family or if he was meeting his God he had worshiped for so many years. I wondered if he would remember me when we met again in heaven, or if I would ever see him again. I turned away as they threw the dirt upon his casket, not wanting to see the dark soil slowly take him away from me, and fave my mother a hug. I wiped the final tears I shed for my great grandfather from my cheeks onto her coat and held her tight, knowing the brilliant colors returning in spring would bring back the memories I had of him.