By Jessika Vandivier
The day my grandpa died I laughed. It was getting close to my eighth birthday. I had been at the babysitter’s all day when my dad called and said he was running late. When he finally came to pick me up, he wasn’t himself. On a normal day he would stay and talk football with my sitter’s husband, but all he said was thank you and we left. He didn’t say anything in the car. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop blabbing about how good my day was. He sat there in silence. From that moment on, all of the memories of that night remain in my head; no detail is lost.
Instead of going home, we went to my grandma’s house. I was excited because I got to see my grandpa. I ran in the house and found all of my grandparent’s friends sitting in the living room. They all looked over at me with sad expressions on their faces. I didn’t think anything of it. I ran past them and went looking for my grandpa. I was calling out his name while searching the house. My efforts failed, but instead I succeeded in making my grandmother cry. Before that moment, I had never seen her show any emotion but happiness. At this moment, for some twisted reason, I began to laugh.
As I watched my grandma cry, memories started flooding back to me. Her eyes showed shock when I giggled. My smile faded. I felt my stomach drop after seeing the expression on her face. I remember him teaching me to build birdhouses and pouring warm bathtub water into the outdoor kiddie pool. He was always the type of grandpa that would slip you five dollars after every visit. At the store, you couldn’t look too hard at anything or he would buy it for you.
The last time I saw my grandmother upset was when my grandpa had his first stroke. He had collapsed on the kitchen floor during their morning cup of coffee. We found out later that the cause was multiple brain tumors. I was six years old at the time. I didn’t comprehend what was going on. All I wanted to do was play with him and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t. I was almost eight now and everything that was happening made sense. Dozens of thoughts started rolling through my mind. Could this be worse? Is he in the hospital again? All I wanted was to find out what was happening.
At that point my mom came out of the back bedroom. She took my hand and she led me back to the room and sat me down on the bed. She explained to me what had happened that day. She told me how my grandpa had passed away in his sleep at some point the night before. She assured me that he went peacefully with no pain. “He’s in a better place, honey. It’s all for the best,” she said to me.
Of all of the emotions I should have felt at this point in time, anger was the only one. I had just seen him a couple days ago. He was fine. He was smiling and walking around. Now, all of the sudden, he was gone. It wasn’t fair. He wasn’t going to be there to see me graduate from high school or get married. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. All at once, everything hit me. I broke down and started crying. At that moment I felt myself longing for him. I wanted to hug him and tell him I loved him. I wanted him to walk through the door and hold me. Even though I wasn’t standing, I felt like I lost my balance. I lay down on the bed and curled up. I cried myself to sleep in that exact spot.
My grandfather lost a yearlong battle to cancer. He had gone through chemo and radiation treatment. Looking back now I see his passing was for the better. Through the radiation he lost his hair and he couldn’t remember anything. The medicine was slowly killing him. He was turning into a walking vegetable and no one should have to live that way. He wasn’t the same person he once was. It ended up hurting his family more to see him suffer. He was in a better place. I can finally say that. After he died, everyone would tell me that to make me feel better. All it did was make me angry. I wanted him here with me. Why should he be anywhere else but with his family? How could he be happier someplace else? Every time I think about him not being here my heart starts to hurt. It’s a feeling that is hard to describe, and it is hard to imagine unless you have experienced it.
A week later we all gathered at his funeral. At normal family gatherings, everyone would be laughing and joking, but not this one. This particular day was full of silence and tears. My grandpa wanted to be cremated and spread throughout the Mediterranean Sea. He loved scuba diving and that was his favorite spot. There on the table, for everyone to see, was the urn full of his ashes. The funeral was small. Only family and close friends came. The service was short. People got up and talked about what a great person he was. How he was always generous and caring. The entire time I kept my eye on the urn, hoping to see a sign that he was still with us. After a while the background disappeared. Nothing happened. I had stayed strong all day and I hadn’t cried once. But at that moment, when I realized that he was truly gone, my eyes welled up.
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