My grandma passed away Monday. It wasn’t a surprise—she had been in hospice since the Wednesday prior (I found out at AGDQ), she was in the hospital over Christmas, and hell, she was 86, turning 87 in February. My grandpa, somehow still alive, just turned 92. And just like my Mom’s side of the family, everyone, the entire extended family expected my grandpa to pass well before her. All the preparations for transferring knowledge of finances, family upkeep, responsibilities, etc., were slanted toward those expectations. Instead, today my grandpa is going back home to a property he settled in 1949 without Nana for the first time.
They were married for 71 years. Compared to the pain I can imagine from losing my own partner, even after 13 years…I have no frame of reference for what he must be feeling. That’s what makes it really sad. Not losing her, but watching him be left behind.
I could not have asked for a nicer grandmother. Always accommodating, never judging. There aren’t many standout moments, but she didn’t stand out—she lived her whole life serving others. My grandpa, her kids, the grandkids, her siblings, the family. It’s sad, I think, because she grew up in an era where her place was clearly communicated to be a servant. I don’t think it’s sad that she lived the life she did, but rather that she likely never felt like she had a choice. She was born in Jacksonville, married her next door neighbor, and died a few miles away 71 years later.
That’s one of the complicated feelings this funeral left me with: engaging with the concept of a large family and support network and what living a traditional life affords you, even if you have to sacrifice some of your own agency and motivation. Contrasting that with what I’m likely to have around me at the end and leave behind, the trade-offs are difficult to justify.
The scariest scenario is imagining taking care of my parents. All of the men in my family are full of pride and hide their emotions with productivity and helpfulness. I don’t know if I have the stomach for caring for my parents the way my grandparents have been cared for, and that sucks. I don’t know how to work it out. As proud as my grandpa was, I can’t imagine anyone that thrives more on having control of situations than my dad. I feel lucky that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to break out of that tradition, taking the best parts of my upbringing and marrying them with empathy and open-mindedness. But being anchored to that life is a frequent source of worry.
It’s a pretty weird feeling to go to a funeral and know your true emotional state is one of total indifference, feeling like you’re such a bit player compared to the rest of the family, friends, caretakers and children. At best my presence was acknowledged, not necessary. That it wasn’t a tragic death or unexpected makes the formality of the event feel totally out of place, unrelatable and absurd—and I tend to react to absurdity with a mix of disgust and humor, not solemn acknowledgement.
The Catholic tradition was anathema to me, and the inclusion of children in these bizarre rituals was eyebrow-raising. A strange scene. My dad attempted to help his dad mourn, get around, eat. Was my grandpa tired? Sad? Did he want privacy or company? Was he awake? No one had a clue or knew how to act. At least my cousin Josh nailed the eulogy—don’t even want to think about how many times he must have practiced it or fretted over it. I’d like to believe I could do my grandpa justice when the time comes.
Ultimately, the anxiety came from not knowing what to do, but it didn’t matter—no one did. The funeral felt improvised, but no one minded—everyone was improvising. The lead-up to this event filled me with extreme anxiety, unsure how to feel, fear of embarrassing myself, fear of ruining the mood for others. Immediately after, I can’t even relate to those memories, those emotions all exhausted. Now it’s just any other normal weeknight with a side of disappointment. I think I selfishly enjoyed having my week broken up by something different, being able to do different things and travel, even if there was a heavy cost of anxiety and sleep deprivation.
I think, despite the negatives, coming home is an escape from normal life. And normal life is so busy. Packed with work, home work, home, anxiety, responsibilities, a desire to be productive in eight ways, with eight different backlogs. Even if coming home always sucks, it affords a way to slow down. And that means going back is always a cue to worry about it all ramping back up again.
My mind visited a million places during the service, trying desperately to find a way to speed up time. It didn’t work, but it’s over now. It went about as well as it could have. I just don’t want to go back to normal yet. Because normal means going back to worrying about myself, my future, my career, my next steps, life and death, what’s going to happen with my parents, where I’m going to move, and what’s going to happen if I live into my 80s. As tough as living through the funeral atmosphere was, it was at least something singular to focus on.
It’s so weird not really being able to understand or interpret how these kind of events really affect you. You expect them to because everyone expects them to affect you, but discerning exactly how you’re being affected or what your mood really is or what you should do is kind of impossible.
I’m walking now, around an area somewhere between Green Cove Springs and St. Augustine that was mostly trees when I left for college. A bunch of ducks just landed in this pond. They’re pretty cool.
The world is so weird now. So many things happen, so much is reported, but knowing about most of it doesn’t matter. Being out of the loop carries an anxiety, being in carries even more. Striking a balance of being interested, motivated and moving forward without falling prey to the negativity and hopelessness of it all is the millennial’s challenge.
Time to change clothes, hop back on the highway, and go back home. February looks promising: most of my 2019 projects will be wrapped up and I’ll be able to turn my mind to the future with less anxiety. I’ll just have to find some time for french toast with peanut butter and grilled cheese sandwiches cut into strips. 🐾