My Grandfather passed away when I was six. My Grandmother passed away six months before him. My family members have been dying off left and right for as long as I can remember. Death is one of those things that’s difficult to explain to a kid so young, but I didn’t need an explanation. I knew they were once alive, and now they’re no longer. Back then, I had a very thin grasp on the idea of Heaven and that’s where the people I loved went after they left earth. I grew out of that relatively quickly. It didn’t make it hurt any less, believing in God and Heaven.
My grandmother had metastatic lung cancer and was diagnosed on the same day my Mom found out she was pregnant with me. Talk about a day of conflicting extremes! She was sick for as long as I have a memory of her. She opted for every single potential life saving treatment or surgery they could offer her, even though her chances of survival were essentially nil. I believe this is what they call grasping at straws.
My sister and older cousin remember Grandma P as a fun, crafty lady. Me and my cousin Michael remember her as impatient and nasty. She was simply too sick to have kids as young as us running around. We were often left to our own devices. Yes, Grandpa was there, but being a man, he didn’t do much of the watching unless it was Wheel of Fortune. I remember playing with his bottle of nitroglycerin pills that he kept in his nightstand. I may have been 4, but I knew they weren’t for my consumption. I thought it was cool how tiny they were. It’s pure luck that we weren’t Darwin awards waiting to happen.
The last time I spent the night with them, I was acting like a four year old and refused to get into bed because I was all strung out on youth. Grandma snapped and smacked me in the mouth. I cried myself to sleep while counting the thread spindles hanging on a holder on the wall.
When my Mom arrived to pick me up the next morning, Grandma apologized profusely. She felt awful about what she had done. While my Mom and Aunt’s bottoms were no strangers to the special spoon when they were misbehaving, she would NEVER strike them in the face. I must just bring that out in people. To be fair, I was difficult kid to handle from ages 2 to 18. Add cancer to that, and I really don’t blame her.
It doesn’t mean that I liked her. She was mean. Kids don’t fully comprehend the nuances of human emotions. We only understood extremes. The idea that there’s only good or bad. The gray areas didn’t exist. When she died, I didn’t care. I was running around the funeral home during calling hours like a tazmanian devil playing one-sided tag with random people. It was a dick move of me, but it actually helped my Mom get through the service without completely falling apart. Distractions are good, right?
The relationship I had with my Grandfather was the complete opposite. He was my favorite person in the whole wide world. He was training me to be an architect by helping me to construct Lego structures. He helped me trap lighting bugs in coffee cans in the back yard, and he taught me how to play piano. He spent every moment I demanded of him playing with me, teaching me, and satisfying my curiosities.
I remember the day Mom came home and told me “Grandpa is gone.” Those exact words. I even know exactly what I was wearing. A pink and teal striped shirt with teal shorts. By “gone”, I also knew she didn’t mean he had left for vacation. I knew she meant he was gone-gone. His soul had floated away to that imaginary place I had learned about in Sunday school. I was hoping she meant my other Grandpa, Dad’s stepfather. I asked, and she said no, Grandpa P. He had a heart attack while letting Doc, their dog out. This man walked five miles every day after having quadruple bypass surgery, and undid it all by secretly smoking in the basement.
My last year at St. Pete’s grade school, I remember sitting alone in the cafeteria on Grandparent day – something that my Grandfather wouldn’t have missed. It hit me again that the most amazing person I knew had faded away. Out of all of the people I’ve lost, this remains the most difficult. Death is part of life. Remembering the good things is bittersweet, and doesn’t abate the tears welling up in my eyes as I type this. I can only imagine this is good practice for when my parents inevitably take their last breaths. The difference this time, is that I’m no longer a child and I’m responsible for taking care of their “estate” and finances after they kick off. If they die any time in the near future, I’ll kill them.
My Dad is in the process of going through a purge. Since he has basically given up on life, he’s attempting to get his affairs settled. I’d be surprised if he has another five years left. Mom relayed the message that he wants to get rid of the piano – the piano that my Grandfather left for me specifically, because he thought I’d some day be a maestro given my musical inclination at a very young age.
The piano is in terrible disrepair. It hasn’t been tuned since 1979, and needs new felt on the hammers, as well as new strings. The bench has my butt print on it from taking the finish off with the moisture of my unclad heinie. I was the pantsless pianist. It’s still a beautiful piano, and I’d hate to see it get trashed. I somehow know that’s what Dad intends to do with it. We got an estimate in 1998 for getting it restored, and back then it was $1200. I don’t even want to imagine how expensive it’d be now. A gently used, fully functional piano isn’t much more than that.
I need to find a home for this piano. If I take it, that’s one more move, plus all of the other moves it’ll see in the next eight years. It probably won’t survive. I briefly toyed with the idea of gutting it and turning it into a fancy bookshelf, but that in essence is also trashing it. My parents have schlepped this damn piano around for the past 29 years for me, but I won’t let them get rid of it. I’m usually not one to keep stuff for sentimental reasons, but this is the one BIG exception. It’s the last piece of him I have, and I’m not ready to let go.