Saturday, July 28th – The Arrival, The Reunion, & The Toast:
I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t nervous to see my family. The last time we all got together was for New Year’s Eve, and the cold, freezing weather had all of us feeling on edge and irritated. That was exactly 7 months ago. We’d normally never wait this long to see each other, but for reason, none of us really spoke to one another the first half of the year. It wasn’t until my grandfather got sick in late-June. On June 24th, we found out he has cancer. On July 24th, he passed away. The day after he passed away, my family finally planned a trip to Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother for support and company during this difficult time in her life. I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t upset at my family for not making sure we all saw each other more often. I was very upset that it took a death of my grandfather to drop everything and come together. Nowadays, it feels like it takes a death to be reunited with family.
We left for Pennsylvania early in the morning; the drive to my grandmother’s house is almost, almost, a 3-hour drive; that’s if we decide to stop for a bathroom break which is always a yes. Throughout the car ride, I couldn’t help but think how this weekend was going to play out. On a normal occasion, we would be greeted by both of my grandparents and their dog, Foxy. We would eat lunch as soon as we walk in. To know that wasn’t the case this time around was weird; I didn’t expect for it to be what it was really going to be.
We pulled up to my grandmother’s property; you could hear Foxy’s little dog bark through the porch windows. We didn’t see my grandmother until we actually all got out and started to take our bags from the car trunk. My sister was the first to hug my grandmother. My grandmother immediately started crying and hugged my sister as tight as possible. I teared up watching them. I hugged her and I felt how heartbroken she was. I didn’t expect my grandmother to look the way she did; she’s normally strong and happy to see her grandkids. That same energy wasn’t there this time, and that’s when I knew I haven’t grieved my grandfather enough. I had more to think about as I was up there.
On a lighter note, I saw my first bear! He came around to eat some fallen apples from my grandmother’s apple tree in the back of her property. It only took 16 years since I’ve been going there to see a bear!
Later on in the day, my aunt and uncle wanted to take my grandmother out to eat for her birthday which was earlier that week. That’s another thing: my grandmother turned 73 last Thursday; two days after my grandfather passed away. For as many birthdays has my grandmother has left, she is left reminded that the man she loved for the last 19 years passed away just days before. I understood my grandmother’s wish of not wanting us to celebrate her birthday that weekend. We didn’t, but we did take her out to eat at a nice little restaurant in Milford, Pennsylvania. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was friendly, and it felt nice to be around family after so long. When our drinks came out, my uncle picked his glass up and simply said, “let’s toast.” We all picked up our glasses, and he said, “For Ray.”
That night, I felt a tidal wave of emotions hit me. Everyone was in their rooms already taking some time for themselves, and I called my partner to try to calm myself down. I hated seeing my grandmother so upset and so stressed out. I hated seeing my aunt and my mother worry about her. We all were, and after hearing some personal things throughout the day, everything was tieing itself in my throat. I had to take the advice of my therapist and not be afraid to grieve. Cry it out. The one who’s passed wants to be remembered. I thought I had grieved already, but it was different actually being up in Pennsylvania, in his house. Seeing all the pictures of him and my grandmother smiling and happy. It’s heartbreaking. It’s such a different stage of grieving that I never got to feel with a loved one.
Sunday, July 29th – The Deer Who Stared, The Silent Dinner, & “Yazy”:
Sunday was an absolutely beautiful day weather-wise. It wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t humid; something me as a New Yorker haven’t experienced since… May? Anyway, I spent most of my day on Sunday outside either playing “Yazy”; a bootleg version of the game “Yahtzee”, or that triangle thing with the holes and the pegs… this thing. Anyway, I pretty much stayed on the porch for most of the day; I watched my sister give both my mother and my grandmother haircuts that afternoon. The boys in the family went mini-golfing for the afternoon, so the ladies (and Foxy) stayed in the house to relax. I was content and at peace for once in a really long time; maybe that was just the vacation speaking in me, but for once, I didn’t want to go back to NYC the following morning. Every time I’m in Pennsylvania, I’m a lot more calm and peaceful than I usually am in the city. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m escaping my reality when I’m up there. Maybe it’s just the beautiful scenery I don’t get to see often. To this day, I don’t know what actually calms me down up there.
While I was outside during the day, my sister had started to give my grandmother a well-needed haircut. Because we were waiting for the bear to come back out again since we first saw him yesterday, we were all looking out into the field on my grandmother’s property. Some deer came and went with her babies getting apples, but then one came immensely close to the deck where we were sitting and started staring at my grandmother. She had asked both my sister and me who the deer was staring at, and it was clear as day that it was staring at her. The deer didn’t look away until a minute or two passed. My family and I believe that when a loved one passes away, they come back to visit in some shape or form. We all had a thought that possibly maybe that deer was our grandfather, looking and checking on our grandmother and see how she is doing. Now there are some things I don’t believe in, but coincidences such as that are scary. My mother has made it known that whenever a pigeon would land on our windowsill and just stay there, she believed it was her father who came to check up on her. I don’t know what would my uncle come back as, but there have been times where I felt some sort of presence in my house. It’s really weird and freaky, but it’s calming to know that loved ones who pass can still check up on you and see how you are doing.
Since we are an Italian family, it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t have pasta as our family Sunday dinner dish. My aunt made her infamous meatballs and spaghetti sauce (in which she cooks almost all day like a real Italian) and by the time dinner was ready, I was starving. We all ate in the dining room as usual, but instead of there being 9 seats, there were only 8. Dinner was silent; it’s something we never experienced during a family lunch or dinner. Whether we are in New Jersey at my aunt’s house or we’re in Pennsylvania at our grandparent’s house, our family dinners were always talkative and funny. That reason, I soon realized, was because my grandfather was the one who would start off the conversation and who would crack all the jokes. Maybe it wasn’t the occasion to do that this time (we didn’t celebrate anything that had passed recently; no junior high school graduation celebration for my youngest cousin, no grad school graduation celebration for me, and no 16th birthday celebration for my oldest cousin). Dinner was delicious, but the atmosphere felt heavy, and I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt it. Quickly after dinner, my grandmother went outside to grieve on her own, and again it was hard for me to see her like that. Knowing after tonight she would be eating dinner on her own the following day after we left was extremely heartbreaking.
Monday, July 30th – The Departure & The Future:
The weekend trip to Pennsylvania was now coming to an end and it was now time to gather our stuff to head back to the city. It was a gloomy and chilly Monday morning; it felt like the type of weather you feel in the beginning of April or something. We packed all of our things, my sister and I played with Foxy for a bit, we had breakfast and by the time it was 8 o’clock, we said our goodbyes. The goodbye to my grandmother was extremely hard this time around; in the recent years, they’ve gotten harder. I knew that my grandparents were getting older and every time we got to see them was a blessing; I just wish we all knew that the last time we got to see my grandfather in person and in good health that we knew it was going to be our last. My grandparents never got to see any of us as often as they liked only because of busy schedules and the distance from the city to the countryside of Pennsylvania. Winters were extremely hard to get together because they would get an immense amount of snow that made it hard for them to come down to the city to see us. Anyway, this goodbye was hard because my grandmother was sad to be alone again. She has people visiting her every other day nowadays since my grandfather’s death, but there’s nothing like having your own kids be by your side while you’re grieving such a loss. Although it was heard to say goodbye, we made sure it wouldn’t be the last one for a really long time.
In two weeks, my grandfather’s side of the family is putting together a memorial for him in New Jersey. To pay our respects my family is attending this service, so it felt good to know that the next time we were going to see our family wasn’t just up in the air like it usually is. Although they are putting on a memorial, my grandfather didn’t want to have a funeral. My grandfather was a very honest man, he wasn’t afraid to say what was on his mind despite what other people might take it. He believed funerals were all a sham; people would rather come and visit you while you’re dead than alive, and that’s the honest truth about life. He and my grandmother decided they wanted to be cremated, so my grandfather got cremated earlier this week. He told my grandmother that he wanted some of his ashes spread around the treehouse he built over a decade ago, and for her to keep the rest of them.
Life isn’t going to be easy for my family these next couple of months, and we don’t know how the future is going to turn out for us, but we knew that the memories we have of my grandfather will be a lot easier to laugh at than cry. We know that we will be able to make new memories and redefine some new traditions in light of this tragedy. In a sense, my grandfather brought my family and me closer, and that’s honestly all he ever wanted.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa.