Saturday, August 18th, 2018: Morning – 6:15A.M.
I could hear my mother’s muffled voice calling out my name in my sleep. It felt like those days when I would dread to wake up so early for school and an extra 5 minutes felt like an hour more. I know this couldn’t be one of those times I asked for an extra 5 minutes. My aunt was coming from Jersey to pick us up at 7:15, so I knew how limited my time was.
The weather was gloomy and humid; two things I wished it wasn’t on this already dreadful day. Something felt weird in the air. It felt like Sunday for some strange reason, and I couldn’t get over the fact that something, just something was wrong today. I didn’t wake up refreshed like I normally do. I didn’t feel calm whatsoever. I felt the racing thoughts pumping through my mind. Then, it hit me after a week of nonchalantly speaking about it: today I am opening wounds that can possibly still bleed out.
My grandfather didn’t want a funeral. The weekend before he died, his wishes were that he get cremated and that some of his ashes would be spread around the treehouse he built over a decade ago and that my grandmother would keep them. He also wanted a mass, which took me several google searches to find out what was even the difference between the two. The week he passed away, almost everything was beginning to get arranged for this mass, and the date was set: August 18th, 2018.
I woke up that morning thinking I grieved enough to pass the point of sadness. I thought I was going to be able to celebrate my grandfather’s life through memories and pictures and laughs. My grandfather would want us to remember him for the many things he was, instead of being sad that he was gone. I thought my family was ready for today as well. We all got dressed and pretty much said the same thing over and over again: “I can’t wait to get this over with.”
I could tell my mother was extremely anxious. In the time span from the time we got to my aunt’s house to the actual service, my mother had taken three smoke breaks outside my aunt’s deck. My grandmother was anxious because she was just tired of crying and being torn apart by her loss. Even going through the weird vibes and anxiety flowing through everyone under my aunt’s roof, I stayed optimistic. I remained positive, again trying to convince myself that I was over the grieving process.
Then, we left.
I had some anxiety going to the Church because I thought we were going to be late. My aunt drove the ladies to the Church while my uncle drove the boys. My aunt took a couple of wrong turns and time was passing. I feel like we were one of the last people to arrive, yet we were the most crucial part of the service because my grandmother had my grandfather’s ashes with her.
Walking into the church full of people felt as agonizing as walking down the aisle for a wedding. I mean, I’ve only been to one wedding in my life, and that was 20 years ago. I was only four. It just felt like the front of the church felt like it ran for a mile. But we entered the Church with my sister holding onto my grandmother’s arm. We were instantly greeted by my grandfather’s sisters and family who were very close to my grandmother. In the height of it all, my grandmother started crying. My sister started to tear. I started to tear. 10 minutes into the Church and I was already feeling the knot form in my throat. Easy there, Liz. You’re going to be fine. By the time we got to the middle of the aisles, my grandmother spotted her eldest sister sitting down and greeted her with a tearful hug. I had to look away until the encounter was done.
We had all found a row of seats at the front of the Church, presumably reserved for my grandmother and her side of the family like my mother, aunt, and grandchildren. A couple of relatives from my uncle’s side of the family also came to pay their respects, and to support my grandmother; especially my uncle’s mother who had just lost her husband due to illness just a couple of months before. The greetings and the hugs felt weird to me, not because they’re weird or anything, but I felt a major disconnect from my own body and what was going on around me.
I felt myself cave in. I felt myself slipping from reality more and more as we sat and waited for the mass to start. I saw the pictures on the screen of my grandfather; smiling, happy. I saw pictures of both my grandparents together, smiling. Happy. Familiar. It was a version of my grandmother I was used to seeing: happy, adding onto stories that my grandfather used to tell us, always the center of attention whenever my grandfather would joke on her constantly out of love, and present. I looked at those photos feeling as if I lost both my grandparents. I had to look away before I got too emotional. I was still fighting back the tears.
Looking around me, I had seen my sister look at the photos too. All I could see was my sister hold her eyes with tissues as she wept in sadness. I kindly had to rub her back for support, knowing that she needed at least someone to let her know that everything was going to be fine, no matter how desperately I needed someone rubbing my back telling me the same thing.
Starting the service felt like an eternity. The pictures kept circulating and the entire row of my family was just silent. I didn’t know what to do with myself; I wanted anything else than to focus my attention on the photos on the screen. I turned to my left and saw my 16-year-old cousin just crying and crying. I haven’t seen this boy cry in what feels like decades. I don’t even remember him crying that much as a baby, and even though there’s an eight-year difference, he was my first cousin, and when I was little, we were really close. Of course, with distance and age changed that, and it wasn’t recently on our trip to Pennsylvania when I got to have a decent conversation with him without feeling weird or nervous or whatever. Seeing him weeping caught me off-guard. In a sense, it brought my body back to reality: we’re at a mass for a loved one that many of us are forced to think about during this service, and people are going to grieve and cry.
I rubbed my cousin’s back the same way I did for my sister. I don’t know when my body thought it was its job to be the peacemaker of everything, but it was. Again, while also needing someone to do that for me.
Shortly after that, the photos stopped, and the service started.
For most of the service, I felt disconnected. I felt like the religious perspective during the service was something I couldn’t focus on. Yeah, it’s because I wasn’t raised with a religious background, and quite frankly I don’t understand points and certain aspects of it, but in a way, I was glad that I couldn’t. Again, I couldn’t allow myself to completely be vulnerable, especially with all of my family around. I teared up when I felt the most touched about the words said about my grandfather, but I honestly couldn’t hear anything else because I was tuning out for my own good, I was trying to protect myself from the pain.
It wasn’t until my grandfather’s grandson on his side of the family came up to speak a couple of words about him. Some moments were funny, and some were extremely spot on about how my grandfather’s personality was, and he closed it off reflecting on a memory that he holds dear to his heart and now interprets it into a whole new meaning.
Whenever there was a bee flying around and we would all get scared of it stinging us, my grandpa would always tell us that we shouldn’t be afraid of something that is smaller than us. And I believe that’s the message about life.
Reflecting back on my grandfather, he was ballsy, tough, courageous, and wasn’t afraid of nothing. He spoke his mind pretty much about everything, and that character reflects on the stories he would tell about the times he was younger. When it was his time to go, he wasn’t afraid. He took it still being brave, courageous, tough, and yes, even funny. He would always tell his grandkids to never fear anything, and I personally think that’s always going to be his life-long message to us as we go through this tough time.
Never be afraid of something that is smaller than you.
Sunday, August 19th, 2018 – Night – 12:36A.M.
As I write this, I think back to today and although I’m glad that the service is finally over and done with for the sake of having to reopen wounds that are not healed yet, I am glad that my grandfather can now finally rest and live in nature.
I will always remember my grandmother telling me the story of the first time I was introduced to my grandfather. I was too young to remember my biological grandfather, so when my grandmother introduced my grandfather to us, I apparently ran over to him and gave him a huge hug. I don’t remember this day for myself, but I know I will always keep that story close to my heart.
Rest in peace, grandpa. ❤