Updated: Jan 16
January, I hate you.
I hate you because you pretend like you’re this brand new beginning. And you’re not.
Twice now, you’ve represented the end.
The end of two lives. Two people who I held closest to my heart.
And it’s breaking me.
My heart is still so raw from last year. So many hurts in so little time. I wasn’t made to endure this kind of pain so consistently. Fuck “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
This. Is killing me.
My Poppa was one of the best men I know. As a kid, I was equally terrified and enthralled with him. I wasn’t terrified because he was mean or scary, he just had this quiet power about him. His presence alone demanded obedience.
But he was also funny. And kind.
The man spouted the same few jokes my entire life and somehow they were hilarious every single time. One with the punchline “These are mine, nachos (not yos… yours).” I’m actually laughing as I type this because I can see him leaning over the side of his chair (one that no one dared sit in) pausing for emphasis… to deliver that line.
But the REAL standup show began when he and my Grandy (my grandmother, his wife) fussed at each other. There was a fine line between playful banter and arguing and they straddled that line, leaning back and forth between each side. Me, my cousin Dion, and later my siblings… and later his sibling would bite our lips to keep from laughing, but sometimes we just couldn’t hold it back.
It usually began with my Grandy asking a question or being too loud or doing anything that interrupted him watching tv.
“I don’t know, JAN.” Emphasis on the “Jan”.
“You in there makin’ all that racket!” She was always buzzing around the house vacuuming or making a call or chopping something for dinner or on her way out to wherever. I’m a lot like her.
“Nah, I don’t think that’s him. That’s the other guy from that other movie. You remember!” Arguing over the names of actors and what they played in.
“I just sat DOWN, Jan. Why you always askin’ me to do somethin’ as soon as I sat down?” Yes, he used ‘sat’ in both tenses.
And even if you couldn’t blame the man, you better not laugh at his fussin’ because Grandy did it all. Plus, she was quick to tell us to “sit over there and shut up”. She worked and kept a clean, stylish home and threw the best parties and everything she cooked tasted like God sent it down to us. I mean, the woman is gold.
And he knew it. And he loved her. And we knew it.
Their love is a love I have always admired. It was tenacious and deep-rooted and it spoke for itself. I can hardly think of a time when I didn’t see them together. They were partners. They respected one another. And they enjoyed each other.
Traveling all over. Going to see movies regularly. Going on dates. Hosting family gatherings and parties. Laughing and dancing to (what we called) old school music. Jamming to jazz, sipping champagne. Going to jazz festivals. They enjoyed each other.
While I’d spent my adolescent years seeing them weekly, as we got older the visits became fewer and far between. And on those visits (though the man wasn’t a talker) he made it a point to catch up on what was happening in my life.
I’d gone from sneaking into his chair when he got up, where it was still warm from his body, quietly asking for some of his “pork skins” (rinds), and asking to play his hand-held casino game... to guessing who done it on Forensic Files (one of my fav shows to this day), talking about what college I was going to, and eventually about the man I was hoping to marry.
Life carried on, but it never occurred to me that there would be an end. To this day, I don’t know how old my grandparents are. Though they physically changed, I still imagined them at the same age they were when I was 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. They stopped getting older, in my mind. They were immortal.
I already didn’t visit often because… life and a baby and life. But at the discovery of his dementia, it was like a bomb had gone off and I wanted to stay as far away from the wreckage as I could. I didn’t want to watch this man, whom I admired so deeply, deteriorate. I couldn’t. So I stayed away.
God, I regret it now.
Not only for me, but for Cade. When she was born, there was a light in his eyes that I hadn’t seen since we were kids. He adored her. And even when his mind started to go, he remembered her. He still lit up at the sight of her. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget the feeling that I felt because of it. That I brought this beautiful child into his life and that she brought him joy.
This man. This black man represented so much. More than I could write.
His passing wasn’t just a loss for me. It was a loss for anyone in his proximity who didn’t know him. Who didn’t experience his charm and kindness and power. You don’t find men like him. And part of me doesn’t want to.
This isn’t some feeble attempt at glorifying his life or refusal to speak ill of the dead. No, his legacy preceded him. My words are merely an addendum to the experience that all who knew him had.
I visited my Grandy today. We sat and talked about how his last days played out. She could tell that he was holding on for her. The love of his life. She softly shared how my cousin Dion (one of his caretakers) sat with him and told him that it was okay for him to go.
Today, as I sat with her while someone came to pack up the bed and equipment he had been using, I held back tears. Trying to be strong for her. Trying to be the woman she had a hand in raising up. Until she said in almost a whisper…
“Only one man came to get him. The hardest part was watching the man wrap him up in sheets and wheel him out.”
The love of her life.
Tears and snot poured down my face as I imagined that.
The love of my life.
Reduced to bones and sheets.
A silently powerful man, a simple job for a stranger.
When my dad called to give me the news yesterday, I was stunned.
I was sitting in the drive-thru of a Weinershnitzel, listening to my kid talk about the chocolate sundae she was about to get.
And my first thought wasn’t my Poppa.
It was my dad.
The grief he felt… I would someday feel.
His grandchildren, who are his pride, will get that call. And an immortal man will suddenly be mortal.
I realized that I have not been appreciating his quiet power. I have not been revering him as my baby girl has. I have not been keeping up with his age and thanking God that I still have him.
These last two days I’ve been reminiscing about the days when I was equally terrified of and enthralled with my dad.
He has become the patriarch of the family. A man who has loved and protected and provided.
A man whom his grandchildren call…
For photos of my grandparents, myself, and my family, please check out this post.