Losing a Member of your Family is Hard
Losing a member of your family when you’re young can be really hard to absorb and deal with… Aubrey Gealsha explains how it was for her to cope with her grandmother’s new house being a cemetery.
To my parents, the strongest people I know
To my sister, who has been there through the thick and the thin, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When the holidays come round everyone is full of joy and cheer. For me the holidays are lonely and full of pain and memories from the past. Usually for thanksgiving or Christmas you go to your grandmother’s house, am I right? Well, my grandmother’s house is a cemetery.
Death always seemed to hang around my family, and paid a lot of unwanted visits. My mother’s parents died when she was 17, so I never got to meet them. My grandfather on my dad’s side died when I was 6 months old. He was a good man who rocked me for hours and loved me to death. The sad part is I don’t remember him at all. Except… I do, but it is a morbid memory, one of my earliest. See, I remember his funeral. I frankly would have loved a happier memory of him, but at least I’ve got something besides the home movies, right?
Needless to say I did cherish the time I spent with the relatives I had left. Time… Like ‘death’, it’s another funny word. You think you have all the time in the world when really we don’t. We spend our days counting them instead of making them count. I learned what death was at 6 years old.
The term I believe is ‘passed away’, or ‘she is in a better place now.’ I unfortunately remember it as if it happened yesterday. I’d just got home from yet another day of second grade, and we’d had art so I was excited to show mom my masterpiece. I jumped off the bus and raced my sister up the driveway and we came home to find mom a little distressed. She told us to pack our things because we were going to see grandma. There was something in her voice though…
We arrived at a hospital, and still a bit confused I followed my parents and sister clutching my yellow stuffed pony. They led us to a room where a frail woman laid hooked up to numerous beeping machines and tubes. Who was this? This couldn’t be my grandmother. My grandma was upbeat, smiling, and strong. My last memory of my invincible grandmother was of her lying dying in a hospital bed.
After the funeral we went to the house to drop off my great aunt. I ran inside hoping grandma was there, and not 6 feet underground. She wasn’t – the house was silent and was different somehow. There I was, 6 years old, and that’s when it smacked me in the face. I knew what death was.
Then I returned to school, and my parents tried to go on like nothing happened. But I was still struggling with this concept ‘passed away.’ Grandma had died a month before Christmas.
When you first lose someone you lose them in pieces, not as a whole. First their smell starts to fade, then the sound of their voice goes silent, then their face starts to disappear. I struggled with this for many years, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t control it.
A few years later Jimmy, a cousin of my grandparents, died. It was unexpected and it hit me hard and fast. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck then backed over a few times. Jimmy was gone… See, I was very close with him and had spent countless hours at his side. I’d followed him around like a lost puppy dog. He would get so sick of me that he would place me in front of the television and watch ‘Charlie’s Brown’s Christmas’ no matter what time of year it was. I also remember him placing me in front of ‘The Sound of Music’ a lot.
When he died, or should I say ‘passed away’, I sat in the house hoping to see him there. To hear the creak of the computer chair in his den. It never creaked again, it stayed silent. Six months after Jimmy died his sister’s husband Joe went too. I didn’t know him much but he was a good man. He did a lot for the polish community of Cleveland. It just hurt knowing another one was gone. After this I turned into a somewhat angry girl.
Death hovered over us still, and was taking up permanent residence with my family. A few months after Joe it was the turn of my beloved great aunt “Auntie”. That made me fall to pieces and I don’t think I ever got some of those pieces back. She was so full of life and happy and loved her Cleveland Indians. I think that is were I got my personality from, and my green thumb. She even made a joke right up to the end, to make me smile through the tears.
When she passed away I thought I felt her spirit pass me in a cold breeze as I sat in the waiting room watching ‘I Love Lucy.’ I never loved Lucy after that night. My parents broke down too, even though they tried to hold it back. Auntie was gone… forever. The house was sold, and my sanctuary was gone. All the memories, all the smells, gone in a blink of an eye.
My 8th grade year I lost Jimmy’s sister Dolores. I think that one caused my sister to fall to pieces. My sister wasn’t the same after that. Dolores got cancer, and turned very frail. She got better for a little bit then turned to the worse. She lost her hair, her weight, and her smile.
I remember at the cemetery looking at the plot then looking across the street and seeing my grandmothers, grandfathers, great aunt, and Jimmy not too far from her. I realized this is where the majority of my family was. My Grandmother’s house was a cemetery.
It was my freshman year when the last of my family died, Uncle Tex. He was a war vet for WWII and wasn’t the same after he came back. And it only got worse as he got older… I guess truly he is finally at peace with himself now. I hated to see him suffer as much as he did.
The funeral came and went, and the four of us – my mom, dad, and sister – sat in the funeral home with him, with Uncle Tex. No-one came but we stayed there anyway. They lowered his casket into the ground and that’s when I realized no-one else was left to say good-bye.
I haven’t seen Death since, and I truly don’t miss him. I wish he could have left sooner, and not taken so many people in my family away with him.
There were a few benefits though through it all. I’ve grown very close to my sister, who was there every step of the way. And my parents and I are extremely close, too.
People like my grandma and Jimmy never saw the person I grew up to be. They won’t see how I turn out. They won’t see my wedding, my children, or the animations I hope to make someday.
But there is one place they have stayed all these years – in my heart.
So when you think you got all the time in the world… take another look and make the time you have left count.
Feel lucky for what you have, and don’t complain about your family.
Because you will end up missing their little quirks.