The Worst Part of Losing a Grandparent

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I had wildly different relationships with all of my grandparents. 

My maternal grandfather died long before I was born. I didn't know much about him except that he was handsome and served in the Army. My mom was 8 when he died. Mental illness runs deep on both sides of her family, and her dad did not escape it. He was staying at a YMCA, had been drinking, was hearing voices, thought someone was chasing him and ended up jumping out of the window in his room.

My maternal grandmother died when I was 14. She shot herself in the head in the downstairs bathroom of her condo. I loved her dearly and we all called her Nana because she thought she was too young to be called grandma. She was only in her mid-40s when I was born, her first grandbaby. We were really close. I would spend Saturday nights at her house as often as I could. She would make us her signature dinner: a baked potato topped with tomatoes and cottage cheese, and a glass of diet coke. Then we would go upstairs and I’d crawl in her big queen size four poster bed with her and we’d watched Golden Girls and Empty Nest. Then I’d move to my little bed on the floor and crawl into my tiny sleeping bag. Sunday morning we’d always go for a swim in her community pool, we’d come back inside and she’d do her nails, and then if I was lucky – she’d let me come grocery shopping with her. She was an executive assistant and always worked in fancy office buildings. I wish I would've had the chance to watch the show Mad Men with her. I would've loved to hear her stories about being a woman in a 1960s office environment. 

Me and Nana

Me and Nana

The day Nana died I was at home doing dishes. I heard my Aunt Lisa arrive, which was not unusual. Aunt Lisa was my mom’s only sibling, and lived with Nana about a mile from us. She rushed past me and went strait back to my mom’s room and then everything was a blur after that. I had lost my beloved Nana, but the worst part was watching my mom and Aunt Lisa (who I adored) go through losing their mother, and in such a tragic way.

My Aunt Lisa and me

My Aunt Lisa and me

My dad’s parents were night and day different from my mom’s parents. They married in their 20s, had 6 children and had a pretty classic, beautiful life together. We often had big Sunday dinners at their house, and on holidays would eat off the fancy gold plated china that they'd had since their wedding. My grandpa was in the coast guard, had an incredible green thumb, and told really great stories. My grandma killed any plant that she touched, but was a whiz in the kitchen with cooking and baking. She was the sort of chef who'd make something amazing and then give you the recipe, but it never came out the same at home. 

My grandma and grandpa in front - I love this photo because they're both cracking up - with their 6 children gathered around. 

My grandma and grandpa in front - I love this photo because they're both cracking up - with their 6 children gathered around. 

My paternal grandpa died when I was 29. His health had been declining for some time, but he was mentally there, was able to still live at home, etc. It was the holiday season and my aunts and uncle who lived out of state came to visit (which they didn’t normally). I remember the last time I saw him at a big family dinner and he asked me about my chickens, and then hugged me goodbye and told me he loved me, like he always did. Not too long after that dinner, I was surprised when I got a call from my dad late one night. And that was the worst part – hearing my sweet dad’s voice breaking as he told me that his dad, my beloved grandpa, had died. Being with my dad while he went through losing his own dad was heartbreaking. He put on such a brave face, like he always does. I remember going shopping with my dad to pick out an outfit for him for the funeral. And I thought – fuck, this is awful. Picking out clothes to wear to your dads funeral.

Someday I will have to do this.   Maybe that thought is the worst part.

After my grandpa died, my grandma’s health rapidly declined. For a couple of months now I’ve been dreading “the call” from my dad saying my grandma had died. Every time my dad would call me at any sort of strange hour I would always wonder – is this it? My paternal grandmother died this morning, 10 months after my grandpa. She still lived at home, but was taken care of morning, noon and night by my dear cousin who lived with her. Just like my grandpa, grandma waited until all of her children (they had 6) had one last visit. My aunts and uncle again had flown in from out of state. And my grandma passed just days later. My dad called to tell me and it was the same – hearing my dad’s voice and feeling my dad’s heart as he told me that his mom had died.

That’s the worst part.