Tag Archives: loss

Damn, Grandma? Damn?

Note: I originally wrote this eulogy for my grandmother and posted it last year, but when I overhauled my site, it was the one post to have vanished. I’ve saved it until now to republish on what would have been her 83rd birthday.

Thinking back to that service, and my delivery of the following, I’m kind of amazed that I made it all the way through.

I can’t believe that it’s been just three and a half months since I saw my grandmother. I was lucky enough to steal some time away from work to be able to come up for what would turn out to be my final Christmas with her. I always found a reason to let life get in the way, and I never came back up to visit as often as I’d like. It’s funny, but during these past twelve months, I’ve flown back up here more than I had in the past twelve years. Part of that was due to the fact that when my great-grandmother died, I knew that I had thrown away my chance to say my last goodbyes, too worried about work, and life, and somehow being a failure in her eyes.

Sure, I’ve done better for myself since then, but when I heard that my grandfather was beginning to fade, I knew I couldn’t just hide away down in California. And when he died, I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I was back up here to say farewell to my grandmother.

I’m sorry. This is harder than I expected. You see, my son came up with me this time, and this is his first real experience with death, the first time he has been exposed to the concept of a bittersweet celebration of a life well-lived. He is lucky to have spent as much time as he did with both of his great-grandparents, and I guess what I’m about to say, the stories I’m about to tell, are as much for him to learn a little more about them as they are for me to pay my respects.

The hardest part is knowing where to start. There are so very many things which I’d like to share with you, but right now they’re just a jumble in my head; lodged behind this lump in my throat.

Perhaps I should begin with how she taught me (quite inadvertently, I’m sure she’d insist I clearly mention) my very first four-letter word. That sort of thing tends to happen when a car door swings shut with only your leg betwixt it and its final destination. Later on, in an outing with my Grandfather, I used it in perfect context, to the effect of nearly causing him to have an accident (of either variety). Since then, I’ve been extremely cautious in my usage of… colorful metaphors while traveling by automobile.

In so many ways, I’ve found that I am like my Grandmother (and not just in my reaction to vehicular agony). She was the standard which I’d found I’d set for myself, when that sort of thing began to matter. But really, I think that the biggest impression she made on me was in treating me like a person when others could only see the symptoms of adolescence. It’s quite simple to dismiss someone when you know better, but it takes integrity and valor to see them as a human being- moreso when that human being is an abrasive, caustic malcontent. She had my back when no one else did, even when I walked on painful and lonely roads, beset on either side by buffalo too numerous to mention.

That’s not to say she didn’t speak her mind. Sure, she had my back, but she never hesitated to tell me when she thought that I was in the wrong. We used to argue all the time, on all range of matters, from the mundane to monumental, relishing not in the causing of pain, but rather the gamesmanship of passionate debate. There were times we got so into it, that my mother appeared to be upon the brink of nervous breakdown. But when we’d finished, there was no bitterness or anger left remaining, just a renewed connection between the both of us, and the unspoken eagerness to do it all again sometime.

It’s funny. One of the points on which we argued most since I left home, was my choice in paramours. She never missed a chance to speak her mind on the subject of the dubious ladies who had contrived to besmirch my honor and misdirect my virtue. Until she met my wife, that is. Not once, not even once, did I hear so much as even an uncertain word against my dearest one. She loved my wife as only someone who truly understands the concept of unconditional love might. She saw, perhaps even before I, that meeting and not driving my wife away was the best thing that I’d ever managed to accomplish.

One of the hardest things for me was to watch her health decline. 26 years ago, give or take a month, she had her first heart attack. So I suppose, in a very real way, she’d been declining for a while. But these past few years managed to steal away her vitality and stamina, and our debates, once lively and verging on a yet-undiscovered full-contact sport made up of naught but words, had fallen into carefully moderated disuse. They weren’t nearly as fun as they’d been before, as she required oxygen to even cross the living room, and so we’d lob our gentle jabs at one another until we both got bored.

As you can probably infer, we didn’t have the typical familial relationship, filled with loving words and niceties. Somewhere along the way, she expressed her affection toward me by reassuring me that she could rock-a-bye me with real rocks. I never failed to retort that there was still time to push an old lady down the stairs. A few years ago, out of gift ideas, and with time running out for Christmas shopping, I ordered her some polished rocks off Amazon, with an invitation for her to give me that rock-a-bye. I’ve been told that it was one of her most treasured possessions.

I’d love to say that my grandma was a sweet and kind little old lady, full of sunshine and other assorted flavors from the Whitman’s Condolence Sampler, but I don’t want to sell her short. She was her own person: proud, and fierce, and above all loving. Besides, if I say too many purely nice things, I’m sure tonight I’ll hear the wind carrying her message past my window of, “Oh, pooh!”


As has been observed, my Grandmother managed to transmute the simple expulsion of carbon dioxide from her lungs into a form of punctuation. If you were to base a film franchise upon her life, and for some inexplicable reason, cast Bruce Willis as the lead, you would be treated to such cinematic gems as: Sigh Hard, Sigh Hard With a Vengeance, and Live Free or Sigh Hard. There again, she and I share a bond.

It’s funny: my mother has repeated, on numerous occasions, that were it not for the pains of childbirth, she would have been convinced that I was her mother’s child. I suppose that’s why that last bit, originally a self-deprecating observational jab at myself, works so flawlessly with her.

So I says to this guy, I says…


More jokes? I can almost hear you thinking, I’m not sure if this is the time or the place for that sort of thing.

But when, then, if not in a moment of despair?

The time for grief has come and gone, and will most likely come again, striking in those unguarded moments when we think that we’re alright. We do not grieve nor weep for her, for, regardless of your views on what comes after, it is an incontrovertible certainty that she is now finally free of pain. Our tears are shed only for ourselves, because we are human, and because we so very dearly miss her. We weep not because she made us feel that way, but rather for the laughter which in us she so easily inspired, and from which we find ourselves so suddenly bereft.

Death is not something to be feared, like an arbitrary cessation of festivities, nor some sort of adversary to be outwitted ‘til the end. It’s a natural closing of the story of our lives, our hopes, our dreams, one which will be continued in the tales of our children and grandchildren and in the hearts of all who’ve loved us. Death is but a liberator from endless pain and suffering, the final rest which we have sought since we were old enough to regret all those naps not taken in our youth.


I’d like to end this with a story from years ago, from one of the many road trips I had the pleasure of taking with my grandparents. You know, I always found it amusing that my grandfather, who worked at Boeing, preferred to get somewhere behind the wheel of a car. Maybe he knew that it wasn’t just about the destination…

We were in Oregon at the beginning of the summer, right after school had gotten out. It must have been close to a hundred degrees, even as night began to fall. We’d had a particularly trying day, the three of us, especially my grandmother and I, an occupational hazard, I suppose, of one of the travelers suffering from his particularly potent form of adolescence.

We’d pulled up to the motel in the early evening, just as the sun was beginning its descent, and my grandparents decided that what they could really use, after a day cooped up with me, was a quiet evening out. Sure, they invited me to come, as they were obligated to at least offer me some sort of sustenance, but, as our room had air conditioning and HBO, I elected to stay behind. Let’s just say that no objections were made. I did what any red-blooded American boy would do, and flipped through the channels to see what sort of life I had been missing with Basic Cable, while my grandparents had an evening of civil conversation in an environment free of rolling eyes and a constant stream of sarcasm.

It must have been a couple of hours later when they returned, because I’d managed to get bored by the offerings of even Subscription Television. From the way they… let’s say… sauntered in, I knew something was amiss.

Driven by maternal (or gran-maternal instinct, I suppose), though it could have easily been the finest example of passive aggression which I’ve been honored to have witnessed in all my many years, my grandmother decided that she’d had enough that day. She snapped her fingers toward the cot, informed me it was time for bed, and, uncertain as to the duration of my safety, I skulked my way over and sat down upon it. Another snap of her fingers, and I laid down, immediately regretting my decision.

My grandmother then began piling blanket after blanket upon me, comforters used to ironic effect, until I began to sweat uncontrollably, both from the trapped in atmosphere and body heat, though I must say that stark terror played no small part. She tucked the many layers between the mattress and the frame, informing me that I was cold, and that I needed to bundle up. Had I the presence of mind, I might have voiced a concern that, in light of this apparent cold snap, said provisions would be best utilized by the those touched not entirely lightly by the eld.

My options rapidly evaporating, much as what moisture I’d managed to conserve, I turned my head (the only part of my body which I could move) toward the other side of the motel room, to where my grandfather was seated on the bed. I could just make out his face in the reflection from the mirror which stood adjacent to the bathroom. I shot him a pleading look, to which he responded with a small shake of his head, and non-verbal “I told you so.”

My eyes screamed at him for help, but by then it was already too late. I was beginning to suffer from heat stroke, and my eyes began to close. The last thing from that evening which I can reliably remember was that look upon my Grandpa’s face, and the smell of wine upon my Grandma’s breath.

My grandmother always had my back, but she felt it necessary, at times, to remind me not to run afoul of her good nature. Especially all day. In a confined space. Regardless of how many buffalo she pointed out (it was all of them). I’ve since taught this lesson to my son, though I refer to it as “not being that guy.”

I will miss my grandmother, and grandfather, who passed away not even one year ago. I never knew my dad, and therefore could almost be excused from understanding that two people could be so very much in love, were it not for the pair of them. They inspired me to look for someone with whom I could tolerate the idea of a togetherness spanning decades. In my heart, there is emptiness which is suspiciously their shape.

It’s tempting to despair that I won’t know what to do, should I one day need them again, but then I remember the love we shared, and all of our happy moments, and I realize that I’ve learned everything I needed from them (but nowhere close to what I wanted), and perhaps they left so that I could finally set aside the training wheels.

I love you Grandpa. I love you Grandma. Keep the car running, because I’m waiting on another road trip. And Grandma, I wouldn’t mind that rock-a-bye.


I don’t expect this post to be good- in fact, I would be surprised if it winds up even readable. There are many things which I have been through, some of them my own making, and others the end result of razor-tipped butterfly effect, but I have never suffered a loss quite like this before. It devastated me when my great-grandmother died, especially because, in retrospect, I had plenty of time to go and see her before her time came (of course, I never did, but that was because I felt that she would be ashamed of me, and where I was in my life, which is more a testament to my own self-loathing than an accurate depiction of who Gram truly was. I now believe that she would have only been ashamed of me if I had well and truly given up: resigned myself to drug addiction and failure, without ever trying to reach the stars for which I had been yearning since I was a little boy.), but chose to stay away. When the news came to me of my grandfather, I was determined not to make the same mistake. And though there was nothing I could do beside bring a smile to his face upon his realization of my arrival, I felt that, this time, I was finally able to say goodbye.

Here’s the thing, though, and again, it says more about me as a trainwreck of emotional instability than it does of his decency as a human being that the most vivid memory I have of him was from one of the lowest points in my life. It was December of 2000, and my drug-addicted girlfriend and I were on a break (please try to remember what a social powerhouse Friends was during my era). I was still avoiding my mother due to reasons mentioned elsewhere in The Vaults Of Uncle Walt, and so I went back to the one place where I knew that I was always welcome: my grandparents’ home. They had both told me that I was like a fourth child to them, and that their house would always be my home, so, when I’d had no alternative, I came back to them.

My grandmother and I are very similar: stubborn worriers who must always have the last word, and who enjoy the sport of argument more viscerally than any other. The qualities which I inherited from my grandfather are far more… intangible. Intelligence, obviously (though my grandmother is no slouch herself), and an ease of learning which makes people who have to study begin to steam about the ears. Then there is the consistency of rulemaking, which my son can attest that I have inherited as well, which boils down to clear and concise rules regarding what is acceptable and what is not, and the consequences which befall each action. But, of course, there is no one better suited to describe what my grandfather gave to me than my own two grandchildren. For my part, I have merely attempted to emulate my own grandfather, be as patient and loving as my own grandpa was, but for them, to have someone to sneak them sweets, or goof around with them, or to exist as a neverending font of unconditional love, I think that they shall be eternally grateful to a man they never got to know.

I seem to have wandered off-topic for a bit, and for that, I apologize. Let’s see if I can pull myself together and get this missive back on track.

For the record, before I start in on this narrative flashback: We spoke some number of years ago about this incident, and came to peace with one another.

My life was spinning out of control. I was an intravenous drug user with a mission which might have made Don Quixote reconsider, and in no mood whatsoever to suffer the advice of someone who “just didn’t get it.” Everything was going more or less okay, despite the fact that I was living with my grandparents, and separated from my girlfriend for whom I had plunged headfirst into the icy waters of self-destruction (though, to be fair, it didn’t require any arm-twisting whatsoever). And then, though I remember it as coming from out of the blue, it might very well have been rooted in something topical, he began to lecture me about the importance of staying clear of debt collectors. At that point in my life, I hadn’t actually ever had anything in my own name (the benefits of dating a woman in her mid-thirties), and just knew that I knew what the hell I was doing. I mean, I did, and it all worked out in the end, but still… Statistically speaking, his talk was dead-center and on-point. And then… I broke.

I started shouting at him in couplets of salty metaphors, decrying his diatribes toward responsibility, and reminding him that I knew what I was doing (while philosophically true, I must admit that my methods are far more hands-off than I might otherwise care to admit). I then stormed out, in adolescent fashion, slamming the door behind me, but not before I informed him, in no uncertain terms that he could feel free to asexually reproduce (though, grammatically speaking, it was more of an imperative).

Perhaps someday I will allow myself to believe that I am worthy of the example which he set for me, though at this moment, I find it difficult to believe. I just hope that he knew how much he meant to a little boy who grew up without a father, who so desperately required someone to love him for who he was.

I love my grandfather, and I miss everything about him. I weep for the knowledge that I will never see him again, though I do not weep for him. I weep for myself, and for the world, as it must come to terms with the emptiness which remains in the wake of his passing.

I miss my grandfather.


17213468443_369c567e5a_kWhat a fun week it’s been! I haven’t disliked a rollercoaster ride that much since early 2004, when, to avoid what would have been a relationship-ending fight, I got onto The Medusa at Six Flags, which turned out to have been something which is known as a Supercoaster, which seemed more like a suicide machine to me, but without the inherent fun of taking your own life. But unlike that experience, it seems that I cannot exit this ride, and steadfastly refuse to get onto another for the rest of my time here. Also, I’m not sure what kind of metaphor I can make from Dippin’ Dots, but I want to go on record as saying that they were an abomination which managed to lessen my love for frozen treats and tiny snacks of all types. That was a truly horrible day for me. Actually, to be fair, that entire time was one which I would almost rather forget entirely. It summed up everything that I disliked about my life during my twenties, and were it not for the lessons which were hammered into me, I would block out that time entirely from my mind. I haven’t really shared a lot of my relationship with La Diabla with all of you, and I guess that it’s probably the time.

You're seriously not going to get on another ride? Seriously?!
You’re seriously not going to get on another ride? Seriously?!

First, a little backstory: I left Seattle in January of 2003, leaving behind my family on the invitation of my friend to come and live in California and see palm trees. It was a twenty-two hour train ride, and when I arrived in Emeryville, California, I was ready to put my past behind me. It took me about a month to find a job, but I wound up getting in at the new Fuddrucker’s in the local open-air mall. It was only six months between my hire date and my first promotion. I’d poured myself into the job, sacrificing a social life in search of the almighty dollar, pausing only to blow of steam with Fed by drowning our sorrows in a frightening quantity of booze (which I could now buy in almost any store, including the Pack N’ Save next door). But two guys, no matter how good of friends they may be, cannot share a one-bedroom apartment for six months without discovering that they hold within them the secret desire to destroy the other. That, and Fed’s mom was coming to visit, and she’d made it clear how much she disapproved of me.

So, faced with more money, but nowhere to live, I paid for a couple of weeks at the Extended Stay America down the road, and invited my new baker to share place when I wasn’t there. She also needed somewhere to hang her hat, and worked mornings, while I was the closing manager. I should have known better. I’d been working with her for a little while, and had seen that everyone in the restaurant was falling over themselves to try and get with her. I took one look at her, and then back down at my expanding waistline, and suddenly felt peace wash over me, as I realized that she was so far out of my league, that it wasn’t even worth my time to dream. Ironically, it is probably my lack of interest which put me on her radar. I was the only one who was truly able to play it cool, because I knew that we would never be together. Honestly, I didn’t even have an ulterior motive for offering to share a hotel room with her for a fortnight. I was just trying to help someone out, and lessen the financial impact upon myself. And so it might have been, had we not celebrated her “birthday” toward the end of our stay with one another.

We invited all of our coworkers with whom we were friendly over to our room, and drank a few bottles of some type of liquor or another, until it was time for everybody else to go home. Nami and I hadn’t really had a chance to speak with each other during our stay there, but we’d grown… accustomed to each other, and begun to feel comfortable together. The booze played a part, as did the meddling of our friends, but that night, after everyone else had gone, we sat down and spoke about our feelings. One thing led to another, and we decided that we’d stick it out together as a couple, which turned out to be a good thing, at least at first, as our time was up at the Extended Stay, and the only way that we could scrounge up the necessary cash to move into an apartment was to join forces and move in together. It also helped that I had a nasty habit of falling in love at the drop of a hat, and once hooked, that was it. For the first (and possibly only) time in my life, my apathy seemed to have scored results.

We were both young, and better at drinking and fighting than at common sense (much like a couple of kids I know quite well), and before long, we discovered that we were going to be parents. I took the news with all the composure of someone who has suddenly discovered that nothing he knew was what he had imagined it to be. By the time I got back from my walk to the liquor store, she had begun freaking out, and I was forced to do my best to put on a face of resigned serenity. I was going to be a dad. I began experiencing an existential crisis. It wasn’t that I was afraid of fatherhood, in the traditional sense. Rather, I was suddenly faced with impossibility of bowing out early. I looked into the future, a future where I still existed, and it terrified me. No matter where I tried to find my center, it seemed always just out of reach. So I did the one thing that I could think of, the one thing which I thought would fix the growing problems in our relationship, and calm the terror just beneath my skin: I proposed to her.

When I mentioned Nami’s “birthday” earlier, it was in presented as such because that summer date was not actually her date of birth. In reality, it was just a few days after mine. With hardly any cash, I went to The Diamond Exchange, and put the down payment on a set of wedding bands. On her birthday, I dropped down to one knee and proposed. She said yes, and I (stupidly) thought that I’d managed to solve our problems once and for all. That spring, we went up to Seattle so that she could meet my family. It was then that we discovered that we just couldn’t make it work. We’d been to Six Flags, where she’d tried to surprise me with a fun day out doing something which I’d never wanted to do, and since then we’d been walking on eggshells around one another. By the time we started fighting on The Island, I think that we were both out of ideas on how to fix the negativity between us.

Not impressed.
Not impressed.

When we got back to California, she made the decision to abort the baby. She insisted that we tell everyone it had been a miscarriage. True to my word, I never said otherwise until we finally broke up. The final straw in the drama which had become our lives, was when she brought her line cook over to our apartment and… Well, I think you get the idea. By this time, she was also physically violent with me, and in trying to restrain her arms so that she could not strike me (because I still thought that if I could just love her enough, I could fix everything), it left bruises on her arms. Her best friend, who didn’t care for me, was actually the one to stand up to her and tell her to quit saying that I was beating her. She’d been working in the San Francisco store for the past few months (where she found that line cook), and her boss over there decided that he was going to come and “beat my ass.” Due to mismanagement, the owners had to close that store, and I wound up having to incorporate their staff in with my own. Except Nami. She was where I drew the line.

I’m sorry this has been so rambling. I guess the wounds aren’t all as closed as I had believed. The point which I have so spectacularly failed to make is that my twenties, much like my late teens, were defined by my inability to accept the fact that I hadn’t died, and that I believed that unconditionally loving someone would fix everything. For almost the entire time that Nami and I were together, I’d been trying to figure out how I’d managed to snag someone so far out of my league. It wasn’t until I took into account the person who she was inside, that everything began to come together. I understood why her “friend” would kick her to the curb. And I began to understand that I was unquestionably attracted to women who were absolutely wrong for me. I lost a son who never drew a breath (though it was probably for the best that he was never born). I faced the failures of myself and things in which I so fervently believed. And, for the first time in my life, I looked at the repetitions in my life, and tried to learn something from them.

But I also managed to prove to myself that my ethics were more than just convenient lies I told myself to feel better while looking in the mirror. It should be obvious by now that she was here without permission (why she had both a work and personal birthday). My friends wanted to call in the big guns and have her forcibly removed from this country. I said no. The only person who her presence had hurt was me, and that wasn’t enough for me to criminalize her. I pushed aside my dreams of vengeance, and threw myself into a pattern of comfortably self-destructive behavior instead. But were it not for La Diabla, I doubt that I would have been aware enough to understand how much of a wonderful chance which my Wildflower would represent. I’d vowed to make my life everything that it hadn’t been when I had been with Nami. And really, that choice describes how I now look back upon my early twenties. I lost a decade before I found my wife, and I’m only now beginning to realize that it is not too late to try and give that loss some meaning.