Sometimes you realize you’re in the middle of change, the beginning of a new chapter, without fully embracing it. You know it’s coming, but you operate matter-of-factly rather than emotionally. Then when you get the chance to let it sink in, you’re at its mercy knowing nothing you do will stop it or slow it down.
I remember instinctively knowing that my grandpa had cancer and not pancreatitis when he called us to inform us of what was going on while we were vacationing on the Cape. I cried myself to sleep several nights knowing change was coming. I remember sitting on my kitchen floor crying when my parents went over to my aunt and uncle’s because he was in excruciating pain. I knew it wasn’t good and that change would be coming. Recently, I remember thinking it would be too late for my cousin to visit my aunt on the weekend. Three days later, she was in the hospital after having a mild stroke and spending two days on the floor. And now, as I sit in this emptying house I spent a large part of my childhood visiting, I want to hold onto every ounce of every memory I have in this place with the people that filled its walls.
I had a dream with my uncle in it the other night, and although I don’t remember much of it, it felt like he never left. His hair wasn’t grey, his belly was round, he was wearing one of his plentiful plaid shirts*, and he was able-bodied. My aunt sitting by him was her plump, grey fluffy-haired self with her black pants and black cardigan on that I remember so well. My memories of my uncle immediately escaped me the moment he passed away. It was possibly one of the hardest aspects of his death-not having anything to hold on to. Feelings and family are never exclusively determined by blood. I oftentimes have felt my grandpa’s presence, but never my uncles. I’ve never understood why and maybe I never will.
As I was getting ready to sit at the table where I earned the title of Undefeated Arthur’s Library Champ with the chairs whose back’s I’ve traced with my fingers a million times and their, honestly, ugly yellow seats, I grabbed a York peppermint patty** from the fridge and whispered, “I guess it’s just you and me right now, Grunc***,” and then the tears came.
*My mom ended up turning his old shirts into pillows for my aunt, my cousins, my brother, and I as Christmas gifts. We all cried.
**York peppermint patties always make me think of my uncle. He’d keep them in the freezer. Last Thanksgiving or Christmas (don’t remember which), I decided to buy a bag from the store to have him with us in a way. Turns out my mom was thinking of doing the same thing. When I brought them out, my aunt and cousin immediately knew what they were for.
***Grunc is short for Gruncle, a combination of grandpa and uncle. My brother, my cousin (his grandson), and I all grew up together, contributing to us giving him one name we could all call him. My aunt, his wife, was originally Grantie, which turned into Titi, often shortened to T.