So Close Yet So Far

First of all, I owe you guys an apology. Never since I started this blog in October have I missed a day of blogging; and I certainly have never missed an entire week. But this past week I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pull myself together enough to write, to think. Every time that I thought about writing this post I would start to cry…and so I just stopped. I stopped trying to write. I stopped trying to force myself to move forward.

If you recall from my post on the 29th, I mentioned that my grandfather was very sick and that we were going to visit him. Losing my father so suddenly I felt like I was never able to say goodbye, and I was hoping that this experience with Grandpa Walter could be healing, that perhaps I could say goodbye and find some closure and solace in knowing that I had been there for him, that I had been there to hold his hand, been there so that he knew he was loved and could pass on without fear. I felt that even though I hadn’t been able to do that for Dad, that I would be able to do so for Grandpa and in turn would find peace in the process. Additionally, the only death that I have experienced first hand was awful; it was not peaceful or comfortable to put it very lightly. Due to that one brutal experience I am terrified of death: I fear it, I cry about it, I think about it. And so I had hoped that seeing Grandpa peaceful and comfortable, not panicking or in pain, could perhaps help me to replace my image of death with something more natural and calming. I desperately want a new outlook on life and death, and I thought that being with Grandpa would be the key to attaining that new perspective.

Around 1:15am Thursday night/Friday morning, Chloe awoke randomly and started to cry, and I wondered…I wondered if maybe something had happened. I noted the time because I had a sense that perhaps Grandpa was gone, but I prayed that I was wrong. I fervently hoped that he was still with us, that he would wait to pass until I could see him one last time.

In the morning we packed up our car and drove to the airport. As we pulled out onto the main road next to our apartment complex, my phone rang. It was my mother. Even before she could finish her sentence, I knew. Grandpa was gone. My Grandpa Walter, at age 94, was no longer with us, and I had lost my chance to say goodbye. I had been so close, SO CLOSE to being able to be with him…so so so close and yet impossibly, permanently, infinitely too far. Too late. No redo’s, no second chances. ┬áThe flight itself is only about an hour and the drive to the hospice where he was another 30 minutes or so. I just couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that I hadn’t made it in time. He passed some time around 1am…no one thought he would pass that quickly, we were all surprised at how fast he went downhill.

One part of me is grateful and relieved that Grandpa Walter is no longer suffering, that he has passed on and can be free, but the other part of me still feels broken and sad and selfishly clings to the disappointment that I was not able to hold his hand one last time, to say goodbye. I didn’t get my goodbye. I needed my goodbye. I wanted to hold his hand and say goodbye one last time. Even now as I’m writing this I’m crying. I’m crying for Grandpa and for my dad, crying for myself, crying because all I wanted was to say goodbye. Selfish? I guess so. Maybe in grief I revert back to that little 12 year old girl that I was when dad died….

The funeral was difficult. So much of it reminded me of the day that we buried dad. The coffin was the same. The black hearse waiting outside of the temple sent chills of remembrance running down my spine. The orange stickers that read “FUNERAL” were the same as the ones we had back on that cold November day. I tried as hard as I could to remind myself that this was not dad’s funeral, that this was not losing dad all over again, but no matter how hard I tried the sadness from losing Grandpa co-mingled with the sadness of losing dad. Like droplets of food coloring swirling in a cup of water, the two losses mixed together and folded into one another until I could no longer differentiate between the two.

I was asked to speak at the funeral, to share some of the memories I had of Grandpa. However upon stepping up to the podium I realized that tears were welling in my eyes, fat salty drops rolling down my cheeks. I opened my mouth and all I could get out was the first sentence, “My grandpa was an amazing man….a man who I am going to miss so very much”, before I lost all control and started to sob. I hate crying. I hate crying in front of people, I find it embarrassing and awful. And so standing there on that podium, in front of a room of people, with a microphone amplifying my cries and hiccups, I felt paralyzed. All that I wanted was to read what I had written, and the more that I willed myself to stop crying the harder my shoulders shook and the louder my crying became. Thankfully, Big C came to join me at the podium, and while I cried into his shoulder with my face turned away from the people and the horrid microphone, he read what I had written for Grandpa.

Carrying the casket out was surreal, I kept having to remind myself that Grandpa was in there because it seemed like a cruel joke. It seemed like there was no way that Grandpa was really in that plain wooden box with the jewish star chiseled into the top…and without seeing him all I could do was tell myself that it was him, he was in there, that this was real life and not some dream. The drive to the cemetery was long and drawn out, the service at the graveside reminded me of dad once again. When it was all over I was so relieved. I needed to walk away, to put space between myself and the deaths that were following me around, nipping at my heels.

Every day is getting better. Every day I feel like I’m inching closer to “normal”, and to acceptance. I still get sad. I still have moments where I can’t believe that he is gone, where the his death and funeral seem like a bad dream. So I apologize if I talk about this from time to time, I still need to process. Generally this blog is dedicated to the living, to the happy things in life, but sometimes it has to also be where I process the sad realities that accompany life. And so, we move forward.

In case you want to see what I wrote for Grandpa’s funeral:

My grandpa was an amazing man…a man who I am going to miss so very much. Growing up he would come to my school to talk about his life in Germany during the holocaust and I remember that I was always so proud that he was my grandpa, this incredible man who had lived through hell and survived. Grandpa was funny, he always had jokes to tell and stories to regale us with. Some of my favorite memories are of when my dad and I would go to San Francisco and meet grandpa at his office. The three of us would head to Chinatown to eat dim sum…and grandpa would teach me sayings in Chinese. I treasured that special time with him-as a little girl I thought he was going to live forever because Grandpa was tenacious, he consistently defied the odds. He was also an incredible classic pianist. He would sit down at his piano and beautiful music would just pour out. His fingers would fly over the keys, his body would rock with the music. It was glorious and beautiful and if I was lucky I got to sit with him on the piano bench and peck out a few notes along with him. The last time I saw grandpa just a few months ago we talked about his time in China. He told us a story about working in a laundry mat, and taught us a few swear words in Chinese. He laughed. Grandpa always had this sense of solemnity about him but when he laughed his face lit up, even his eyes had this way of crinkling and smiling joyfully. I am incredibly grateful that our daughter, Chloe, got to know her great grandpa. He was blessed with four great grandchildren whom he adored. I have the most precious photos of him holding Chloe’s tiny hand when she was less than a year old, his face lit up with that infectious smile. Grandpa always believed that he would see daddy again one day, and so I hope that they are now together, catching up on all that they have missed over the past years, maybe eating some dim sum and trading jokes or playing piano. I hope that daddy welcomed him home with open arms and that grandpa passed on knowing how loved and treasured he was. We will miss him.