My grandpa is dying. He has been, off and on, all summer, but this week, i fear, it’s for real.
My husband Ray (it’s confusing — my grandfather and my husband and his father AND grandfather are all Raymond) wants to know why I’m not more upset. He keeps nagging me about it.
It’s true, I haven’t said much. And normally I would. I get that (the emotive thing) from my mother. But on my father’s side, this particular grandfather’s side, it’s all about emotional stone walls. Not stonewalling — I’m not sure it’s even that evolved, the emotional thing, to be something that’s actively trying to get out. Stone walls.
I AM sad about my grandfather. Of course I am. But he’s 94 years old and he’s had a good, full life (unlike several other people I’ve run across this summer, who are sick before their time) and more to the point, just the life he’s wanted to have, as far as I can tell.
And he’s been sick for a long time. He’s always bounced back — I’ve taken to joking that he’s going to outlive us all. “Be careful,” warned a dear friend who recently lost her own dad after a prolonged illness. “We were so convinced Dad couldn’t ever die that when he did, it was that much worse.”
Point taken, and that may well be that while I have seen my grandpa and I know he’s not coming back from the place he’s at today (or was last night, when I left the hospital) I still can’t work on the obituary some of the family asked that I work on.
Talk about writer’s block.
So I’ll write this, instead. Maybe then I can trick myself, quickly, to switching over to the obit and get it done before I realize what I’m doing. (And before the kids wake up.)
Anyhow, last night I found myself in the hospital cafeteria, eating dinner with my grandfather’s three kids — my dad, aunt and uncle. I can’t remember the last time (if ever) it was just the four of us, no siblings, no tiny children.
There was a crying toddler and my dad made sure to sit on the other side of the room. Which I worried would be uncomfortable, because with these three, you could easily eat a whole meal in dead silence. Some of us might prefer the distraction of a wailing baby; these are just not chatty people. But tonight everyone was making an effort, probably because of the dire circumstances. Plus, it’s political season, and my family does love to talk about politics.
“Boy, Amy, that was a really great story on John McCain,” my Uncle Tom said. (Yes, really, I have an Uncle Tom.)
I beamed. You write a story and put it out there for 100,000-plus readers (not including that whole silly Internet thing) and really, you can never get enough validation, even after all the years I’ve written for Phoenix New Times (day job) and other places. Particularly validation from certain critical quarters.
My uncle’s a big conservative, so it really meant a lot.
Before the words were all of the way out of his mouth, my dad jumped in. “You want to read a really great story about John McCain? Check out yesterday’s New York Times.”
And he proceeded to go on (and on and on) about a story he’d already mentioned to me at least once that day, about how McCain’s campaign is falling apart.
Really and truly, I do not consider myself in competition with the New York Times. Nor do I fault them for a great story (I’m sure it was; I don’t need to read it, now that my dad’s quoted practically the whole thing to me) or fault my dad for liking it.
But the timing did suck just a teeny, tiny bit, considering he stepped on that compliment from Tom, and considering he’s my freaking DAD. He’s supposed to be the proud one. I looked around the table, hoping neither my aunt or uncle had noticed.
I don’t think they did. Why would they? The incident was Vintage Silverman.
There are all kinds of stories lurking out there about how my grandfather never praised my father. (Or, for that matter, any of his kids.) I believe it. On the few occasions I’d bring a report card over to show Grandpa, he’d stare at it, screw up his face and say, “Why’dya get that B plus?” No mention of the 5 A’s. (Not that THAT happened very often on my report cards! Probably not after third grade or so.)
In what may well be my last real conversation with my grandfather, a couple weeks ago, I joked that he belongs to a lot of synagogues. He held up three fingers, and chuckled. (He’s not particularly religious, but that’s a whole other story.) We talked about my father’s bar mitzvah, in Cedar Rapids. My grandfather went on and on about what a great job my father did.
But he’d never told my father.
We’re bound to repeat history — unless we have Susie Sealove Silverman for a mother. The woman emotes from every orifice, 24/7, in a very, very good way, and she’s my role model. Sometimes, like with my grandpa, I do feel my dad’s side come out — and stick. But I’m working on it.
So forgive me if I tend to tell my children they’re the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen, the best smelling, the smartest, the kindest — all before 9 in the morning. Hey, anyhow, it’s true.
I do need to remember — and share with you — the reason I do know my dad loves me (well, there are a lot of reasons, but there’s one that will go down in history, sort of). It’s the part of the McCain story I had to promise my mother I wouldn’t put in a local newspaper, this time around, this time when the f-er might actually get elected president: