Today is a sad day. I’m trying to write this with grief and a whisper of whiskey on my breath. It’s never easy to say a final goodbye. I was waiting to write out a departure letter to one, and now I am writing out a departure letter to two, instead.
This morning my grandmother passed away. On January 16th my grandfather, her husband, passed away. Both times my father called me to tell me that they had passed away, and both times I felt my heart break. Although we were not physically close – they lived in Virginia and I am in Vermont – we were close emotionally. My father’s side of the family has always learned to be “close” despite distance. My grandmother’s father was in the military, and my grandfather was also in the military. My grandmother came from a family that knew how to stay close even when there was an ocean between them, or a war around them. And when she married a man who also served, she learned how to foster that closeness in her own children – who have, in turn, fostered it in their children. Many people complain about how hard long distance relationships are. They are certainly emotionally taxing, but I have never known anyone to provide more of a rock to their family when everyone is so far apart than my grandmother.
Now some may romanticize their deaths in some way. The fact that they died a month a part, to the day, is a strange coincidence. While I hesitate to make any assumptions, I am tempted. I think that if my grandmother had not had such a devastating stroke just a couple of weeks ago, she would have outlived my grandfather by a number of years.
I am struggling to write an appropriate tribute to my grandparents who were so thoughtful and absorbed in everyone of their family members’ lives. I am struggling because it is still so fresh, and to try and formulate some thoughtful memorial is so hard. I want to say too hard. I won’t.
Every time I look in the mirror I see my young grandmother’s face. Every time I look at my brother, I see my young grandfather’s face. If there is to be any true memorial, it will live on in our faces and in our actions. It will be in the way we live our lives and serve our communities. If I want to memorialize my grandparents, I will live as they have; modestly and selflessly.
I keep looking up towards the ceiling, where the perceived sky sleeps silent and dark above me, to say goodbye. As if whispering my goodbyes up to the great dark beyond will help it to reach my grandparents now that they don’t have ears to hear it. I am thankful I was able to talk to my grandmother, albeit briefly, at Christmas. I am sad I wasn’t able to say goodbye to both of them before they left us here. But they taught all of us strength and foresight, courage and open-mindedness. They taught us how to be human, to understand and to love and to care about the world around us, to care about the country we live in, and to take action when it is necessary.
Goodnight and goodbye grandma and grandpa. Grandma, I am not sure what I will do without your letters in the mail. I’m not sure what I will do with the letter sitting on my desk that I meant to send out to you months ago. I love you and will always love you. I will miss you both beyond what I can properly express in words. You were two of the strongest, most encouraging, most loving people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I’m glad you were my grandparents.