My grandfather died on the afternoon of August 2nd, 2011. For the most part all of his family, with the exception of my grandma Millie who he has left to fend for herself, has accepted his demise. No one wants to see a 91 year old man suffer. Three days before, while I was paying a visit to my other grandparents in New Jersey, I spoke to my grandfather on the phone for the last time. Despite the cancer eating away at his insides and the heavy dose of morphine streaming through his blood, he perked up to say hello. This is how that conversation went down:
"Hello Felicia! How are you dear!?"
"Hi Bumpy! I love you Bumpy!" Sob sob sob. Choke.
"I love you too Felicia."
"And the baby loves you too and so does Michael and we will all see you in heaven." Sob, sob, sob. And I'll raise her with all that you have taught me." Snort, choke. "I love you so much Bumpy. Get some rest. I'll see you soon."
"Yes my dear. Yes."
I hung up, sobbed more and wondered if I really would ever see him in heaven since I'm not a full believer of such a place.
Up until his passing, he planned all his own funeral arrangements. He chose his cherry casket, place of burial, the flowers, the priest, the songs he wanted sung in his honor, the food that would be eaten during his wake. He even wrote his own obituary.
Twenty minutes before she checked out, I was having a conversation with Aunt Viola. Sure, she didn't remember who I was or where I came from, but she was happy to see me and my pregnant belly. I admired her ensemble, her freshly painted nails and curled auburn coif. She patted my belly while she and my father fought about whether or not she would be riding across the street to the church in a wheelchair.
"Tommy, I am NOT getting in that wheelchair until I absolutely have to. I want to walk."
"Viola, don't you think you are being foolish? You would be much more comfortable in your chair."
"No Tommy. I won't do it."
To avoid tension, I got up to pee and never saw my Aunt Viola again.
As Viola was whisked away to the hospital, grandma Millie ate a little lasagna and salad with white wine oblivious to her sister's state.
We huddled around her to make sure she was comfortable and most of all to make sure she wouldn't find out about her sister's death until after her husband's funeral was over.
But later that night she demanded to know where Viola was.
"I will NOT go to bed until I know where Viola is."
Somehow we placated her and told her that Viola wasn't feeling well, but that she would certainly be at Bumpy's burial the next day.
After several rounds of arguing, my family and the priest (Father Luke) who was spending the night at my grandparents house, decided it would be best to tell my grandmother about Viola after Bumpy's burial the next day.
I absorbed my grandfather's burial service like a Japanese tourist. I didn't know the songs or the prayers and didn't take communion. I bowed my head out of obligation and awkwardly shook the hands of people I didn't know or hadn't seen in years. It was hard to breathe and I was certain my grandfather was looking down upon me with disappointment.
Holy water was tossed on my grandfather's casket and the ceremony was over. We wheeled my grandmother 100 feet away from where she too would eventually be buried under a blue spruce tree and stark blue sky. My father approached my grandmother and blurted out something along the lines of:
"Mom... Mom. Viola is here, but she's in cold storage."
My poor grandmother looked confused.
Fortunately the priest (Father Tom) glided into the scene with his white robe trailing behind him.
"Millie. Viola died last night. We didn't want to tell you because we knew it would be too much for you."
"Yes Millie. Bob asked Viola to come and join him in heaven. She was ready to go and he was ready for her to be there with him. It's a strange, but beautiful way for her to have gone. And I know it's hard Millie, but your husband and your sister are now in heaven and they are no longer suffering."
This was all too much for me. I crumbled watching my poor grandmother piece together the reality of her life. She was alone. All her siblings, her friends, her husband had left her.
The rest of the day my grandmother fell in and out of sleep while watching a baseball game.
"What a blow." she said repeatedly. "I'm all alone. I want to die too."
Grandma Millie and Aunt Viola - back seat of Bumpy's car - 2007