I know this blog is usually about beauty, cosmetics, acceptance and all that, but today that stuff is the farthest thing from my mind. I spent the past two days with ghosts, my grandfathers ghosts to be specific, so I’m putting a hold on the makeup and the fun stuff for a moment to talk about loss.
On Sunday morning I stood there at the Free Hebrew Cemetery in Staten Island for indigent Jews (one of the most depressing places in the world) as we buried a grandfather who didn’t want to know me. He was an abusive and complicated man, and I met him no more than three times in my life. I’m not sure he even knew my name, but my sister and I stood there with my mother and the nine other attendees, and watched as the dirt was thrown on his grave as we mourned the loss of a grandfather that could have been.
The next morning I woke up and headed over to my Grandma’s house, the house where I’ve spent every Christmas as long as I remember, a house full of warmth and joy where my father and his four siblings spent their entire young lives, where my grandmother has lived now for nearly 60 years, and I helped her pack up the place until there was nothing left but the memories in the walls and a resounding echo of a family all grown. Amid the boxes and the clutter was the ghost of my other grandfather—the one who mattered, the one who not only knew my name (even if he mixed me up with his 6 other granddaughters sometimes), but also what my favorite stories were, and how much I liked to draw, and sing, and dye my hair crazy colors. He was a grandfather who died years ago, much too soon, but he loved, and was loved, so deeply his spirit has never left the hearts of all those who knew him, and it never will.
As I was packing up my Grammy’s house, stumbling on old notes my Grandpa had written, thinking of the man he was, it struck me how lucky I was to have known him at all, and how the rejection of my other grandfather only emphasized that good fortune. Like so many things in life, the death of an estranged family member brings a mess of complicated emotions to the surface—at least when my father’s father died (my real Grandpa) I knew how to feel, the loss was deep but I understood it, and so did the world around me. In some ways it’s harder when you barely knew a person who should have mattered to you, but in my own way I did know him, even if he didn’t know me. I knew the pain he caused my mother, my aunt, and my uncle all their lives, I knew the handsome man he was in pictures when he was young, and the detached, strange, person I met years later who was my grandfather only in name.
So today, I’m not really sure what I feel, but I do know how grateful I am for the family I have, and have had, and for the loving grandfather we lost too soon. We can dwell in the sorrow of lives lost, missed opportunities, and the death of hope, but it’s better to remember the love we have, even from those who are gone. That love leaves an indelible mark, a trace of knowledge that you hold with you forever without question, it comforts and it protects, and if you’re blessed enough to have it, you should appreciate it. Better not to brood over the people who haven’t been there, whether they be friends who’ve faded, or relatives we barely knew, it’s so much better to focus on the people we do have, the ones who make us laugh for hours and who hug us when we cry, they’re each a blessing. If I learned anything from staring at that lonely grave on Sunday morning it’s never to take those people and that love for granted, because someone may be your grandparent, or your mother, or your friend, but it doesn’t mean they have to be there for you—but the fact that they are there, in spite of everything, well that’s truly remarkable.
I promise to post on something more fun soon, and to all of you who’ve lost a grandparent, or parent, or friend, or anyone—my heart goes out to you today.