Ghosts of Grandfathers Past

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.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Ghosts of Grandfathers Past

  1. haren

    What a wonderfully moving piece.

  2. kristen

    I’m sorry for your loss. You did a great job expressing your feelings in this complicated time. You also made me think of my “real” grandpa Joe who died 10 years ago. He would’ve done anything for me. My fake one is still around.

  3. patrick

    What can I say, very moving. You have to show it to Grammy. Patrick

  4. Mary

    That made me cry.

    One of the things I know not to take for granted is a niece who puts my hair into a pony when my arms won’t reach.

  5. Nuala

    My Uncle Jack was a wonderful person who brought love and joy to all who knew him. I could go on, but I’m suddenly getting tearful.

    I am so sorry about your other grandfather. How sad for him that he missed the experience of knowing his delightful grandchildren.

    It was his own, self-imposed, loss.

  6. katie

    Exceptionally touching post. Very nice.

  7. What a beautifully written, touching, and such a relatable post! You’ve said exactly what I’ve been feeling… I am so glad that my children had their own “real,” grandfather. Even though his loss was so sad for us all, I know years from now, like you, their memories of him will live-on. I never knew a grandfather of my own, but remember Adolf (stepgrandpa) and he was very nice.

  8. Alberta

    How wonderful that you were able to make some sense of all those confusing feelings you must have and could put them in perspective – most people couldn’t do what you did-you’re amazing

  9. Kathy

    You are wise beyond your years!! Your granpa would be so proud of his “Jussy”!

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