Saturday, May 30, 2015
Of Grandfathers, Fathers, Grief and Crying
He didn't make those super-long walks every Sunday. On some Sundays he'd walk to our house instead. That was a far shorter walked, although even that one involved coming from a different city.
During the week he'd walk around his own city, as far as I know. He loved meeting and talking with old friends.
He was seventy-seven when he fell on ice and broke his hip. Everyone believed that was the end of walking days. After all, hips don't always return to "completely OKAY" when they've been broken in one's seventies. Everyone was wrong. As soon as my grandfather was able to walk with a cane he began venturing out for those walks once again - although, of course, with the cane. The post-hip-break walks started out local, but it wasn't long before my grandfather was doing his super-long, Sunday, walks to his son's house again.
This was someone who wasn't about to let anyone/anything keep him down, and maybe he shouldn't have been quite such a "fighter" in that way; because it would be one of those walks that would be the cause of his death. He was eighty-one years old when he was struck and killed by a bus when he was, from what I heard, standing too close to a stopped bus to be seen by the driver as he pulled away.
This was, of course, devastating not just to my father and his brother, but to all of my grandfather's children. I was ten at that time.
At the funeral, I looked around at all the people there, and looked down the rows of people sitting in the old, Catholic, church that my grandfather had attended all his life as far as I know. Everyone around me was crying. My father was sitting next to me, so it took looking up at his face to be able to see how he seemed to be doing. To a ten-year-old, of course, losing a parent is the biggest horror one can imagine.
After noticing that my uncle was outwardly sobbing, I looked up at my father and saw that he wasn't crying. At ten, I immediately assumed that "more crying means loving someone more", so a part of me felt as if I was discovering that, maybe, my father didn't quite love his father as much as his brother did. It was a momentary "discovery", and I was awfully upset, myself; so I suppose I kind of tucked in the back of my mind this awareness that there might be something that made my father love his own father less. Maybe I thought I'd ponder the matter at some future time. Maybe I didn't want to think about it at all.
Either way, I was ten; and it would take me another thirty-plus years before I would come to understand my father better.
I was just a little past forty when my mother died. Besides older relatives and friends, there were a lot of young people at my mother's wake and funeral. There were her grandchildren, but there were also a lot of younger people who had seen her as a mother-figure. As I'd done over thirty years earlier, I looked around to see how people seemed to be holding up. I don't know why we do that, or even if all of us do that. I guess it was mostly because I was looking to see if there was anyone who might need my emotional support, particularly since there were so many young people in their early twenties and teens. So many - most or all, maybe; don't know - were crying. I was not.
Although there were a few reasons I wasn't crying, two of them were main reasons. One was that, just as I'd feared all my life, losing my mother was such an overwhelming horror and grief, I knew that if I allowed one tear to be shed so many more would follow that I wouldn't be able to stop them. In fact, I knew, too, that the horror and grief was so overwhelming it felt as if they filled the entire universe and were far "too big" and too all-compassing for crying to be enough anyway.
The other reason I wouldn't allow myself to cry, however, was that even though it was my two siblings and I who were the ones who had been closest to our mother, I knew that a lot of those younger people who loved her too would be looking to see how I was doing; but I knew, too, that I needed to be a strong adult for all those younger people who had so often looked to me for emotional support and/or guidance - and if not either of those, then in some cases looked to me as a role model.
In my place as a grown-up, but also having recalled how it felt to be very young and to see most of the adults in one's life falling apart in their grief; I knew that I needed to remain that grown-up, even though it was I who had lost my mother.
I finally understood that not-crying doesn't mean "loving less" or "being less upset". I finally understood my father's composure at his own father's funeral; and although I'd always respected, admired and absolutely adored my father; I finally learned how a sense of responsibility to, and caring about, those who may need our support can be the thing that gives us the strength not to cry regardless of how absolutely and overwhelmingly grief-stricken we are.'
Posted by ME Whelan at 10:45 PM