My grandpa died in September of 2009. That was hard of course. I missed a couple of days of school, I just couldn’t deal with it. The funeral came and went. I soldiered through without shedding a single tear. The whole process made life feel like a damp sponge. Cold, and watered down.
I thought that that process was the worst of it, the grieving and the loss. But I was wrong, and I found this out in a strange way.
It was the following month in October, on Thanksgiving day to be exact, that I really realized the impact that my grandpa’s death would have on our family. On every significant holiday, four times a year, my grandma would prepare a turkey dinner for everyone, and everyone would make the drive to her and grandpa’s house to have a family dinner.
But this time it was different. My grandma didn’t have the energy or the inclination to make a dinner. She was still grieving and she was hollow. She was tired. So we picked up grandma and headed over to Denny’s.
I’m not sure if you’ve been to a Denny’s on Thanksgiving, but basically they serve nothing but turkey dinner and the place is packed. So we waited for a table, sat down, ordered. I looked around at the other tables of families. There was this heavy atmosphere to the restaurant, a quietness. For a room so full of people, it was surprisingly quiet. I looked around our table as we ate, and our table was quiet too. Everybody ate somberly without much effort to speak. I watched my grandma’s face, fork in one hand, bun clutched in the other, as she normally did, and it broke my heart.
The intention was the same: have a nice turkey dinner with family. But the reality was so much different. I sat there utterly defeated as I realized what my grandpa’s death did to us. It robbed us of normality, of tradition, of joy. Because he wasn’t with us, it didn’t feel worth it to go to the effort.
This experience will stick with me for the rest of my life. Everything felt like it was taking place underwater, in slow motion. It just didn’t make sense.
The next holiday, Christmas, was only slightly better. My grandma made dinner and the family gathered at her house, but again, it was silent as everyone ate. There was no conversation, no small talk. It was as if the energy to be happy was zapped from everyone as they entered the house. Many family members took turns glancing to my grandpa’s vacant seat at the head of the table and the cloud of anguish was heavy over our table.
With each holiday, everyone got a little better, a little happier. It seems like death steals our ability to be happy. With time though, things have gotten more normal, because his absence has become normal. Now in 2016, seven years later, everyone enjoys themselves again.
It is not selfish to be happy or have a good time without that person there, but it takes time to realize that. I look around the table at these dinners now and I see what I used to see before my grandpa’s death, family.
The longing that we would feel when we looked at his chair has been replaced with memories that bring smiles to our lips instead of tears to our eyes. Death changes everything, but how you let it change things is up to you.