My grandmother died when I was eight. So at least I know all of the stuff I previously mentioned happened before then. She died of liver cancer after a lot of apparently bungled tests and diagnoses. I remember walking out of school to get on the bus and seeing my mom in her red car waiting for me behind the bus, which was where she usually parked if she was picking me up early.
“I’ve got some bad news for you.” She told me in a shaky voice. “Your grandma passed away today.”
I remember the feeling was like getting the breath knocked out of you. I don’t even remember what I said to her. I do remember not wanting to cry.
Several days later, I still hadn’t cried. My mother was concerned and asked “Don’t you miss your grandma? Don’t you feel sad?”
My insides were twisting, but I would not give into the tears. “No” I said, shaking my head.
I went in the funeral home the next day for about a minute. I saw my grandmother in the coffin from a distance, and couldn’t go any closer. I stayed in the car, and did the same for the funeral the next day. I’m sure my family, at least my mom, thought I was callous and unfeeling. But I did not think I could or should let myself cry.
It happened again about six years later. My mom was in the hospital and I had walked down to the Post Office to wait for the mail to be sorted. I was standing there, watching them through the open upper half of a doorway as I often did, and the next thing I knew, my grandfather was walking though the door.
“I’ve got some bad news for you, little buddy.” I had never seem him shaking so and looking his age as much as he did at the moment. “Your mother’s dead. She had a heart attack in the hospital.”
The world went instantly cold and my breath was gone again. I ran over to my grandfather, who looked like he was going to fall down.
“It’s okay, Grandpa. Let me help you.” I helped him out the door and down the concrete ramp and headed back up the street to his station wagon.
“You’ll have to come live with me. Oh Lordy, I can’t believe she’s gone. This is going to kill me!” He grabbed a street pole for support as he wobbled.
I got him back to my apartment and did my best to hold him together in one piece, at least long enough to make the arrangements for the funeral. The funeral home was just two doors down from my apartment, and I took care of most of the arrangements myself. My grandfather was in no condition to do so, and I felt one of us had to be strong. Once again, no tears. I couldn’t allow myself that luxury.
I had to be at this funeral, simply to make sure my grandfather didn’t fall apart. It was a quick service but there were a lot of people there. All I really remember of the preparations was choosing “Amazing Grace” as one of the hymns. No tears.
About twenty years later, my grandfather was in a nursing home. There was really no choice. I had finally gotten my own place a few blocks away from him and went over to see him one winter morning. I found his door slightly open, and he was sitting in his pajamas in a chair watching TV. I went over to ask him why the door was open and he couldn’t tell me. He wanted to, but he no longer had the ability. A massive stroke took away his voice. This man had at least seven strokes that I was aware of before this; one time, while I was visiting a friend for a weekend, he knew he had one and tried to drive himself to the hospital. Luckily, a friend of ours saw him having difficulty driving, stopped him and took him to the hospital. He was a very stubborn man.
But this last stroke did him in. Once he lost his ability to communicate, the light in his eyes started to fade. He had a progression of mini-strokes while in the nursing home. I was working at the answering service for the local doctors the morning the nursing home called to say he was failing. I went to see him one final time and said my goodbyes and caught the bus home. About an hour after I got home, I got the call he was dead. The last member of the only family I ever knew at that time, and still the tears wouldn’t come. They wanted to, on several occasions, but I couldn’t or I should say I wouldn’t let them.
There really haven’t been any tears, yet. Whatever wall is holding them back is still there. It’s been so long that at times I wonder if there really is anything behind that wall; is that wall all that there really is of me? The wall has been fractured at times, and some of the tears do escape, primarily in times of inspiration or self-pity. I’ve nearly lost it all while watching fictional characters die. It’s utterly insane that I can feel more emotion for, say, Mr. Spock dying than I could for my own mother. What kind of monster am I? What kind of a kid doesn’t cry when his grandma dies?
I’m somewhat disabled now, and my legs don’t work like they used to work. If I fall down, I often have a hell of a time getting back up. There have been times when the sheer futility of such a situation has overwhelmed me and I start wallowing at the trough of self-pity. A chink in the mortar lets some of the tears out then. But like a little Dutch boy and a dike, I plug that hole as quickly as I can, for fear the entire wall will simply crumble.
I don't think that I'm prepared quite yet to find out if there’s anything there, anything more to me than just those tears.