Today, near the end of the workday, I heard that someone who used to be in our department is not expected to live through the night. As I saw tears come to some eyes, I was really surprised. When she left because of a very nasty cancer, I did not expect her to live this long. I know her faith was strong, and I wish her well on her journey.
Death is part of life. But it is hard to know what young children understand about it. I have to remember that when I tell this story.
One morning my best friend came over to my house. This was odd, I usually went down the hill to her house. Even odder, her older sister came too. They looked at me sadly and said they were sorry. I was confused. That was when my mother explained to me that my Grandpa had died. I remember wailing uncontrollably, but I don't think I really understood.
I remember being 5, but the date I have says I was 6, almost 7. I was dressed in a new, scratchy black dress and we drove to my grandparents house in Palmdale. My Aunts and Uncles were there. Everyone was dressed up and looking very serious.
At the funeral home it seemed like there was endless talking as I squirmed on a hard bench next to my mother. Then we walked past a dressed up doll in a box that people said was my grandpa and everyone said how natural he looked. He looked plastic and was dressed in a suit instead of his usual overalls. I followed along, did as I was told, but in my memory it is like a play I was once in.
Then I was in some fancy car, sitting on a little pull down seat in front of my mother. Then standing between my Mother and my Aunt in the bare, desert cemetery where my Uncle Who Was Killed in the War was buried. The box with my grandpa was closed up and covered with flowers, and more words were said. At that moment I knew. I was never going to see this big, silly man who loved me again. Tears started rolling down my face.
I heard one of my Aunts whisper to my mom "Look, she's crying."
My mom whispered back "Oh, that's just because she sees us crying, she doesn't really understand."
I was so confused. My heart was breaking, but my mom said I didn't understand what I was feeling.
The rules of a dysfunctional family are simple. Don't talk, don't tell, don't feel.
Sometimes I still struggle with expressing my feelings. I have gotten better, but the more something matters to me, the harder it is to share. Sorrow or joy, love or anger, if it is a strong feeling I have to hold it and guard it. I have to be sure it is safe to share. I have to be sure I know what I am feeling.
So, I have to find a way to tell you how it was in my family, how it felt in my family, because the seeds of many of my later choices were planted during the following seven or so years. Some of the seeds grew to fruit, some to weeds, and I'm still having to deal with sorting it out from time to time. I hope you will be patient with the story. I will try to tell it as true as I can and not make any one better or worse than they were, including myself. But I was a child. Sometimes I forget that.