I was racing toward her house. In shock. I was numb to the potholes and other obstacles on Brooklyn roads.
Sweating, pushing deep, in dense summer heat. 1977. My new Schwinn Sting Ray was sizzling tires on hot August NY streets. The banana seat, a metallic plastic with a double black vertical racing stripe, was as scorching as a furnace on full blast. But I didn’t care. I didn’t feel it. For most of the two mile ride, I was standing up pedaling anyway.
It was grandma Nellie. On dad’s side of the family. His mother. What was to be a routine gall bladder operation, turned out to be the last time we saw her alive. After a blood transfusion. Since she always had some type of ailment, we sort of took grandma’s illnesses for granted. Gee grandma has another ache, gee what else is new? Another operation? She’ll be out in no time cooking again, for sure. No?
This time was different. Very different. Something went way wrong. And I never had a loved one, one so close to me die, so I pushed those pedals at a maddening pace for reasons I don’t quite understand. I had no idea what I was supposed to do once I arrived at grandma’s house. She died in the hospital but we were “instructed to meet” at the house per grandpa’s instructions. All I knew is I needed to get there. I was instructed. I obeyed.
It’s all blur after that. Until the funeral – or the “wake,” where family allows viewing of the body which is all fancied up for the next energy adventure. The experience remains vivid in my mind. I can still smell the cloying odor of flowers. So many. My first open casket too, Nellie was in a misty-blue gown with silver shoes. Her gray hair was coiffed tight, slight smile, her third chin, not as “third” as it once was.
I touched her. Cold.
I withdrew my hand quick. Then suddenly felt ashamed.
Too many zombie flicks even then.
I placed my hand back on her joined fingers, a silver rosary string between them.
She looked more peaceful than she had in years. I was amazed. After all those tortuous years with my grandfather I’m sure she was glad to be rid of him. He was colder alive than she was dead. They slept apart. Did everything apart. I bet she was relieved to be rid of him, finally. And I could see it on her face.
But what about him now? Some family episodes you never forget..
1). Wish always for one more day. Consistently, as I come across a person in my inner circle, I’m never afraid to express how grateful I am for their existence. There are those who have disappeared suddenly, like a friend from September, grandma who I didn’t visit in the hospital because she was always sick so what’s the big deal, a music icon, close friends, cousins, both parents, (Jesus, so many) that I wish I had one more day to see, touch, talk to them.
Regrettably, I can’t go back. But in my head, I do. I’ll hear a song, watch a movie, a date on the calendar will pass, I’ll come across a photo I thought I deleted, and there you are again – Wishing for one more day. It’s part of what I call “the human drag.” The tormented thoughts that tire you, push hard on a nerve, never go away, throb in a distance but close enough to injure. Right around a mental corner. There the fuck it is – the big turd in the middle of your mental soup.
Regret is part of our psyche. And for some, it’s strong. When investing, we regret we sold a stock too soon, too late, we didn’t invest enough money in Apple or we sold it and it went higher by a billion percent. So now, I’m a bit more vocal with those I care about. To lessen the regret. If I miss someone I tell them, if I care I say it. If I don’t, well, I say that too. If I sell an investment too soon but I made a profit, I let it go. If I sell it too late, well I learn an expensive lesson. But I never stop wishing.for.one.more.day. A client: “I sold that stock in 1983, like an asshole.” My gosh, we’re reliving a Phillip Morris stock trade from 1983? Seriously?
Dad was out with some model chick, 25 years his junior, the night grandma died. What dumb luck. Or fate. He was supposed to visit his mother but decided the hot model was more important. He called Nellie in the hospital for like five seconds. Said he would see her tomorrow. There was no tomorrow. A week before he died in 1993, dad told me how much he regretted that decision. Two decades later he still carried that mind weight around like an anchor. I asked: “What was that model’s name again?” He laughed. He said “I don’t know.” Yikes. Then he gave me a gaunt, smart-ass look. Message received.
2). What will people think of you after you’re gone? My grandmother did some incredible things for poor families, especially kids. She loved kids. She was the janitor of my public school (P.S. 215) when I was attending; I was embarrassed because she cleaned toilets. Then, at her funeral, I discovered how so many of the kids loved her, how she gave candy, played Santa Claus at Christmas for them at the local library. I totally missed it. I didn’t want to see it. I loved her but she was a janitor. I did tell her how much I loved her, so at least I don’t live with complete regret so many years after her death. But I wish I knew what others thought of her while she was alive. Write down what you want people to remember about you. The good things. Then execute the plan so it works out that way. Oh and no strippers at my funeral, please? Thanks.
3). People feel their mortality at funerals. Do you? Attend enough funerals and you begin to see how blood and bones wear out. You become overly sensitive to it. We’re all equal at the end. All those funerals have given me the motivation to stay as healthy as possible. And now that I have a physical problem preventing a right kidney from functioning properly, I’m striving more than ever to stay in shape, eat right, follow a better sleep discipline. Want to gain health? Follow James Altucher’s The Daily Practice as best you can. You will see, feel the results.
Grandpa Frank was beside himself.
As they closed Nellie’s casket, he collapsed. Screaming: “I wish I would have treated you better, I LOVE YOU!”
I never heard “I LOVE YOU” from him before. Ever.
From that point he was a different man. Completely.
On Christmas eve 1985 I called him.
“Grandpa, you’re my friend, I love our relationship. I’m just so grateful we’ve become so close. I’ll never forget it.”
He died the next day.
And I’m thankful.
One less weight on my head.
I have enough already.
So do you.
Time to bury them.