And another grieving milestone: Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. It will have been a year since I sat in (old) apartment in Maryland, numbly staring at the clock on the living room wall and waiting for a phone call from my mother to confirm that my grandpa had actually passed. A year since my husband told my mom to whisper into my grandpa’s ear that he had gotten a job in New York; that my grandpa could rest easy, knowing that Jeremy would always take care of his silly, precious granddaughter (me).
And where I am? Not at home in Michigan with my mother, trying to ease her grief and celebrate how much of a wonderful mother she has been – and she has been a wonderful, very giving mother – to me, my brother, and (more recently) to my husband, her son-in-law. I’m not at my grandfather’s gravesite at White Chapel, leaving flowers and honoring his memory. I’m not even able to go visit the WWII memorial in D.C., another fitting place for me to honor the memory of my grandfather Sargent Henry White.
No, I am in New York, attending seminars on financial database literacy, running to the Human Resources Offices to fill out extra I-9 forms for the Latin American Literature summer course that I am helping to teach, researching and writing up information on high school graduation and drop-out rates in the Bronx and Westchester counties. I am not with my family – I am at work in new York. No matter how much I like my job, it’s difficult not be upset about the fact that I can’t be with my mom, who has lost both of her parents within
the last year, and with my brother, my dad, and my grandpa’s brother Uncle Mike, as they all grieve for the loss of people who were so wonderful, so important.
I wish I could comfort and be comforted by them. I try to be there for my mom and my brother whenever they are upset and want to talk, especially my mom – who stayed close with her parents for her entire life and used to talk to them every day. But it’s just not the same over the phone, especially on the anniversaries, the milestones.
And although I know that my family understands that I live 500 miles away and I have a full-time job – although I know that they don’t expect me to be able to come home for every holiday, anniversary, memorial – I still feel not only sad that I am not with them, but guilty. I used to be the kind of person who would drop everything to comfort a friend in crisis or to support a family member. While earning my Bachelor’s degree, I used to put aside my school work, disregarding a lower grade as an unimportant consequence in comparison to supporting someone who needed help in a crisis. But then, as I was working on my Master’s degree, grades and achievement became a lot more important, and I had to start setting aside people, not papers. In undergraduate school, I used to tell people to call me whenever they needed – even if it was at 3 AM. Now I grumble when the phone rings at 10 o’clock at night. I feel as though I’ve become a very selfish, self-involved career person.
I know it is not all selfishness – I need to keep my job, and so my hands are tied by circumstance and necessity. But I still feel guilty – in the end, the bottom line is that I am not with my family for the big moments and milestones that mark my grandparents’ passing, the loss that has forever changed the dynamic of our family. My father and brother sent me pictures via text message of my grandpa’s recently-installed veteran’s headstone when they went to visit my grandparents’ graves last week (illustrating some of the more odd uses of technology), but obviously that isn’t the same as if I were able to lay the flowers on the headstone myself.
I am 500 miles away in New York, unsure of any way that I can grieve with my family or honor the memories of my grandparents. I have nowhere in particular to lay flowers or whisper a prayer into the wind – and so I write, hoping that it is enough to honor their memories by sharing my thoughts about them with other people. My grandparents were always very supportive of my writing and were convinced that I would publish a book some day – and so perhaps my writing is the best memorial I could give them anyway. Somehow, though, it never feels like enough.