My grandmother died last week. I’m not sure how else to say it or to write it; I’m also not sure how to introduce that. I’ve been on the opposite end plenty of other times, offering a hand, a shoulder, or some form of consolation. On that side, it’s hard to find words that don’t sound generic, even if you are genuine with those words. It can be awkward because you are not sure on whether it is a good idea to open old wounds or maybe you’ll say something that could be taken wrong.
Now I’m on the other side, the side experiencing a personal death. I mean, I’ve been to plenty of funerals. I was about 21 years old at the very last funeral I attended. My first was when I was 14, still living in Colorado. Most of these funerals were classmates actually, though I’ve been to other funerals that were friends of the family.
Marie Hess was my grandmother’s name. I debated about writing this column for a while. I like to be transparent when I write, but I also consider who will be affected by my writing. For example: Having an argument with someone about politics and then using that as inspiration for my column. I make sure that person remains anonymous because the point of my columns isn’t necessarily to publicly shame someone.
Still, this is different. My grandmother’s death doesn’t belong to just me as far as baring the weight of that pain goes. Both of my uncles, my three cousins, my aunts (through marriage), my mother, my sister, my brother and his wife and daughter, my wife; they bare that burden all the same.
Yet, it goes beyond that even so. There are so many other people who are affected by her death. There are many of you who know me personally, many of you who know me professionally, or both, and because you know me in some way, you’ll be experiencing some level of pain (no matter how minimal the experience may or may not be). My wife’s family certainly feels my pain. So are all of Marie’s coworkers, peers, friends, rosary buddies …
It can be hard to say something to reach out to someone who’s been affected by a personal death, but it’s also hard to talk about it as someone who’s affected by a personal death. If it’s going to be awkward, then the least I can do it just say what’s on everyone’s mind (as blunt as it might be).
So … my grandmother died on Thursday, Jan. 25. It wasn’t until I actually reflected on that day as a whole that I came to realize how that day was truly symbolic to my grandma.
I grew up without a father, raised by a single mother, and my grandfather, Alan “Al” Hess, died before I was even born. The only grandparent I had was Marie, much like the only parent I had was my mom. My mother did everything in her power to raise us right and give us as many opportunities as possible. Still, my grandma played a heavy role by stepping up to the plate when so many others wouldn’t.
Still, common statistics about kids raised without a father would have me believe that I am more likely to end up in jail, as an alcoholic, abusive, or maybe all of the above. I’ve recognized the possibility of my life ending up in tune with those statistics. Those statistics didn’t count my grandma as a factor. There were many factors that helped steer me to where I am today, but my grandma definitely played a role that would greatly influence me.
My interest in politics is largely because of her. We’re both registered to separate parties from each other. I remember debating with her a lot about issues. We didn’t always agree, but we always came to an understanding of each other. There are issues I stand for that she stands against. Still, we didn’t have a problem talking about any of it and know that at the end of it all we still loved each other. There wasn’t any issue that would cause us to withdraw from each other. I was as open with her as I was with my mom, though there were times I worried about whether or not to tell her something.
I was raised Catholic, though I don’t claim any religion to be mine today. I am not a religious person and I have my reasons for that, though that doesn’t mean I am a bad person nor that I think people who are religious are bad (there are bad apples in every group of people). I know Marie wanted to be a nun before having my mother, who was her first child. She prayed every day, always grateful for the life she had and understanding how many people were suffering.
I’m stopped every so often by people who knew her. I really don’t think there was a person alive who didn’t like her. Everyone always has nice things to say about her. Rumors run wild in this town, but there were never any of her and never anything bad. That’s not to say she was without fault, but it certainly is a testament to her penchant for kindness. Ironically, she was the most private person I’ve ever met too. I often wonder what she would think of this column. I wish she could read what I’m writing about her now.
I know she was happy for me when she learned I became a writer at the Times-Herald. I ran myself so busy, but it was also one of the ways that I could talk with her. I know she read my columns. I talked about my writing with her when I could.
There were plenty of signs Thursday, things that reminded me of her. She was on my mind more often than usual that day too. I was able to say what I felt she needed to hear and she responded in kind. I can’t remember right now what she told me, but I do remember the feeling she gave me — her hope for me, her trust in me, her believing in me.
Writing allows me to express all of those things when it becomes difficult in finding words to speak. I hope that through my writing, you can understand me in a way that she understood me. In doing so, I hope that understanding me helps you to better understand yourself.
I’m handling it fairly well, so I’m not writing this for me as much as it might seem. I thought I had a pretty good understanding about death, but this has given me a lot of new perspectives. I’m seeing on a more personal level just how many people are affected by death, how powerful death is in more ways than one, and sometimes the undermining of the seriousness of death. I wish I had the words right now to express those things to you directly.
What I can say is that grandmas play a special role in our lives. My advice? Make sure you let them know that while you can. I don’t have any regrets, but I was fortunate in that I was able to talk with her about the hardest topic anyone faces — death.