I Felt Like an Outsider at My Own Grandfather’s Funeral
I know it may sound strange, but once the background story is set into place, feeling like an outsider at my own grandfather’s funeral makes perfect sense. I dreaded the day so much that my stomach was knotted and twisted for 3 days leading to the memorial.
My children are very close to their grandparents on both sides of our family; however, as a child, I was not as fortunate. My father’s parents divorced when he was 6. My father’s older sister was given the choice of parents; she made the right choice. My father, unfortunately, was stuck with the wrong parent. Needles to say, my dad lived a life of Hell at the hand of his own mother. I will give you a spoiler now: despite his upbringing, he became a very respectable man who treated my brother and myself as the best gifts God had ever given him. Growing up, my dad’s mother had boyfriend after boyfriend. Oh, yeah, that’s the reason she and my grandfather divorced; apparently, she had fidelity issues. Anyway, she came first; my father was just an extra tag-a-long with whom she had to deal.
My father was born with clubbed feet and had to wear braces on his ankles. His mother dated one man who, regardless of my dad’s disability, beat him with a wire hanger, hitting him in his most vulnerable area—his feet. His mother went through men like most of us go through our wardrobes. She didn’t even care if my dad were in sight or sound wave of her escapades. As long as her needs were met, her little boy basically went unnoticed. My grandfather caught wind of the beatings, and he did track the boyfriend down to give him a warning. But, he NEVER once fought to gain custody of my father. He continued to shower his time, attention, and money on his princess. Meanwhile, my father was pawned off on anyone who would take him or taken along on adventures that were not meant for children.
Even though my great grandparents were amazing people, they refused to allow my grandmother to be irresponsible, so they refused to keep my father while she ran around with random men. As a result, my dad grew up with resentment for his grandparents, his mother, and his father. Of all of them, I guess he was closest to his father, but that’s not saying too much. Anyway, my grandmother went on to have 3 more children, all from different fathers. She certainly was a gem. My father, at the age of 6, would be dropped off on his dad’s back porch, whether anyone were home or not. Some nights he would sit outside until the dark had arrived. As a small boy, he felt as though no one wanted him; what other thought would he have? He developed a fear of the dark, a fear that he never really escaped, no matter how hard he may have tried to hide it. I mean this metaphorically, of course.
My father worked throughout high school, but due to a lack of parental interest and support, his grades were not great, and his dedication to sports was sporadic. He was a phenomenal athlete with a hot-headed temper. So, if a coach ticked him off, he just quit the sport. He worked at a local newspaper office, but his mother would go into his room and take his money for herself. It didn’t matter that her son attended school with holes in his jeans and sneakers that were literally falling off his feet. What did she care? Were her needs being met? I guess as best as they could be.
My dad entered the Army National Guard at the age of 19 and remained in the military until he retired at the age of 60. He’d still be working today if permitted. He loves God, his family, and his country. My mom and dad married because of my conception; in the 70’s, that was the proper thing to do. I’m not sure whether or not they would have ended up together otherwise, but I’m glad they did. My parents had me at the age of 21; my brother came along 2 years later. My father decided that he would never be the type of parent that he experienced growing up. He worked hard to give us his love, time, dedication, and protection. My dad was and is the greatest man I know. His resiliency is a story that is not often told, because it just usually doesn’t turn out that way.
As a child, I watched my grandfather provide for my 2 cousins, the offspring of my father’s only, older true sister. My dad would always tell us not to worry about it because we had him and Mom; we didn’t need anyone else. My grandfather really wasn’t concerned about anything that pertained to my brother or myself. It stung a bit as a little girl, but I became accustomed to his absence. My other grandfather, my mom’s dad, died of a heart attack when I was 5. He showed me love and affection, but he was taken from me early. My mom’s mother was our caregiver when we were children, but the loss of my grandfather caused her great depression, so much of her day was spent in bed, sleeping away her grief. She died last year in a nursing home, living into her 80’s. I was closest to her of all of my grandparents. I have 1 remaining, my dad’s mother, but I’m not even sure what I consider her to be to me.
So, back to my dad’s father. He fought in WWII, so when he was diagnosed with lung cancer as a result of years of smoking, he spent the remaining months of his life in our local Veteran’s Hospital. They took great care of him. When he deteriorated to the point of having just days remaining, he was moved to the hospice care wing. In his final months, my grandfather asked to see all of his great grandchildren. My mom and dad visited him each night and took my 2 girls when we were available. I visited him twice, but he didn’t even remember me. That too hurt, but as I said, it was such a familiar feeling that I just accepted it and moved on.
He died June 21, 2014 and was buried June 26, 2014. He lived a long life, born in 1926, died in 2014. Facing his funeral filled me with anxiety. I knew that my father’s sister’s side would be a mess. I, on the other hand, merely felt numb, not sure what emotions I was experiencing. I was told that one of my dad’s other sisters would be there, and that sent more pangs of anxiety through me. See, when I was 18, my father’s half sister lived in Hawaii. One Christmas she sent him a Christmas card, but she didn’t stop there. She wrote inside, “I wish you a Merry Christmas, but I will never understand why you were such a negligent brother.” I was livid. My father was my rock, and no one attacked him or even said one disparaging word about him without my rushing to his defense. I drafted a letter to my aunt, explaining to her the Hell that my grandmother, her mother, had put my father through as a child. Grandma failed to share those shining moments with my father’s siblings. Rather, she, being the upstanding woman that she was and is, allowed my father to be the failure in the situation. That did not sit well with me, and my letter did not sit well with his family. For a long while, his sisters failed to believe what I wrote, calling my father to tell him what nerve I had writing such horrible things about their mother. I did tell my dad about the letter before I sent it, so he was aware of my defense response. He told them that everything was true, and they could choose to believe it or not. He really didn’t care.
The morning of the funeral, I felt sick to my stomach. I was prepared to go on the defensive if my aunt made even one attempt at approaching my father with negative remarks. My cousins cried from start to finish. I walked up to the casket with my daughters and my husband, looking at a man that I felt I hardly even knew. My father shed a few tears, and that hit me hard. I probably witnessed tears falling from my dad’s eyes on maybe 3 occasions in my life. I think the tears were based more on a feeling of WHY than anything else. I truly believe my father wishes that he could have been closer with own dad, but it just wasn’t his father’s intention to treat him and his sister equally. A the preacher presented his sermon, mentioning all of the time my grandfather spent with his grandchildren; I wondered whether or not everyone else inside the funeral home was aware of the fact that those times were only spent with 2 of his 4 grandchildren. My grandfather never loved me; this man the preacher described seemed like a stranger to me. My daughters cried; they knew my grandfather better than I did. He only started bothering with me after I had children. I was about 30 when he started coming around to see my kids. It’s somewhat difficult to build a strong bond at the age of 30, especially when you harbored such feelings of indifference based on your father’s sad upbringing.
I struggled with my grandfather’s death but not in the way that many might think. I struggled because I lacked closure. In the end, his cancer spread to his throat, and he could barely speak. I wanted to ask him why he didn’t fight for his little boy, for his name sake, even though he knew he were being abused at the hands of some strange man. I wanted to now why my brother and I were always afterthoughts in his life. So, I didn’t shed tears for the memories lost; I didn’t have any. I shed tears for my father’s negative memories and for the lack of closure that everyone on my dad’s side of the family felt. My brother and I both felt very indifferent toward our grandfather. He abandoned our father and showed concern for us when it was convenient for him.
Now that the funeral has passed, it is time for the settling of the estate. For most families, this brings about a time of fighting. The funny part is this: my dad stood to gain the most. For some odd reason, my grandfather had savings bonds dating back to the WWII era, and ALL of them were in my father’s name. Rather than being greedy, rather than acting as though he were due, my dad went to the courthouse and signed a form saying he would split everything found fifty-fifty with his one, true biological sister. He agreed to share everything left to him with the sister who was given everything her entire life. So for me, rather than being upset and arguing that my father deserved his share, I feel more proud of him than ever. My dad is evidence that people can rise above adversity and be good people. Too many times people blame their upbringings and circumstances for their bad behaviors. My dad suffered a great deal throughout his life, and he is still the most altruistic person I know.
I am so proud of the man my father has become. I am so grateful that he is the role model his grandchildren have to look up to in their lives. While I may have felt like an outsider at my grandfather’s funeral, I am trying to find the positives in all of this. Maybe in some strange way my Pa-Pa, as we called him, loved my brother and myself. Regardless, life moves on, and I am just going to be happy with the family, the life, and the father God granted to me. There is a silver lining to this story, and I call him DAD.