Apparently my grandfather died. My father’s father. Over two weeks ago, actually. But I just now discovered this while lazily browsing Facebook. My cousin graduated from nursing school and her sister posted both a photo of our grandfather (with the obligatory “RIP” caption) as well as a link to his obituary.
I read it. He was 86. He had eight children. My father is seventh in line. He also had “21 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, and 12 great-great-grandchildren with another due in Summer 2015.”
I didn’t realize there were that many of us.
My grandmother is still living. They were married for 68 years in September. I never knew their anniversary.
I barely knew him. My parents married young and moved away. My father’s parents followed them and moved nearby, but two years later, my parents moved back to their hometown (where they raised us and still live today). My grandparents never forgave my mother for moving their son and grandkids away from them. They never liked her at all, really.
I saw them maybe once a year as a kid. We would make the 20+ hour cross-country drive in a miserable cramped vehicle. Then it slowed down as I got older. Maybe once every few years. Based on photos, I know I saw them in 1998, then again in 2004 and 2007. They traveled up to New York when my cousin died, but I was unable to attend her funeral, so I didn’t see them then.
My cousins seemingly all went down South within the past year to see him. There are a lot of photos anyway. I guess everyone sensed his health was deteriorating further and further. He’d had two or three heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and (I think) Alzheimer’s disease.
I don’t know what killed him. Probably his heart.
I remember never liking him. Either of them, really. They weren’t kind or friendly or warm people. They treated children like burdens. There was always drama when they were around. I think he was an alcoholic. I know he beat his children and was not a nice man overall. He completely rejected my uncle when he came out as gay and was adamantly homophobic for many years.
As legend tells it, they both changed a lot in their old age. They eventually accepted my uncle (and his husband) in about 2012 or so. My grandmother started taking mood stabilizing medication and stopped wreaking havoc on everyone’s lives with her volatility. They were changed people.
Regardless, they were never kind to me. They never showed me love or affection. They never did anything to demonstrate that I mattered or that I even existed. Yet somehow I was expected to send them cards every year, call them on holidays, and act really excited to see them. Strangers. Why would I be excited to see someone I don’t even know?
Now he is dead. This man I barely knew, but was the patriarch of my family. I don’t feel sad or bereft. But I do feel a strange sense of ….something. He didn’t mean much (if anything) to me, but it’s admittedly still weird to find out about his death several days later and by pure accident.
I wonder if my family thought about trying to notify me? I wonder if they thought of me at all…?
I suppose this is what it means to be estranged.