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When they're alive, it's gossip; when they're gone, it's reminiscing.

In my life, the death of a loved one has often been a time of revelations.  

When my great grandmother passed away, we discovered a poem she had written shortly after my great grandfather's death, 50 years before.  I was barely even a teenager yet, so the most amazing thing about it for me was the incredible sadness that it expressed; children rarely think about the humanity of the adults around them, let alone the acuteness of an emotion from so many years in the past.

My friend Nick was the next person I knew to pass away, when I was 22.  I met him when I went to volunteer at an organization for homeless kids; I believe he was homeless himself at the time.  We always had a strange relationship, but I did consider him my friend.  At his memorial, several people told me about the things he'd been doing with his life in the few months before he died.  Until that moment, I never even knew that he had dreamed of opening a pizza parlor, or that he had a girlfriend.  When I went to visit him in the ICU before he died, I discovered that he had a half-finished giant red star tattooed on his chest.  This wouldn't have been a big deal if I hadn't been contemplating a new tattoo - red stars - for weeks without knowing about his.  The day after he died, I got red stars tattooed on my arm:
red stars  
(Interestingly enough, it wasn't until I found the page that I link to above that I discovered that he was actually a volunteer at the organization just like me; I always thought he was there to get help himself.)

But the biggest revelations came after my grandmother passed away almost two years ago.  I learned that I had family members who would mourn with me when I was mourning, who would open up their hearts to me unhesitatingly even though I'd shunned them for most of my life, who I could depend on if I needed to.  This was something I never knew I had.  I discovered that my grandfather (who had passed away the summer before) wasn't the evil man my father had always painted him as.  One of the aunts that I had rarely talked to before told me that he was actually a very loving man who tried to buy my grandmother a new car every year to show her how much he loved her, and who fought in the Korean War and probably suffered from PTSD because of it.  

But the biggest secrets I learned were about my grandmother herself.  I discovered that she loved Elvis Presley, something that she and I had in common.  I found a cookbook from 1914 in the back of one of her cupboards with her mother-in-law's handwriting in it; my grandma wasn't the cookie-baking kind of grandma, but something about it made me feel as though I had learned something about her that I never knew before.  Finally, the secret that meant the most to me, the secret that inspired this diary, was a simple picture, an old black and white picture from when she was very young and still incredibly beautiful.  She's wearing pants and has her arms and legs wrapped around a branch that holds her in the air.  The great secret is her smile in the picture.  In all the years I knew my grandmother, I never saw her smile with so much pure joy.  She loved to have fun, and had the same dark and absurd sense of humor as the rest of my family, but there was always sadness behind the smile I knew.  I wish I had that picture now, to share with all of you, but I carry it with me only in my memory.  

Just before Christmas, another beloved family member of mine died.  My great great aunt - my grandmother's sister - passed away at the age of 97.  She was never able to have children of her own, so she was close to all of her sister's children and, thus, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  

Her memorial was yesterday.  My aunts emailed me and left me a voice-mail....  And I hope, when I hear from them again, they'll reveal all the little secrets about her that I never knew.

A special welcome to anyone who is new to The Grieving Room.  We meet every Monday evening.  Whether your loss is recent or many years ago, whether you have lost a person or a pet, or even if the person you are "mourning" is still alive ("pre-grief" can be a very lonely and confusing time) you can come to this diary and process your grieving in whatever way works for you.  Share whatever you need to share.  We can't solve each other's problems, but we can be a sounding board and a place of connection.

Originally posted to tryptamine on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 06:49 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ah, tryptamine.... (10+ / 0-)

    so glad you were able to get some answers to the questions you had.  I remember a time past when you were wrestling with your feelings over a loss of your grandmother.  Looks like you have made some peace at last.  My condolences on the loss of your great great aunt.  I hope you do learn some secrets.

    Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

    by Cronesense on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 07:17:05 PM PST

    •  Thanks Cronesense. (9+ / 0-)

      That was really hard, but I think a big part of it was seeing this side of my family that I had never recognized before.  It was like my whole world got turned upside down.

      But you know, it's not that hard to get used to having family members who care about you. ;)

      "If life has no purpose, if it's been given us for its own sake, we have no reason for living." -Tolstoy

      by tryptamine on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 07:24:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is a new experience for me, so your (0+ / 0-)

      indulgence is appreciated. I haven't seen any men here in TGR (at least in this installment), so someone had to be first. It's very interesting to me that men are so slow to "get it" for the most part in terms of understanding the nature of life, death, and grief - and, for that matter, relationships. My wife and I met when we were in college back in the 70's. We were both teenagers, and I, for certain, was really dumb as a box of rocks about what really mattered in life. She passed away very suddenly from a particularly rare and lethal form of breast cancer in late 2006, after 28 years of marriage. Her funeral was amazing; there were hundreds of people there, unknown to me, whose lives she had touched. And, when it was all said and done, I discovered a little secret she had held close to her heart all these years. Way back in the beginning,when we had only gone out a couple of times, and I had pretty much the same level of social skills as a garden slug, Sue was BS'ing with her cousin in the dorm one night. When the subject of me came up, she said, "I'm going to marry that guy!" Her cousin said you're crazy, you're only 19, what do you know about that stuff? Sue would not be dissuaded - she knew, she had picked me, for reasons perhaps not even entirely clear to her, to be the one for a lifetime. The hitch was that there was quite a bit less lifetime than we planned on. But she held this little secret close to her heart, never (thankfully) revealed to me until the time came to pass it on. It's mine to cherish now, more precious than gold, but painful to behold at the same time. I feel profoundly unworthy - she shared so much of herself with so many people, but she held this small, special part for me alone, even though I didn't know it.

  •  You are very lucky to have had good relationships (6+ / 0-)

    with your aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents.  I was never really close to most of my relatives.  My dad was in the USAF from before I was born until I was 18.  As a consequence, we never lived in the same state as the majority of the relatives and never really got the chance to get to know them.

    I haven't found any 'secrets' of my mom since her passing this past June.  She knew she would die sooner rather than later.  She had CMT, complications of that, and some other medical stuff.  She was only 63 when she died.  Since she knew her time was shorter and coming sooner, she tried to express herself.  But, I'm sure that she took a whole lot with her that is now lost.

    The secrete I'd like to know is why she chose to have a shoulder wrap that I made for her last Christmas cremated with her.  It brings bittersweet thoughts about seeing her for the last time with that wrap.  She didn't want to use it because it'd get dirty.  I'd badger her to use it and I'll make more for her.  She finally did start to use it.  She thought I should get a patten for the patterns.  I sure hope that the wrap is keeping her warm enough now.

  •  Good diary! Thank you! (8+ / 0-)

    I had never thought about this.  I guess I didn't find out any secrets, myself.  

    I know that I have carefully saved the paintings my sister did and some her special friend did and her diary and photos.  She shared a lot of her heart with me when we met for lunch each month.  I am glad for that.

    I appreciate having the diary and I hope people will come on in and sit down even if they don't wish to talk, yet.

    Sometimes, we can't put things into words.  

    {{{{HUGS}}}} to you, tryptamine!!  

    Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat Wednesday evenings 8 PM EST

    by cfk on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 07:38:55 PM PST

  •  First, I had to wait for ct to fix something (6+ / 0-)

    and now, it is thundering closer and closer and I will have to shut down the computer, soon.  We had 60 degrees here in MI, today, which is like summer.

    We are under a tornado watch until 2 AM EST...in January!!  Really weird...even for Michigan. :)

    Blessings on all here!!

    Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat Wednesday evenings 8 PM EST

    by cfk on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 07:49:13 PM PST

  •  just want to drop in and say hello to all (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, cfk, Cronesense

    and say thanks to tryptamine for a moving diary.  elvis is king.

    i missed the group altogether last week and this week I am feeling a little overwhelmed with the NH primary.

    maybe it's a positive development that I am able to get distracted by other things...

    blessings and peace to everyone.

    Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.
    IMPEACH CHENEY FIRST.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 09:19:28 PM PST

  •  I'm still trying to get my head around things. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, CalNM, cfk, Cronesense

    I've lost a few friends and family members in the past ten years. Mourned for one of them for what seems like forever, because she'd been sick and I didn't even know she was dangerously ill until she'd been dead for over 12 hours, and because she was the first person I'd lost who was my age.

    But my whole life it seems there was one non-family person a family member had once had contact with who kept coming up in little stories, in odd quotes and anecdotes. And he was gone before I existed, long gone.

    All I knew about him until this summer was where he had worked, the things he had taught his students, and that he had been killed by another human. This summer I learned why and enough time-concept to place his time of death within a three year period.

    I know nothing more about him than that and yet he's the one I'm in active hard mourning about.

    I support the Writer's Guild of America strike.

    by Cassandra Waites on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 11:25:45 PM PST

    •  {{{{{{HUGS}}}}}} (3+ / 0-)

      I can understand this:

      I know nothing more about him than that and yet he's the one I'm in active hard mourning about.

      There are people who touch our lives and even when we don't know them well, we care about them.

      One of the worst losses for me was a young woman who I had known a bit and who was a friend of my children.  I still hurt and it has been 13 years.

      She was so neat and such a bright spot and died so young.  

      Mourning means we loved.  I am grateful to have loved a lot of people.

      Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat Wednesday evenings 8 PM EST

      by cfk on Tue Jan 08, 2008 at 11:41:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I know what that's like. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CalNM, Dem in the heart of Texas

      My great grandfather died almost 60 years before I was even born, but I've always known and loved him (and mourned him) through the effect he had on my family.  

      I could say the same about my husband's grandfather, who died before I met my husband.  

      I was taught that we don't actually leave this world though, that we continue on in every part of it but especially in the hearts and minds of those who loved us.

      "If life has no purpose, if it's been given us for its own sake, we have no reason for living." -Tolstoy

      by tryptamine on Tue Jan 08, 2008 at 11:57:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  for my friend, Greg (3+ / 0-)

    Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and personal tribute and remembrance about your friend Nick and your grandmother, tryptamine. I love your tattoo.

    I like your theme of revelations. I went through a lot when my buddy Greg died 2 and a half years ago. His birthday was Dec 28. We would have been 26 years old and I really miss him.

    I wrote an online Memorial for him: REST IN PEACE, Greg.

    Nice to see this on diary rescue, UM.

  •  thank you so much, Tryptamine! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine

    I appreciate your taking the series this week, and I'm sorry I wasn't here on Monday to participate.  

    You wrote a beautiful diary - and I believe you have the honor of writing the first RESCUED Grieving Room diary.  Congratulations!

    I love the "secrets" - and I wonder what those who come after will make of all my artifacts...

    Thank you again - you're welcome to host whenever you'd like.  :)

    -6.63/-6.31 Please visit the Grieving Room on Monday nights to discuss issues of mourning and loss.

    by Dem in the heart of Texas on Tue Jan 08, 2008 at 11:35:36 PM PST

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