Today is the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. She died on March 4th, 2004, at the age of 100. Tomorrow I will visit her grave, a ritual I do whenever I am in South Florida. She is buried next to my grandfather, whom I never knew. My grandfather died five years before I was born of a massive heart attack.
Stories of my grandfather loomed large in my early life. He was the only man my grandmother said that she ever loved enough to marry. To hear my mother and aunt talk about my grandfather is to hear about a Jewish saint. I was named after my grandfather –first and middle name– so when I was young, there were always comparisons between us. “Never forgot who you are named after,” my grandmother and aunt would say.
It is a strange thing to grow up with stories of a man you never knew. As I think of my grandfather, and the shadow he cast over my life, I think of my son. My wife will likely die in the next year or two. I think of my son at twenty or twenty-one years of age losing his mother. I think of him telling stories to his children about the kind of person his mother was. It makes me cry to think about it.
My grandmother was the light of my life growing up. She was my chief cheerleader and backer. She knew that I was gay years before I understood what it meant to be gay, and she loved me anyway. Long before she died, I would cry thinking about her not being in the world any longer and wonder how I would get along without her. It is thirteen years since her death, and I have found out that life continues and that I am stronger than I once thought.
There is something cleansing and healing about standing by my grandparent’s grave and have a conversation with my grandmother. I never stay long, but I usually tell her that I miss her. I might tell her what is happening in my life. It always makes me wonder what happens when we die. I always begin to cry at her grave and come prepared with a few tissues in my pocket.