Today is the anniversary of my grandmothers death. She died 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 was always comparisons between the two of us. “Never forgot who your 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. It is likely that my wife will 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 even 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 now 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 to stand by my grandparent 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.