Grandpa holding my hand in his sleep. on Twitpic

At 9:00 p.m. EST, it will be 365 days since my Grandpa passed away. Grandma called me between an hour and ninety minutes later to tell me. I was home alone and had been expecting the call after having been to visit him twice recently. The last time I got to tell my Grandpa anything was just before 6:00 p.m. as I was parking my car to head to cataloging. I spoke to Grandma and told her to tell him that I love him.

When I got off the phone, I sobbed and cried aloud with my forehead pressed to the floor. I nearly broke my glasses in the process. He was 73 years old. I had nightmares for nearly a month.

So today I have tried very hard to not be consumed by these thoughts. A year adds padding and distance between the immediacy of the pain. It gives me time to rationalize and pray that he’s finally free from the restrictions of a body broken and bound by Parkinson’s. He must be happy somewhere else. Yet, here I type and it hurts as I miss him. He’s my Grandpa and in this life I’ll never hold his hand again, watch him shake his head, chew tobacco, cross his legs as he settles in to watch the news or wrestling or Hee Haw (when I was a kid). He had striking pale blue eyes, very little hair, and large hands that even at the end were rough from a life of hard work.

In my memory he’s not the fragile, shaking picture of disease, but he was the way he was when I was a child. Working on the tractor, slaughtering the hog, helping birth the stillborn calf, wearing his dirty old baseball cap and flannel coat. He spoke little but he surely loved his bird, Petey, and those flowers he cultivated.

“Grandpa” is all I could say, as I skipped on repeat, sobbing at his service and then as I kissed his casket one last time. Grandpa. Grandpa. Be well.

RIP Richard “Richie” Gallelli

Yesterday, I was at work for only half an hour when I received a text from a very dear friend of mine. Her brother had been killed at work. He was twenty-two and working at the Minot Air Force base near Bismarck, North Dakota. I hopped up from my chair and paced out into the hall looking for someone to comfort me and not let me be alone for a few minutes. There was none. I went back to my computer then I started sobbing. As soon as I could breathe, I went and told my boss that I had to leave. I had to run away.

Shortly, afterwards I was lying sideways across my boyfriend’s lap as I cried, my tears dropping off my nose and soaking into the couch pillows. The rest of my day was spent crying, sleeping, or barely going through the motions of life.

I did not personally know Richie Gallelli. His family moved away in June 2000 but I’ve been in contact with his elder sister, my friend, since they left. So my knowledge of Richie is peripheral, this younger brother moving around in the background of my friend’s stories. He’s someone I don’t know, but I have felt the tender love and affection his sister has when she spoke of him over the years.

I cannot imagine the pain of losing your sibling, someone who is often the only person who knows and shares the exact same background as yourself. Siblings are often the closest companion that we neglect to speak of in our dedications and our thanks. Yet, a sibling’s influence on our lives cannot be overestimated since they are also share our genetic code and have seen you in your best and worst moments. They have blackmail on you that could end your political career if you ever wanted to have one. They are also the person you fell asleep against in the backseat of the car.

I do not know him. But I have felt his importance and the after shocks of his departure echoing and ringing in my ears. He was just a kid at twenty-two. I feel helpless in not knowing how to share my grief with his sister in a way that lets her know I empathize and care, but without adding extra pain to her heart.

At the end of the day yesterday, I realized that my most fervent hope above all else is that Richie never saw it coming and he never felt any pain. We can slowly heal our own hearts with time, love and support. But we can never turn back time and spare our loved one’s the pain they may have suffered. I hope Richie went ignorant of his impending death and that he rests easy now.

Musing on Family Death

It is the age of social media with Facebook on top of the heap. Through this medium which I obsessively check multiple times a day did I receive notice from another friend’s mom that Mrs. Scales had passed away on Monday. It took me several moments for it to sink in and then I went to the living room. I looked up, up into the perfect blue of the sky with the clouds puffed here and there. The grass is vibrant green across the way now and the buds have been on the trees for a few days. I then sank down onto the couch arm and cried. I can’t express quite what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, but its akin to a sheer sense of terror that goes into your stomach and eats out your heart.

Next I called my mom and we talked about it.

Then tonight I left this message on the funeral home’s guest book:

It’s strange, but the clearest memory I can form all these years later is coming over to play with Jessica in 7th or 8th grade and Mrs. Scales asks us to help her with something. We ended up sitting at the table folding papers for her church and sticking them into envelopes. Also Jessica’s 7th grade birthday party so everyone was running in and out of the house and another time we were trick or treating in the 8th grade. I came over several times that year though I hadn’t thought about it in quite some time.

Grandpa, Tell Me About the Good Ol’ Days

Amanda, Jr., Sherry, Jerry, Grandma, and Grandpa in 1986

I got the call last night that my Grandpa isn’t expected to live more than a few hours—no more than a week–longer. This is my maternal Grandpa John born December 4, 1937. He was raised by his maternal grandparents, Daniel and Alice. At twenty-five, he married my fifteen year old Grandma, Shirley. This is 1962. He fought in the Korean War but a fire in Kentucky robbed him of his VA dues for his old age. Over the next 19 years he and Grandma would have four girls—two whom died shortly after birth–and two sons. They named their children Clara (my mom), Johnny, Jerry, Shirley (dead), Sherry, and Rebecca (dead and my namesake). They have thirteen grandchildren with an age range of twenty-one years.

Jr., Grandpa, Amanda in 1989

He was a coal miner and sometimes worked in the lumber industry. He moved his family around the country like nomads before settling in North Carolina in 1981. There, Rebecca was born and died and my mom married. As oldest grandchild, I was his favorite. For about a year, my brother and I lived on a tobacco farm with our grandparents, uncles, and aunt. Once I came home from first grade and found the hog hanging upside with his head missing. Grandpa shot him three times between the eyes before he kill him. Another time I watched my Grandpa shove his arm into a cow to turn her calf that was in the breech position. Grandpa always deferred to Grandma and she ran things.

Grandpa and Missy in 1989

My grandpa had this blue velvet chair that he liked to sit in to watch Hee-Haw back when I was a kid. They moved away and I have not seen my grandparents much over the last 19 years. When I saw them again, I realized how short he had become. The man I remembered being so tall and mighty was just a short, old man. He had always been bald as long as I’ve been alive—Grandma only has one photo of him with his black hair and it’s black and white—and his forehead deeply wrinkled. But now his hands shook and he smiled toothlessly when he talked to me about this turkey farm he worked on once.

Grandpa and Missy 2006

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have stolen away his unspoken memories and his speech. He shakes violently, breaking his chairs and he cannot take care of himself any longer. His old house was exactly 56 miles from my driveway to his. I came and visited for school projects and somewhere I have Grandpa on camera shaking and just staring into the camera. He can no longer smile. And then last night I got the call that he’ll be gone soon. This man that is the child of my favorite great-grandma Francis Wirth. Whom I recall having a bad nightmare when I was a kid, dreaming of his mother calling out for him. It ruined his whole day. My mom still calls him Daddy. She loves him best along with my brother.

He’s someone I don’t know very well. But he’s my grandpa and I absolutely hate that he no longer knows anyone is beside him. Aunt Sherry said Grandma is sitting next to his bed, holding his hand, and neither does she acknowledge the world. She stares at him, waiting and watching. This is their 47th year of life together and soon it will end.

The waiting is terrible.

R.I.P Jean Biden

Vice President Joe Biden’s mother passed away today. In reading the story at abcnews, I came across the following quote:

“My mom taught her children, all the children who flocked to our house, that you’re defined by your sense of honor and you’re redeemed by your loyalty,” he said. “Failure at some point in your life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable.”

The story made me cry. I remember seeing his tiny little mother on stage on Election Night and I knew she was so proud of her son. I only wish Obama’s grandmother would have seen him too. Either ways, I believe in many ways, a man’s relationship with his mother showcases his true character (aside from if the mother is completely-off-her-rocker). Mrs. Biden taught her children well.

I’ll end this with my two favorite Joe Biden videos.

God speed, madam. God speed.

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~Dylan Thomas, 1951

For Ted Kennedy’s burial today. God bless and God speed, good sir.

Third Anniversary Death

Today was the third anniversary of my friend’s death (fell 50-100 ft from a waterfall) and I left work early to go be with him at the cemetery for awhile. I wore the black dress I wore to the funeral but this time flip flops. I was chased by honeybees awawy from his grave and then stood in a sudden, heavy rain. It was raining when we said our goodbyes. I was soak to mid-thigh, ran out by the rain, so I went to my friend’s house and took her grocery shopping.

I’m moving in a few weeks, my first time out on my own. The days when I could visit the cemetery, take a friend shopping, anything will be done soon. I’m scared but thankful that I know the end of this way of life is approaching. I don’t want it cut off short. So I’m hoping that on future anniversaries of his death (he was 20), I will be strong enough to do something besides sit at the cemetery and whisper my thoughts and prayers.