My little cousins crashed the neighbor’s Easter egg hunt. I tagged along. Played soccer with the neighbor kids and giggled at my little cousins. I smelled like Northern Minnesota. Obviously, I enjoyed it.
I spent the other parts of my Easter weekend with family. Sitting and talking. Laughing and remembering. Hearing stories I’ve never heard. Telling stories I love to tell. Watching and talking hockey. Shopping in a local shop I love.
I visited my Grandma in the care center on Friday. Just for a little bit while she ate her unappetizing carrots and meatballs with questionable colors and items stuffed into them. Unfortunately, a flu virus broke out in the care center and millions and billions of tiny germs kept us from visiting again – especially my mom who cannot subject her immune system to influenza since cancer and chemo completely wiped her cells cleaner than a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
My weekend was a bit of surprise to me. See, I’m not a big fan of the month of April. I see it as a month to endure. Yes, there is college hockey (ending) and NHL Playoff hockey (beginning), but that hardly helps in my case.
April 1992. That was a long time ago. 20 years to be exact. But I remember the month. I was in Kindergarten. And had spent most of my days out of school. Up North. Because of cancer and chemo. My Grandpa’s (maternal). He had battled it for a long time. Suffered through tough rounds of chemo. Lost lots of weight and hair. But never lost his smile. I remember seeing that smile many times. And for whatever reason, maybe because I needed those memories to carry with me for a lifetime, I remember. I remember a lot of things from my year as a Kindergartener. None of them related to school.
The day my grandpa died was a grey, cold April day. A day that has come and gone for 20 years. A day that is marked on my calendar. This week.
I remember being confused. Trying to figure out all the conversations buzzing around me. Watching the cues from my cousins. Seeing people crying. I stood by the front door and watched two of my cousins make their way into the house. I turned around to see relatives consoling one another. It had been a long haul. Those months of cancer and chemo. There had been time to plan for the inevitable. But the inevitable was still not easy to bear.
The days between my grandpa’s passing and his funeral don’t register in my memory. I’m not sure if I was whisked back to my Kindergarten classroom to try and catch up on my ABC’s and 123’s or if I stayed Up North with cousins and family. We were spread out at the time, but not nearly as scattered as we are today. So, in a way, that was a good thing. We were all there. Together.
During the funeral, I remember sitting next to my mom and Cousin S (Cousin B’s older sister). When the casket was taken out of the church, I remember watching everyone cry. And I wanted to cry. So, I faked it. Somewhere in my mind, I told myself that I needed to look sad and act the part. Everyone was sad. And I needed to be, too.
The thing is, in the 20 years since that day, I have cried real tears. For 20 years, I was grandfatherless on my mom’s side of the family. Too young to remember memories from before the years of cancer and chemo. I’m fairly certain I’ve experienced the green monster of jealousy over the fact that I don’t remember much prior to my Kindergarten days in the hospital with my grandpa.
But even though I can’t recall specific moments and events before 1991/1992, I do know that my grandpa loved me. And my grandma carried that love on for the next 15 years for him. For all of us.
When she passed away in August of 2007, I was much further along in life. About to enter my senior year of college. My days with grandma had been many. My memories of birthdays and Christmases were plentiful. Yet, that still did not prepare me for the void I’d feel when she was gone. Since that day, every time I think of Up North, I think of her. I can’t help it. For 15 years after my grandpa died, I knew that there was still someone in that house who loved me. Someone who was there waiting for me. And when she died and the house was sold to someone else who doesn’t love me, it was a loss I didn’t know I’d miss.
My grandma would be 88 years old today. We’d probably have celebrated her birthday this past weekend. Cards and candles. Gifts and gift cards. Phone calls and greetings. She’d have sat in her chair. I would have opened up her gifts; helping her arthritic fingers tear the paper open to unveil presents of soft pink pajamas and sweaters from Nordstrom. And I can hear her telling us, “How nice. Oh, that’s lovely. But this is too much.”
It always was too much for her. But for us, it was never enough. To convey our love and appreciation for her. The head of the family for 15 years.
And my maternal grandma wasn’t alone in the April celebrations. My remaining grandparent – my paternal grandmother – is celebrating her 94th birthday tomorrow. Sick with the flu. Stuck in a nursing home.
Back when my grandpa was around, 7 years ago, we would have celebrated Easter and birthday at their house. Baked her a cake. She would have opened her gifts in the living room. Family gathered around. My grandpa would have some gift for her – a card and something special. Again, it would have been “too much.” Gifts from out West and East and phone calls from Chicago and Boston would have rang throughout the house. I can hear her on the phone, telling my cousins what she was doing. Laughing her little laugh.
I saw glimpses of her smile in the care center. Listened for a sign of her laugh. Wanted so badly to hear her tell a story. Use a full sentence. She didn’t. But I know she would. If she could.
She’s still here. Head of the family for 7 years. Her time after my grandpa has been different than we expected or hoped. But it has been time.
7 years. 5 years. 20 years. And now.
Years and moments I will always remember. Especially this month. Always on these days.
Crashing Easter Egg hunts and playing soccer outside. Those are new April memories. There may not be birthdays and Grandparents, but we are still here. Still a family. Minus our grandparents.
And though they left us with April – a month of nostalgic memories and sad tears – they left us with each other so that when these Aprils roll around year after year, we’d have each other. To make new memories with. Not to replace the old April memories, but to make them less painful.