The first time I dressed up this month, I wore a white dress shirt, slim black dress pants, and a slim tie. The second time I wore a light gray suit, with a sunny yellow vest and tie to match. The first time, I sat in quiet remembrance and accepted the hanging finality of the event. The second time, I celebrated a joyous beginning. Both times, relatives were puffy eyed for different reasons.
In the early afternoon of October 5th, exactly a month after my 23rd birthday, my grandmother passed away, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. I was not there or, more accurately, I don’t think I could have been there. For the first couple years of my life we lived with her and when my family moved out, we got a home three houses away. I would go there every day after school because my parents were still at work. Before the local news would end up siphoning the mid-afternoon TV block, my family would stay at her house and watch reruns of Seinfeld, the 6:30 news (I guess by the late 90s, there was more local tragedy to report. The news then started at 5:30), and then Wheel of Fortune (which I dominated) and Jeopardy (If I got one question right, I was stoked). We repeated this routine until the early 2010s, when it became apparent that my grandmother couldn’t live on her own anymore. She was moved into a nursing home not too far from she lived, but it was still far enough. If my memory serves me right, I believe she tried to “escape” once or twice. The last time I saw her was July 21st, her 94th birthday. I went over with my mother and my girlfriend to say happy birthday as well as show her that I have a girlfriend. She didn’t recognize me or her daughter at first and, after many reminders, could not retain the thought. When we left I am sure that I said something along the lines of “I will see you soon.” The next time I did would be October 7th. She was dressed in dark magenta with a look of honest, tranquil happiness. Compared to the last time I saw her, essentially in a sheet, sunken, it was almost relieving. The viewing and subsequent funeral felt fictional. I think because, at 94, we all assumed at that point that she would live forever.
Twelve days later, October 17th, I put on that gray suit (alas, a rental) and drove to a Russian Orthodox church atop a hill. It was overcast but just enough sunlight was coming in, highlighting the foliage on the mountains surrounding it. It was the first cold day of fall but that didn’t deter anyone there. I stood for what felt like forever, but was graced with the gift of memory foam shoes with 10.17.15 written in silver marker on the back, and watched as my sister became officially wed, and my brother and I gained a new older brother. The relatives I saw twelve days prior, with their heads down in disbelief, now had their heads up, and with a little help from the open bar, cheered in reverie for the union. But I’m sure, somewhere in the back of mine and everyone else’s minds, they wished that my grandmother would have been around just a little bit longer. My sister and her husband now live in my grandmother’s old house, carrying the metaphorical torch.
I like to think that, in a metaphysical way, the universe decided it had to trade. Before something could start, something else had to end. At 94, my grandma lived longer than I could ever hope to live. On October 5th, her life came to a quiet end surrounded by the people she loves, and I can imagine she carried that over to wherever she may be now. And on October 17th, my sister and her husband began their lives, they too surrounded by the people they love. Surrounded. Something, I think, we all quietly hope for.