Friday, February 19, 2010

On Loss

If I were to venture a guess, I would say that Bruce has been a fixture in my life for about 15 years. Not the chandelier that dominates the entryway and catches your attention each time you pass. More like the simple vase that sits unobtrusively in the corner; present, but never drawing attention to itself.

He was my grandmother's second husband, filling the gap in her life left after she and my grandfather separated. They reconnected at their 50th high school reunion, fell in love, and got married. I see him once a year, when the family gathers for Christmas; the man who gives ridiculous yet oddly practical Christmas gifts (lint brushes and fried-egg-shapers and rechargeable LED tea lights) and tells stories that for all intents and purposes should be interesting, but are somehow rendered inert by the placidity of his demeanor.

This evening, as I was getting ready for my show, my mother called to let me know that he had passed away.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, but in one of the ironic twists life likes to throw at us, it was a heart attack that took him.

I was conflicted when I heard the news because in a sense I was... relieved. I knew from the tone of my mother's voice that someone was gone, and of anyone it could have been, this was the one to cause me, personally, the least amount of grief.

I realized this evening that, for everything he was to my grandmother, my relationship with Bruce never amounted to love. More like a friendly acquaintance. I never thought of him as a grandfather--though considering my relationship to the man he replaced, that moniker would have been more of an insult than an expression of respect--he was simply my grandmother's husband.

My greatest sorrow is for her loss, the man she loved and with whom she shared a home, a life, and a family for the past 15 or more years. He was a good man, he took care of her and loved her, he was good to our family and gave my grandmother the love and stability she absolutely deserved after life had dealt her a bitter hand with her first husband, my grandfather. I am, of course, sad that he is gone--but my grief is not what one feels at the loss of a family member... and I am not entirely certain how to deal with that.

I mean no disrespect to the man himself, and I worry that somehow my lack of personal grief does just that. It is only that, when it comes right down to it, I never really knew him. I know his stories of serving with the Red Cross in occupied Germany after WWII. I know his restless energy that, even as his body began to fail him, drove him to stand instead of sit, to shovel the driveway even when younger men were ready and willing, and to keep a part time job for years after his supposed retirement, because idleness would have driven him crazy. But on the interpersonal level, our relationship amounted to a few scattered conversations among the mayhem of the family holiday gathering, once a year.

Tomorrow I will call my grandmother and attempt to convey my sympathy for her loss, though in truth I haven't the faintest idea of what to say. I know that in situations such as these there is really nothing one can say, but I'd feel a little better if I could at least think of something. I hope that what I have to offer--an "I love you, and my thoughts are with you"--will suffice.

I have no finite ideas of what, if anything, happens after this life, if indeed anything does. But I would like to say this to Bruce: Thank you for making my grandmother happy, for being a solid presence in her life, and giving her the love and the happiness that she deserved. For what it is worth, and in what way I can offer it, you will be missed.


Kit Halsted said...

"I love you and I'm sorry for your loss" sounds like the appropriate thing to say to your grandmother. After all, and as you said, it is her loss. It doesn't sound like you really knew him.

Your feelings are natural and appropriate, don't beat yourself up about it. Do call your grandmother and give her your condolences.

Jess said...

When my grandmother, to whom I was never very close, died, I was mostly sad because my dad was sad about losing his mother. And that was OK too. I think telling her that you are sad and sorry for her loss and you love her would be very appropriate, and also very true.