“I still feel you all around.” – Taylor Swift, “Marjorie”
“Does anyone want a waffle maker?” Uncle Gil asked in our absurdly large family group chat. We were preparing to sell my grandparents’ home, both of whom had recently passed on, Granny in April 2020, and Grandpa in July 2022. As such, we were beginning to clear out the relics of lives once lived. DVDs and floral candle holders with candle sticks that had well-worn wicks. Grandpa’s dozens of hockey trophies and coffee cups. Side tables and couches and photographs of all of our shared memories.
“I’ll take it!” I texted back. I also was able to snag the Keurig and a few other pieces of decor, including the floral candle holders that belonged to Granny and her gold jewelry box where I now keep a pair of pearl earrings she used to wear, too.
I have to admit, there’s a weird sense of guilt in taking your grandparents’ items. Sure, they don’t need them anymore but being excited about finally getting a Keurig, but only because your grandparents died, does create a peculiar juxtaposition of feelings. It almost feels like you’re taking advantage of a situation you wish never happened (even though it was also unavoidable). But still, that shame and sadness lingers and you wish you could trade the damn coffee maker for just a little more time with the people it belonged to first.
The things I wish I could take with me from Granny and Grandpa’s are the feelings. The warmth. The sense of safety. The inkling everything was going to be okay. That I was okay, too. Because as someone who struggled with mental health for as long as I can remember, I have always had the belief that I am difficult to love. And at 31, I still feel this way most days. Granny and Grandpa never made me feel that way, though. Even when I was at my most unwell, Granny and Grandpa would welcome me into their home on Ivanhoe. I spent a lot of time there during the summer before and after senior year of high school.
Ivanhoe became my safe place, a refuge from the storm my mind was trying to kill me with. The clouds always seemed to clear the second I stepped through their front door.
Recently, I found a box full of memories that had a note Granny wrote me for high school graduation in 2010. At that time, I was 18 and volatile and sad and stubborn and ashamed at the fact I couldn’t be any better and do any better either.
“I wish I could keep you just as you are,” Granny had written.
I immediately burst into tears.
Despite the emotional disarray that has held me hostage, Granny still saw good in me somehow. And because I trust her, I’m starting to believe maybe that there is (and was) goodness in me, along with my fraying edges and short fuse.
At Grandpa’s funeral, Uncle Gil gave the eulogy. He based it on the word happenstance, a phenomenon that truly defined Grandpa’s life. Things just always seemed to work out for him. He was always at the right place, at the right time.
The best part was Grandpa truly recognized his luck. He always knew when he had something special in front of him, and he always made sure to make the most of the serendipitous encounters as well.
When we were clearing out Granny and Grandpa’s house, my cousin happened to stumbled across a note my Grandpa had written to himself:
“As I have learned over and over, ‘Faith, family, & friends are indeed the greatest treasures of life.’ How true! G”
“You’ll never meet anyone like him again,” Mom said after he passed. She’s right; I know I won’t. None of us will. But the truth of the matter is we are all witnesses of happenstance, too.
After all, we had him. And we were lucky.
When someone you love dies, you try to find little signs that they were here and loved you once, and usually this evidence exists in the things they left behind. When I make my coffee in the morning, I always think about Grandpa offering me a cup of coffee whenever I used to visit.
On Granny’s 80th birthday, we were all given tiny, glass bluebird figurines, a memento that watches over me on the shelf as I wash my dishes. When I glance up at the bluebird, I like to think of Granny bustling around in her own kitchen with the floral wallpaper, a place where we all spent so much time growing, loving, and laughing.
It’s been said that grief is love with nowhere to go but I don’t think that’s entirely true anymore. I’m beginning to realize that maybe the leftover love we have for the people who have passed on does have somewhere to go, and that’s because that love never left us.
It lives on within us.
Granny got distracted easily but also loved to pay attention. To everything all at once. She’d notice a little haphazard tree while driving or the flowers someone lovingly planted in front of their home. She saw things just begging to be admired that no one else seemed to care about. So she picked up the slack. She was in awe of the world.
She noticed the good in me, too. And everyone, really. She understood people in a way most others do not.
I know I will never meet anyone like her again either. But I’m lucky I did.
On the day of Grandpa’s funeral, we went back to the yellow house on Ivanhoe that raised our family after the service and the wake. Everything that had been there with us was there. The “BURFORD” mailbox. The Jesus stone statue in the backyard. The floral wallpaper. Everything felt familiar but so very different all at once.
After dinner, Aunt Beth resembled her mother, fumbling with the dishes, and cleaning up the mess we made.
“How can I help?” I asked, even though I realized I was probably 30 minutes too late and the dishwasher was running and most things were back in their proper places. Aunt Beth smirked at me and we laughed.
The Ivanhoe house was sold last summer to a lovely woman and her family. I like to think of the memories they’ll create there. I hope they feel the warmth, too. I pray they’ll sense that everything will be okay, too, and that they are enough as they are.
I think they will. How could they not? They’re at the right place, at the right time.