Writers don’t always have the right words

Yesterday my grandfather died at the age of 86.

Yesterday I learned of something my grandfather never spoke of, for good reason. Not only had he served in the air force during Vietnam and lost every member of his military class to the war (they chose fighter jets while he chose cargo planes), he spent two years in a POW camp before returning home. He was afraid of finding work when he did because of how people viewed members of the military then. I thought of the book “Unbroken.”

Yesterday I saw my dad cry three times. Afterward, I sat in a brewery and sobbed while the bartenders avoided making eye contact with me.

Yesterday I realized that being close to someone doesn’t mean seeing or talking to them every day, every month or even every year. It doesn’t mean knowing everything about them, only knowing that you love them and that they’ve always loved you.

Yesterday I realized what losing a long-standing member of your family represents for those who still remain. And I came to know the void that is created when a loved one dies, and how nothing anyone says or does can begin to fill it or close it.

* * *

Today I called my grandmother and had to Google “What to say to someone who lost a spouse” before I did. Before that, I called my mom and tried to relay to her the story of my grandfather’s final week, as told by my dad. I jumbled up details and she asked what felt like all the wrong questions. I was angry and upset, and I wanted to hang up.

Today a barista asked me how I was doing. I wanted to tell him that my grandfather had just died, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to ruin his day or end up as a story on his social media.

Today I stood in the shower while the water washed away my tears, thinking that I should write about what I’m feeling. That I should’ve learned more about my grandfather’s life and written about that, too.

As seems to always happen when I think about writing something new, ten different opening lines went through my head. They all sounded trite, just like the words I left on my grandmother’s answering machine a few minutes ago.

Today I looked up my grandmother’s contact info so I could call her, and my grandfather’s popped up, too.

I deleted it.

“Might as well,” I thought. I paused before I did and contemplated sending a farewell letter to his inbox, where it would sit forever unread. That thought made me too sad, so I hit “delete.” His contact info is gone, just like him.


* * *

Writers don’t always have the right words.

I don’t know how to express how I feel right now, or how to express my sincere condolences to my dad and grandmother without sounding like a Hallmark card.

All I know to do is patron my favorite brewery and have a beer in memory of a man who will never be able to read the book I hope to one day write. That thought cuts my heart in half.

All I can keep thinking about is how he used to hide money in his couch cushions before my sisters and I came to visit. He told us to look in there for lost change, as though all couches were filled with quarters and dollar bills. He tickled us as we looked, and we giggled and eagerly navigated around his belly in search of buried treasure. Lost change will forever remind me of him.

I emailed my grandmother yesterday because I wanted her to know that I was thinking of her, but I didn’t want to face what her voice would sound like if I called. In her response she closed with, “Remember the fun times and smile.”

Writers don’t always have the right words, but maybe grandmothers do.


John Kennedy Lawrence

February 1, 1932 — August 18, 2018


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