My Grandpa Norman died a year ago today. My parents kind of suck when it comes to death and I found out by my dad waking me up and saying “Norman died. I’m going out to Long Island with your mother to help plan the funeral right now.” I immediately started crying and my dad rubbed my back and told me he’d be back later. The last time I had seen him was two weeks before, at a hospital in Flushing, Queens (NYC). I was with my mom and even though it had been over a year since I last saw him, he didn’t have dementia THANK GOD and he knew exactly who we were as soon as he woke up and his face lit up and his eyes got big and he immediately belted out in a raspy voice “I love you. I love you. I love you both. I love you. I love you. I love you both so much.” I was already holding back tears because I didn’t want him to see me cry. His impending death became reality to me at that point because he was clearly struggling to tell us he loved us.
He was in pretty bad shape and falling in and out of asleep and waking up randomly to moan in pain over the bedsores he’d acquired at the assisted living facility he lived at for the last 5 or so years of his life. I held his hand during his brief slumbers and once in a while I would feel him try to squeeze my hand and I’d squeeze back. I remember I decided to wear a bright hot pink and white tie-dyed shirt and a pair of jeans that were ripped at the knee because I knew he would think I looked cool and I knew that if that was the last time I’d see him, I’d want to look perfect, in his eyes. I didn’t wear makeup because he never saw me in it (I didn’t start wearing makeup until four years ago). He was always a fun guy, as well as his wife and they both knew my ass would never be caught dead in anything conservative looking or just not worth looking at, which pleased them because my Grandmother mostly only wears reds and animal prints. He told me I looked so beautiful. While my mom was talking to him, she just talked to him like he wasn’t that sick and he was going to get better and she asked him how he was doing and he said “I’m dying, Bev. I’m dying.” My mom said “No, you’re not” and she rubbed the remaining gray hair he had, and I sat in a chair in the room and remembered my mom telling me about how she used to sit behind him on the top of her living room couch as a kid in the house she grew up in, in Jamaica, Queens (where my Grandma still lives) and would just comb and brush his hair forever because it was so thick and luscious. Months before his passing, I noticed the physcial resemblence between him and George Carlin who is by far one of my all-time favorite comedians and I downloaded a clear picture of him to my iPad and showed my Grandpa and asked him if he knew who George Carlin was. He said yes and I told him that he was one of my favorite comedians and that they looked very much alike and he chuckled a little before going back to sleep.
I’m not related to either of my grandfathers (both deceased) biologically. It didn’t click to me that I wouldn’t exist had my grandmothers not ditched their shitty husbands and remarried. Grandpa Norman was Polish and Jewish… it weirded me out as a kid because nobody really explained to me why he was white, unlike the rest of my black/West Indian family. He also had such a strong personality which freaked me out for a couple years, and he would pinch my cheeks and I did not enjoy that haha. I was very reserved and introverted as a baby and a child. But he loved me so much since the day as I was born. I don’t think he legally adopted my mother but he always referred to her as his daughter. I’m not going to get into the gritty details of my mother’s childhood and my Grandma’s first ten or so years in the United States after moving away from Jamaica with my biological grandfather, but I will say that my Grandpa saved my Grandma, my Mother, and my Uncle Jimmy and I will never be thankful enough for what he did for my maternal family.
My Grandma had more kids with my grandpa – my awesome aunt Donna and two equally awesome uncles, Jeffrey and Stephan. Grandma and Grandpa also fostered children, and one of them, Sandy, who I haven’t seen since the mid-90s (she’d been fostered by my grandparents in the 80s but she was always around during her young adulthood) and now lives in California. Sandy hadn’t seen us all in over a decade but arranged to have a ton of gourmet kosher food delivered to my Uncle’s house after the funeral and my Uncle Jeff said “Daddy would have loved this” and that almost made me cry… idk, a Grown Ass Man, almost in his fifties and with a family still referring to his pops as ‘Daddy.” I don’t even call my Father ‘Daddy’ unless I’m trying to be cute and/or I’m about to ask him for something.
I grew up “Catholic” since my mom was Catholic and my dad was Episcopalian and it was a bigger deal to my Grams that my brother and I were Catholic and my dad didn’t give a shit, so my brother and I were baptized Catholic. Though none of the religion was practiced at home and we didn’t go to church since my parents just simply believe in God and Jesus and that’s all that mattered to them, and to me too. But there were some Jewish traditions that my mom picked up from my Grandpa while growing up that eventually got passed onto me. I had no idea where these things came from for years because I didn’t think anything of it and thought they were common practices. But to this day I freak the fuck out when my Dad stores his deli meats in the same bag with the American and Provolone cheeses that we always keep. It drives my mom and I INSANE. Once in elementary school, I slept over at a Jewish classmate’s house and in the morning, my classmate’s mom made blintzes and offered me cereal and other stuff for breakfast, assuming that I didn’t even know what a blintz was. I said “Thats okay, I want cheese blintzes with applesauce” and my classmate’s mom was like “… well, okay then!” I thought blintzes were normal everyday American breakfast foods like wheaties and waffles. And lox with pepper and lemon juice to me is like… the 8th wonder of the world. I’m so glad that I have these traits now, knowing where they came from.
Grandpa LOVED reggae and always danced to Murder She Wrote by Chaka Demus at every Christmas party at their house every year. He embraced our Jaimaican heritage and he loved it. Before he had to have his legs amputated from beneath his knees years ago due to diabetes complications, I was visiting him at the hospital when a bunch of nurses came into the room to re-dress his deteriorating legs. He moaned and almost kind of yelled in pain but he wasn’t mad and crabby about it. After he was all freshly bandaged up, he asked one of the nurses if she was Jamaican and she said “Yes I am” and Grandpa yelled “WOOHOO!!!! So is my wife!!” He was still so crazy about his wife and even though he had just endured a painful process, he had a smile on his face and was still taking in all the good things life had to offer at the moment.
One thing that I absolutely adored about Grandpa was the relationship he had with this horrible cat he had raised since kittenhood. Grandpa had always HATED cats and he and my Grandma always had dogs. One of the things he and I bonded over most was our love for dogs. Anyway, in the 90s, a stray cat had given birth in the garage of their house and for some reason Grandpa took it upon himself to oversee the litter and the mama cat and make sure they were happy and healthy. He brought mama cat and all but one of her kittens – the sociopathic one – to the North Shore Animal League. He and this cat were inseperable. I still think Grandpa didn’t like cats at that point but he had a special bond with this totally insane and really mean kitten-turned-cat (I – well basically anyone who met her was terrified of her until she died). Grandma named the cat ‘Kitty” (she named all her past and future cats Kitty or Kitty-Puss or Kitty-Boy, etc lol) but Kitty didn’t like her. Kitty didn’t like anyone or anything. Except my Grandpa. And Kitty was the only cat that my Grandpa had ever loved. She was very territorial of him and Grandpa spent a lot of time sitting in his favorite armchair in his living room before eventually moving into an assisted living facility, and Kitty always sat on his left knee while he scratched her head. If Daisy, their late Rottweiler came into the living room, Kitty would chase her out while hissing and trying to swat at Daisy and then go back to her perch on Grandpa’s knee like nothing happened while whoever else was in the living room sat in silence, completely stunned. Grandpa would tell Kitty to be nice to Daisy and would resume petting her.
I don’t know exactly what the point of this post is, I guess I’m just finally ready to talk about it after a year and I’m crying more than I did a year ago as I type this. Steve Jobs died the next day and that hit me really hard (I’m an Apple employee) so that week was an all around suckfest. I miss my Grandpa so much and I’m sad he died in pain (I hope he wasn’t conscious at the time… I haven’t asked anyone yet), but he is one of those people who make me feel truly blessed to have ever known. And I didn’t just know him, I was related to him and that makes me one really lucky girl. My existence and life as it is are half because of my non-biological Grandfathers who took care of my Grandmothers and their children when their former husbands bailed. I love and thank both of them every day.
Rest in peace Grandpa, I love you always.