It’s been one year. Your grandpa has been gone for an entire year. The last time I saw him, outside of the hospital, was Thanksgiving night 2009. I’d made a turkey and he was the first person to compliment it, declaring it the juiciest bird he’d ever tasted. That night, before sitting down to dinner, he prayed. It was weird because he didn’t usually pray in public. He gave thanks for his family and friends, for his wife’s health, for you. And I love that in the last memory I have of him he was counting his blessings.
Thanksgiving rolled around again this year. We didn’t get together with tons of family and friends. We didn’t even make a turkey… but we counted our blessings.
After your grandpa died, there were moments when I thought we wouldn’t survive the next minute, and now we’ve made it an entire year. And even though it’s been an incredibly difficult year, all of us — your grandma, your uncle Ani, and I — we find something to laugh about every single day. We still dream and trust and love and hope.
A terrible thing happened, a thing that tried to knock us out — it hit us with its best shot — and, by the grace of God, we are still standing.
I’ve been thinking about today for a long time. I always imagined that I would want to write about that day a year ago. About the hospital scene. About the heart-wrenching pain. About the overwhelming despair. It’s all still incredibly vivid, haunting me whenever I close my eyes. But it hasn’t defined me.
When he was in the hospital, I prayed with all my heart for a miracle. Until today, I thought my prayer had gone unanswered.
Surviving this year is the biggest miracle I’ve ever seen.
There’s a character — a teenage boy — in a book I’m reading who lost his father. It’s interesting how much more I notice death in everything now, even fiction. How deeply I am impacted by it. How very clearly I understand it.
Until it shows up to devastate your life, Luki, death is a very abstract concept. At least it was for me.
This character’s father was a poet and there is a lovely part in the book in which the boy says that it makes him happy that poems continue to be referred to in the present tense, even when the poet is in the past. After reading it, I immediately thought of your grandpa. He wasn’t a poet, but there are so many things he left behind that continue to be. So many things that are and that will be, even though he was.
As the anniversary of his death lurks nearer and nearer, one of the many feelings I’m experiencing is disbelief. I can’t believe it’s already been a year. In my life, your grandpa continues to be so present. As if he’d been here yesterday. There’s nothing I do that doesn’t include a vivid memory of him. From the mundane, like peeling garlic or pumping gas, to the essential, like dealing with stress or helping a friend. I constantly ask myself, “What would my father do?” and I always have an answer.
And, like the boy in the book, it makes me happy. I’m still sad and angry and the thought of having to wake up on November 28th makes me sick to my stomach. But I’m also happy. Because there are so many things that still are.
He didn’t write any poems, but he left an encyclopedia of fundamental wisdom in all of our hearts. One that can only be referred to in the present tense.
I promise to show you everything that still is, my boy.
Yesterday was Wednesday. I didn’t write you a letter. I don’t want to give up on this project but writing in November is really hard. Writing in November means that I have to write about November. About last November. And all I really feel like saying about that is a long, capitalized string of curse words. But if you’d come with a manual, I’m pretty sure it would’ve said something like, “do not write child a letter filled with profanity.” So… I don’t know what to say. Except that I’m sad. That last November is tormenting me. That last night I had a dream that your grandpa was working in Vancouver… that’s why he hasn’t been around. AND I BELIEVED IT. And then I woke up and remembered the truth and I felt devastated.
You know what? Whatever, Luki, if you’re reading this then you’re probably old enough for this kind of language: FUCK THIS MONTH.
It’s November. I had no idea it was possible to feel so much disdain for a page on the calendar. I miss your grandpa everyday, but ever since we entered the eleventh month, I miss him painfully.
In a few weeks it will be a year since he died. And I don’t feel any better about it. I think about him every day. I continue to be incredibly angry. I’m still absolutely confused by his death and its meaning. It doesn’t make sense.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I didn’t agree with your grandpa on. The arguments we had. His annoying habits. Sometimes I’d get frustrated with him for talking or laughing too loudly. I’d feel embarrassed by — what I perceived to be — his inappropriate jokes. Sometimes, I’d swiftly kiss or hug him goodbye when I knew he’d prefer it if I lingered. If I rested my head on his shoulder every once in a while. If he could tickle me or sit me on his lap like he did when I was a little girl.
And those simple, insignificant acts of kindness I could have exhibited seem so very significant now. And my embarrassments, frustrations, or whatever else kept me from being the best daughter I could be every single day… those things seem so worthless in hindsight. Because a year without crazy loud laughter and silly jokes has sucked. It has sucked harder than anything I could’ve possibly imagined.
I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about these things lately. I know that, despite all of my flaws, your grandpa gave me the benefit of the doubt. That he found the good in me. Always. I just wish I could have done the same for him.
Maybe that’s the point of this whole thing. My point, at least. The sense I’ve been trying to make for the past year: To find the good. Always.
This is not going to be a real letter. I am in Greensboro for a work conference and it’s 11:40 pm on Wednesday so I don’t have much time to write up a whole narrative about your grandpa. But I want to tell you something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. It’s something your grandpa used to say all the time, but, until he died, I never really understood it.
Here it goes:
There is a solution to everything.
Your grandpa always used to say it when we were stressed out about anything. “In life, there is a solution to everything, except death.”
Death gives you the sharpest kind of perspective, Luki. And, ever since that terrible day in November, every time something is worrying me or stressing me out, I ask myself: “Did any of the people I love just die?” And, when I realize that the answer is “No,” that I’m just fretting about money, or my boss, or the fact that I forgot to defrost the chicken I planned to make for dinner… I feel so much better.
And maybe you won’t understand this until someone you love dies. And I really, really, really wish you didn’t have to go through something like that. But I know you will, because people die. They die all the time.
And it seems like this letter just took a really depressing turn, but that wasn’t my intention. My point is, Luki, that most of the crap life throws your way is no big thing. That you can figure your way out of it. That everything will be alright, no matter how bad it looks. Because people die. People could have died. And when they don’t… well… you should be happy. Even if you’re broke, or in jail, or your girlfriend just left your for your best friend. Even if you got an F on your Economics final, or your car won’t start. Even if you missed your flight or got caught in the rain without an umbrella. It’s no big thing. Because all the people you love are alive. And it’s the people that matter most.
Remember that, always.
My birthday is Sunday and for the first time in my life, I am not that excited. I usually love my birthday. LOVE IT. I celebrate the entire month of October. I send out emails with suggestions for possible presents. And I ask for several festivities in my honor (one with friends, one with family, a dinner, a lunch, a happy hour, etc.). This year, I haven’t done any of that. I’m not sure what’s going, but this is a completely unrecognizable side of me.
Maybe 27 is the age when you stop caring. The age after which you have to stop and think about how old you are when someone asks you. Maybe I’ve reached the point where only the “big” birthdays will matter from now on. You know, 30, 40, etc.
Or maybe it’s because I know that no birthday will ever top the one I had two years ago. The one in which I peed on the stick that announced your arrival. At the time I was way more freaked out than excited, but now, in hindsight, those two pink lines are the best present I could have ever asked for.
But probably it’s because this will be my first birthday without your grandpa. And even though many days have passed since his death, the important days are always the hardest. And the fact that I won’t get an early morning phone call from him on Sunday is incredibly difficult to process. He used to be one of the first people who’d call me. Usually waking me up with his rendition of happy birthday over the phone.
If you look at old pictures of your grandpa, pictures from his wedding day or from when your uncle Ani and I were really small, you’ll notice that he had a big mustache. The night before my 10th birthday I asked him to shave it as my present. I’d never seen him without it and wanted to know what he’d look like. That morning, in my dreamlike state, I could barely recognize the man who woke me up with a birthday cheer. He’d shaved it and his face looked so different! I told him how much I loved his new, clean, fresh look and after that, he never grew it back.
It’s a silly little story, I know. But telling it just now made me realize that your grandpa permanently changed his appearance simply because I asked him to. For my birthday.
And that realization — and its underlying lesson about what it means to be a good parent — makes a pretty good present for my 27th.
An amazing thing happened in the world today. Thirty-three Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for over two months were rescued. One by one, the men were brought up from the depths of the earth and reunited with their families. It’s a wonderful story. A miracle. And every time I saw one of those miners hug his relatives on the surface, I got a bit teary eyed. I am so happy for them and their loved ones.
But also, I must admit, I am a bit jealous. Jealous that their tragedy had a happy ending and our family’s didn’t. That they got the miracle they prayed for and our pleas to God went unanswered. That a simple fall from a simple ladder meant the end for your grandpa while these men, who were put in a much more difficult situation, got a second chance at life.
I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I know it. But envy is one of my biggest flaws, and since your grandpa died, the grass always seems to be greener somewhere else.
I also know this isn’t what he would want. I can’t recall a single time in which your grandpa expressed anything that remotely resembled jealousy. In fact, it was quite the opposite with him. He never saw anything in his own life that he considered unjust, instead, he was constantly consumed by how he could remedy the injustices in the lives of others.
He was so positive. So content. And he would feel such genuine happiness when good things happened to other people. Utter and complete happiness, without a trace of anything else.
In a way, Luki, I’m stuck deep inside a mine of sorts. A mine of sadness and anger and denial. I still have moments throughout the day in which the fact that my father has been gone for almost a year strikes me like a bucket of cold water. In which I feel like screaming and kicking holes into walls. In which I get angry at every old man I see because he is alive and my dad isn’t. Moments in which my happiness over thirty-three incredibly courageous men is marred by an ugly feeling of why them? why not us?
If your grandpa were in a mine with me, I know exactly what he’d tell me. That I should be thankful to have survived. That everything is going to be OK. That, despite the current darkness, the world is filled with light.
And I would believe him.