My dad’s biggest display of emotion toward me took place after Grandpa Country died. After the funeral, family and friends gathered at his mid-century modern home situated on an empty egg and beef farm to pay their respects and have some potato salad. My grandmother had passed a little over nine years before his passing; his second wife was distraught and sitting in the dining room under the Tiffany lamp my grandmother had picked for the family to enjoy. She had endured the passing of three husband.
I went outside and sat on a folding chair in the driveway, looked at the once vibrant barns, and broke down in tears. The home of Gram and Gramps had changed considerably after my grandmother had passed; with Gramps’ passing as well I knew it was just a short amount of time before what I considered to be one of the most beautiful houses in the world would be emptied and someone else would occupy it. That happy story was coming to an end. I was 37 at the time, but it was the heart of one of sixteen grandchildren that was aching. My dad saw his only son break down in tears and he was genuinely concerned. He hugged me voluntarily that day. He said words to me he had never said out loud before.
Just writing that paragraph makes my throat hurt.
As a Gen-X offspring of a baby boomer couple composed of rural farm boy and a city girl, I grew up with the best of both worlds. I’m sure my circumstance is not unique, but most of my classmates came from families that knew each other from the hometown we all grew up in. My mom? She came from outside, “the big city” of Syracuse. My dad? I went to school with the offspring of his married classmates. Some still thought of my mother as an outsider.
My mother expresses emotion at the drop of a hat. Cry, shriek, laugh, yell: she could rattle dishes in the kitchen cabinets of the neighbors across a hay field. I’d known her to breakdown in tears when my father shunned her sloppy joes. Temper? Nah. Exasperation. You betcha. My dad grew up in an environment where there wasn’t much expressed in the way of emotion. I remember hugging my grandmother, his mother, once in 28 years. He took after his mother. Not only was he a man of few words, he didn’t really share his emotion. I fully believe it just wasn’t part of his vocabulary. And that was perfectly fine with me. I got it. His laugh was genuine, but the other stuff was kept inside. We didn’t hug much; I knew very much that he loved me but it wasn’t expressed verbally, and crying was not a thing that guys from his side of the family did. I always figured that Mom’s more emotive side fueled some sort of gay tendency for me to express my emotion. I was different, and my tendency to be expressive in that way was just part of the equation. I can still remember leaving his home after a family dinner, my husband in tow, and Dad saying “I love you son” and me breaking down in tears on the front porch and then my husband crying as well because he knew that was a rarity. I figured my dad liked the guy that became my husband after all. Hearing him say that he loved me, well, that just blew my mind. It was always just a given.
With social media and the like it’s common to read about the passing of relatives of friends. This is just a part of the cycle of life. While I do choke back tears from time to time, I don’t really feel the need to wail or carry on when someone passes. I don’t know if it’s because of the way I’m wired or what, but I can vividly see the person that has passed moving on to the next step in their existence and being very happy. When my father-in-law passed, I had very vivid visions of him happy and holding his first wife’s hand for the first time in a long time. This didn’t negate his relationship with his second wife; there’s enough love to go around. It’s just that he was with his first wife again and blissfully happy to see her for the first time in a long while. I can see it as plain as day.
On Facebook I’m friends with the officiant that was part of our wedding and recently her Mom passed. She asked for no expressions of remorse or “thoughts and prayers” or messages of condolences. She asked for posts of happiness and celebration. She believes as I do; the passing of a human being is just movement from one phase of existence to the next.
When I die I hope people laugh and have pleasant memories and say, “he was such a joy to be around”. I don’t want people wailing and crying and having dark thoughts or sadness. I’ll forgive loneliness. But I believe my passing will be just moving on to the next stage of my total experience. I have absolutely no doubt that my spirit, who I am, will move on to something better, something joyful. I believe that happens to all of us. It’s a moment to be celebrated. So, if you’re a reader of this blog and my husband posts something about my death, take a moment to smile. And hug someone you love.
How you choose to express yourself, own it.