When I was nine my grandmother died during the night. She had suffered a massive stroke six months previous and so her passing was no great surprise. That morning, when my mother told me we needed to talk, I guessed the truth. Mom didn’t cry, she was just very sad. I knew why there were no tears. Nana’s illness had been worse than death. For half a year Nana had laid in bed in the nursing home. She didn’t know who she was, she didn’t even recognize my mother. Everyone knew there was no hope. Mom tried to hide her concerns from me but I could see that she was worried sick about the quality of care at the nursing home and how we were going to pay for it.
I didn’t cry either. I liked my grandmother but I didn’t love her. How could I? Nana never really cared about anyone but herself. “You people are nicer to the dog than you are to me,” she used to say. I know that sounds awful but it’s the truth.
Mom, who worked at the same elementary school that I attended, said that she would stay home for the day but that I should go to school. That was fine by me. I didn’t want to spend the day sitting around the house. I wanted to get out and get active.
At school I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. There was no reason to. As far as I was concerned Nana had died six mouths earlier and, for a boy my age, that was a mighty long time ago. Besides, I didn’t want to be treated differently, I just wanted to be treated the same.
When the bell rang for recess my classmates and I sprang to our feet and ran in joy for the playground. It felt wonderful! It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from me. The long death watch was over and the world was bright and beautiful once more. The dark cloud that had hovered over my family for so long was finely gone and I leapt, and laughed, with delight.
Then I noticed that my teacher was looking at me and she looked very unhappy indeed. “We heard about your grandmother and so the teachers are sending your mother some flowers,” she told me.
“Okay,” I replied and I walked away deeply ashamed of myself. I needed to run and play but that was not what was expected. Someone had died and so I was expected to sit and look miserable. So I just sat quietly on a bench even though I needed to play with my friends.
At some time we all must face the death of a family member, it’s inevitable. But that doesn’t mean that we should all grieve in the same manner. Some people should wear black crape and others should play kickball. This I believe.
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