My dad would have been 75 last week. In some sort of coincidental converging of significant dates, we are also inching towards the 20th anniversary of his passing. His death in 2002 was totally unexpected….there was no early term cancer or other major health issues – just one final popping of his heart, one warm, late summer afternoon . That endlessly surprising week, my sister and brother & I camped out in the living room of his house in the far stretches of Western New York, pouring through boxes of photos & family mementos, writing his obituary. I would wake in the morning on the floor of that well worn area, my body curved towards my sister’s on the couch, almost like a human cocoon. It was like I was trying to protect her, unconsciously in the night – to cradle her from any further, completely unexpected blows. My niece Gabby arrived later in the week, descending breathlessly upon the funeral home with her father & younger brother. There was no one my father and I adored more in the world…each of us fighting to spend as much time with her as possible on those all too rare get togethers between our far flung family members. That evening, I walked with her into the waiting area where we, quietly, looked at all the memorabilia pertaining to my dad’s life – his existence laid out on cork boards and carefully scattered photo albums. There, upon seeing a photo of herself and my father, my dear, dear niece’s chin began to quietly tremble. As her adorably plump cheeks quivered, one single, fat, perfectly formed tear eventually leaked from her left eye. “Grandpa is dead,” she gasped, “and – I – will – never – ever – see – him – again!”
And I, being the kind of uncle who sang her Husker Du songs as lullabies when she was a toddler and tried to engage her in feminist chants during my infrequent stints as a babysitter , said, “Oh no, you’ll see him again, honey! He’ll appear to you when you need him the most. Your great grandmother, dad’s mom, has shown up to talk to me…even on the day of her funeral. So, maybe you’ll even see grandpa this week. But even if you don’t, he’ll be watching over you, always.” Perhaps, thankfully, it didn’t register in her 5 year old mind that her agnostic, punk rock loving uncle was talking to her about ghosts as the dawn leaked away from the sky that twilight gloaming – but I was….& perhaps rightfully so. My niece has grown up to be strong and sure and independent- the product not only of her own fierce will & a strong familial hand… but perhaps also due to the presence of a man who loved her very much and who has been watching over her from some misty, far off plane.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!