When My Grandfather Died

I remember sitting on the swing on the front porch of my grandparents home. It was in a town most of you have never heard of. Lucedale, Mississippi. My grandfather had died, and we had traveled from Virginia Beach to Lucedale, for the funeral.

I sat on the swing for hours. Alone. Everyone left me there, because they knew that’s who I was.

I remember my cousin, Reba. Who eventually sat down on the swing, next to me. We didn’t talk, or anything else. We just sat there. I kept the swing moving, slowly, back and forth, over a short distance.

I was never able to tell her, or anyone, what I was feeling. What I was thinking.

I’d done what I had to do to cope with everything. My grandfather’s passing. The ocean of people visiting, speaking with my grandmother, paying their respects.

No one knew at that time, I’m an autistic. We only knew I was a little different, a little off.

I remember Reba spoke to me, briefly, about my being on the swing. I was never able to explain why. Now, after all the decades, I can finally find the words.

I couldn’t stay in the house. Where all the people were. I couldn’t be social. I couldn’t make small talk, and share stories of my grandfather. Inside the house, all I could do was stand next to the casket, and feel numb, and empty, like I’d endured a great loss.

I couldn’t scream at everyone, about how they were being so calm, so cold, so uncaring. How they were continuing with life, as if nothing had happened.

I couldn’t run away. Couldn’t hide. Couldn’t escape. That would have been wrong. Everyone would have talked about how I didn’t care, and wasn’t there to support my grandmother. How I wasn’t being part of the family.

I sat on the swing. And kept it swinging. For hours.

I didn’t know what to feel. Relief that my grandfather’s endless trips to the hospital were finally over. Tears for my mother, her sisters, and my grandmother, because he was gone. Anger and rage at the universe because I’d never get to speak with him again. So many emotions. So many feelings. And I had no way to deal with them. They were an ocean, with endless waves, cresting, and pounding me into the sand beneath my feet, as they tried to drown me.

I had no way to talk with anyone. I had no words. No way to say what I was feeling. No way to describe the colors I saw. The people I saw. The expressions on their faces. Words had stopped working. All I had in my head were pictures. Images. Colors. Like a movie that keeps playing, and you can’t turn it off. Even if you turn off the television, the movie keeps playing on its screen.

I was overwhelmed. Overloaded. Non-functional. I know that now. Then, all I knew was I did what I had to do to get through everything alive, and cause as little chaos as I could.

I was silenced.

I’d hidden from the world, sitting on that swing, off to the side. There, but not there. Within reach, but a thousand light years away. Ready to respond, to move, to speak, to help, in any way I could, but hidden from everyone, in another world, trying to remember how to breathe, and desperately trying to understand any of what I felt.

Now, all the decades later, I still can’t explain what I felt. I still can’t describe the thoughts in my head, on that night. I don’t know that I will ever be able to. I’m not good with my emotions. I never have been. I know that I felt things. Too many things. And I wasn’t able to deal with them, so I pushed them aside, to deal with them gradually, over time.

I never told Reba how much her presence on the swing kept me there, at the house, in that place. She anchored me to the reality of what was happening. She gave me a way to make it through the chaos. Helped me find a way to cope with what I was feeling, at least well enough to be there, to be part of the family.

I don’t remember the people who were there. I don’t remember the words they spoke to me. I don’t remember whose hand I shook, whose smile I saw, whose words of sympathy I heard. It’s all chaos, noise. I was overwhelmed, and overloaded. My brain cells, my mind, my self, could not keep up with the amount of information I had to process.

But I can never forget saying goodbye to my Grandfather.

And I can never forget sitting on that swing, next to my cousin, Reba, wondering if she knew, somehow, her presence gave me what I needed to hang on, and stay there.

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