"Grampi"


A picture of my mother, grandmother, Grampi, and I


Something unusual happens sometimes when a close loved one dies. Before the occurance, its as if one possesses psychic capabilities....s/he senses what is going to happen, or what has happened even though s/he has not been informed. One has a dream, or feels a chill, or a strong feeling that something terrible has occurred. That is what happened to me the night my grandfather died. It was the night of March 16, 1984. I had a beautiful dream, of my grandfather in white with angels surrounding him. I awoke at 11:35pm and knew my grandfather was gone. I shook my sister in the bed next to mine, and found myself whispering, "Colleen, wake up. Grampi is dead." Then I heard the phone in the kitchen ring. My mother had been awakened before by an eerie sound she described "like thunder", and she had instantly known what happened. The phone had startled her. She ran into the kitchen to answer the phone, and almost immediately she was sobbing. I went out into the kitchen with my sister holding my hand. We were frightened, and our mother had confirmed our dreaded feeling. Our Grandfather was dead.

My grandfather was in the hospital at the time of his death. He had his third heart attack at 63, and had seemed to be recovering before he died in his sleep. He had called my mother in Rhode Island (my sister and I were at the movies seeing "Splash" with our father) at 7:15pm, and my mother told us later, when we got home, that our grandfather seemed to have miraculously recovered. That was unusual since he was in critical condition just the night before. My mother was so happy and said she thought he had never been so talkative or vibrant in his life. He told her that everything was going to be ok, but also said that if anything did happen to him, he wanted she, my sister, and I to move to Massachusetts and live with my grandmother (which we eventually did). He did not want his wife to be alone for the rest of her life.

After my mother found out that my grandfather had died, she was a wreck. My sister and I were not, because we had not quite grasped the full concept of death at nine years old. We watched our mother in amazement, as she took a garbage bag and threw in literally all the clothes we owned, while all the time racked with sobs. She had called our next door neighbor, Bertha, and old woman who served as her confidant for many years. She was the only woman who seemed to be able to make my mother feel better when bad things happened, and my sister and I were relieved that she was there to offer moral support. It was a difficult task for her to help us pack, and help my mother regain her sanity. My sister and I, with our pajamas still on, were piled into my mother's gold Ford Mustang, with the garbage bag full of clothes. It was a very quiet night - even Bertha had said hardly a word, as opposed to her usual loud voice giving my mother wise advice or reprimanding her for not following it. During the long ride to my grandmother's house, my mother had acted like my sister and I did not exist -- she drove as if in a trance. Colleen and I were scared. We nestled in the back seat, not knowing what to expect when we reached our destination in Melrose Massachusetts.

The next few days at my Grandmother's house were confusing to my sister and I. Even though my grandmother was scared and did not know what she was going to do without her husband, she somehow managed to maintain her composure. The days with her were filled with things neither my sister nor I could really participate in. One vivid memory that I have of those days is when my grandmother, aunt, and mother were sitting at the kitchen table looking at a catalogue to choose a casket for the funeral. I heard my grandmother ask, "which one do you think we should get?". Wanting so badly to be a part of something, I volunteered-- "the cheapest one you can find." I suddenly realized that the frugality my mother had always taught me at the grocery store didn't quite work in this case. All I can remember from that moment is everyone at the table looking at me with their eyes peering and their mouths dropped wide open in shock from what I had just said. My grandmother squeezed my hand and said that she knew I was just trying to help. I didn't fully understand what I had done wrong.

My grandfather's funeral was on a dreary Sunday morning. Before we left the house, my aunt took Colleen and I aside and calmly told us what we could expect at the funeral. She said that we would see our grandfather lying in the casket with his eyes closed, and he would appear asleep. But he was not actually asleep, and would not see him again. Our grandfather as we knew him was already in heaven with the angels, and all that we would see at his funeral was an empty shell. Before she told us, I had no idea to what to expect, and was thankful for her warning. But that still did not quite prepare me. When we arrived at the funeral home, I examined the room and suddenly became awakened to death. I finally fully understood what death meant....it meant my grandfather was never coming back. He was gone forever. He was lying in the open light blue casket, with white velvet lining, and he was wearing a black suit -- something he never wore. I found myself thinking during the funeral that he should have been wearing his blue flannel shirt, which he always wore. When the funeral had ended, everyone walked over to the casket to kiss my grandfather. To this day I still regret that I never kissed him goodbye. Even his two daughters from a previous marriage, who had not talked to him in fifteen years, kissed him goodbye. I felt very guilty - after all, I was his "pal" (as he called me). A few days after the funeral, my family went to Higgins Beach in Maine, where we had once spent a beautiful summer, and we scattered his ashes in the ocean. That was one of the requests in his Will -- he wanted his ashes to be scattered in Higgins Beach or on the street where he was born. The day we scattered his ashes was a beautiful bright and sunny day. I had not been to that beach since the summer my sister and I had gone there with our grandparents, and the air was filled with memories from the wonderful time we had there.

I still remember little things about my grandfather. He always reminded me of Archie Bunker from "All in the Family", which was his favorite show. My grandfather was very set in his ways, and very old fashioned. My sister was always afraid of him because he was a big guy. He was at least six feet tall, and looked like he could really harm someone. But my grandfather was a very gentle person, loved animals, and his family. He and I had always sat together at the dinner table, and once in a while I would lay my head on his shoulders. We would make up silly songs together, and he would stick up for me when I wouldn't eat all of my dinner but wanted dessert. He would say to my mother, "When you're full, you're full", and let me have ice cream. I was his "pal". At his request I would draw pictures of Snoopy and Charlie Brown (my grandfather loved the Peanuts comics) -- but I always felt guilty because his most favorite character was Linus, who I could not draw.

My Grandfather cared for my sister, my mother and I, and made sure we did not go without. My mother was unemployed and divorced, and it was difficult for her to put food on the table. My Grandfather would help us, and would always buy us new shoes or clothes when we needed them. He was a very caring man. That is what I remember most vividly about him - his kindness and generosity. He never made very much money, he was only a janitor at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Boston. But Joseph Reil provided for his family in the best way that he could.

Even though it has been nine years since my grandfather passed away, he is still a significant part of my life. He set my morals, and taught me about love, kindness, and the importance of family. I feel him with me in spirit during the important times of my life, and I will never forget him.

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