I don’t know how to tell this story in a way that only describes my portion of it. This situation, as is the case with most families, is inextricably linked and messy. I don’t know that I can tell my piece without inadvertently telling some one else’s. But this is my attempt.
In August of 2010, when I was 14 years old, my dad told me that I had a half brother. It’s this whole weird story where he took me on a trip to the outlet malls, and before we even got there he told me about my brother and I was like… “Um, I really don’t feel like shopping now?” I believe my exact, 14 year old words were, “This is some General Hospital shit.”
I knew it was a secret. I was definitely not supposed to tell my younger siblings, because my dad was going to do that in his own time. So being the 14 year old asshole I was, when my 10th grade English teacher asked us to write about a moment when we were forced to grow up, I wrote about that. And then I shared it with the entire class.
Sunday, January 13th, at 11 pm, my Grandma Rose died. My dad, brother, Eli, and I had actually gone up to visit her that very day, and she had slept the whole time and barely responded when anyone spoke to her. I told her she was a badass, and to give me a sign or something one day. On the drive home I was absolutely sure that she would be gone by the next morning at the latest. I went to sleep as early as I could, but jolted awake at 11 pm and checked my phone, sure that a text message or call had come through with the news. No such text had come, so I rolled over and back to sleep. I ended up missing all of my Dad’s calls at midnight.
The next morning we began the process of planning and arranging. I decided to take my four days off from work starting Tuesday, since the calling hours would be Thursday and the funeral Friday. I barely made it through work Monday. I messaged Nick, the aforementioned long-lost brother, who I had gotten in touch with in 2012, to let him know. The next day I found out he would be coming to the funeral. I’m not going to lie to you, because we don’t do that here on this blog. My first thought was, “FUCK. This is a LOT.” I mean, losing my Grandma was big enough, but to add on to that meeting my brother for the first time? I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t prepared for that.
On Thursday, I was anxious. My dad didn’t leave early enough. We got to the calling hours exactly as it was starting, and I hadn’t eaten lunch or gathered myself together in any way, and I was anxious. I spent the first half hour of the calling hours upstairs in the private lounge, eating crackers and cheese and baby carrots, and feeling like a freak. When I joined my cousins in the corner of the room, I mellowed. We were together, and though my Grandma lay in the open casket 10 feet away from us, we were having fun. We didn’t cry. We didn’t really talk about it. We got to know each other again. We caught up. New boyfriends met old boyfriends. They bonded. An hour in, someone whispered, “Nick is here.” My heart stopped. My brother Ryan disappeared. They walked in together, and I immediately got up. Let me tell you, it was some Hallmark shit. I barely said hi, just walked over, hugged him and cried. Everyone around us seemed to be crying too. While I will admit that it was a little weird to be meeting him in front of an entire peanut gallery, I’m not at all mad about the way that it happened. It was time.
Everyone made these little comments about how it was my Grandma bringing us all together again. And technically, that is true. We were at her funeral, after all. But I honestly think it was just time. Meeting him and figuring this shit out was on my to-do list for the year anyway. 2019 just sped it right up.
I’m not sure how to talk about Thursday and Friday as a whole. How weird it was that all day at the calling hours, it was like we were just catching up, but when it was time to leave the reality sunk in. How my Grandfather cried and said, “Well Rose, I guess this is the last time we’ll see each other,” and talked at length for many minutes, not wanting, or knowing how, to say goodbye. How we all held hands and prayed and cried and said goodbye. How I held my older brother’s hand while we all bowed our heads and cried. How my Grandpa fell asleep during the family prayer and his brother-in-law had to knock him awake. How on Friday, Nick sat with us at the funeral. How the funeral was way too long and I was so hungry and also felt like I couldn’t feel the whole time because I was surrounded by people and I really don’t know how to process my feelings around 35 other people who all want to talk about “what I’m doing.” I’m here at my Grandma’s funeral, and my long lost brother is here next to me. That’s what the fuck I’m doing. That’s all I know. How, after a quick nap and a few hands of rummy with Eli, I was ready to hang out with everyone again. How it was a lot to have my brother there, and to feel like I couldn’t step away from all of these people I never see, including him, because that was all the time we would have for the foreseeable future. How that made me sad. How that made me mad. How scared I was. How fun it was. How I felt like I was ignoring Eli because I couldn’t pay attention to everyone at once. How my brother and my Dad talked. How my Mom felt alone, because she wasn’t able to make it, though she deeply, deeply wanted and was motivated to.
Those two days were wonderful. I’m glad that I’m home, because I’m an introvert and now I’m fully able to process and feel the loss of my Grandma. And I hate that I’m home, because those few days were such a gift. I didn’t know how I was going to feel when I met my brother. I thought, as my brother Ryan said, that it would feel like meeting a complete stranger. But it did not. I looked at him, and I saw in his face a part of myself that I didn’t know I was missing. I know that’s melodramatic, but this whole damn thing is melodramatic in itself. I looked at him, and felt the way I believe only new parents feel. I don’t know you, but I love you. It’s not entirely like that either, because there’s this missing. This -Oh, I’ve been waiting for you and I didn’t even know it- feeling.
The simplest thing I can say is that I lost my Grandma and gained someone new to love. The complicated expansion of that is that meeting new people is hard for me. Realizing the expanse of time and life between us, all of the what if’s and regrets between us, is hard. Losing her is hard. I wish we could’ve all done this sooner, and I mourn that. I mourn her, and what could’ve been with my siblings sooner. But I also know that it happened at exactly the right time. I’m trying to move forward with what I know, rather than dwell on what I don’t.
Going back to work feels absolutely insurmountable. How do you face people you see every day and say, “Hey. Can you take it easy on me? I’ve been completely changed by the events of the last week.” Because I have. I guess Italians really do go big or go home. Essentially, I’m trying to deal with what I’ve learned and experienced in the last week.
The morning after my Grandma died, I sobbed on the phone to Eli. “I’m so scared.” Scared of the depression returning in the wake of these events. I still am, even though I know it isn’t logical. But I think the reason I did not handle the last death in my life so well, was that I thought I could walk away from it unchanged. The change was happening within me anyway, and I wasn’t acknowledging it, so it came out in a deep, unknowable depression. The difference now is that I know that I am changed. Profoundly so. I’m not trying to force myself to feel anything. Right now I feel like a stuffed mushroom, due to a lovely head cold. But 2019 Fran is staying present, right? So we’re just gonna feel our feelings. Even if that means I gotta feel like a stuffed mushroom for a week.