I couldn’t sleep. When the phone rang at 5:34 a.m., I answered without speaking. “I miss you. Can we talk more?” my cousin Cat asked.
“Is he still with us?” I asked.
“He left us 20 minutes ago,” she said.
“Oh, Cat. I didn’t know,” I said.
My grandpa, Boompa, died. My dreams always take place at Boompa’s, more family heirloom than house, the century-old Victorian located on Fourth Street in Platte City was built and owned only by family. It’s the safest, steadiest place I can imagine.
Marriages end, families move, but his house pretty much stayed the same.
I fell to the floor and have stayed in the merciless grips of undignified grief. I weep openly; I swear; I pound my fist against the floor.
I don’t believe in God, but I still expected some sort of sign — a screech owl or black cat — that he’d let me know he was leaving. I think being an atheist makes death harder for me because it’s over. I won’t see him again.
This is not my first encounter with death. Boompa was the last of my grandparents to go. A woman I describe as “my second mother” died unexpectedly in 2009. In 2010, I joined the ranks of the clean and sober, a club of periodic loss.
Friends die to suicide and overdose.
I know the cloaked figure Death. I know the drill. It’s a three-day affair, tops. Receiving line, brunch and booze (chocolate for me), wearing Sunday’s best and feeling the worst.
Boompa is more than courteous words said after a family member dies. Yes, loving, kind, philanthropic. Mostly, he was my father figure.
Boompa taught me how to dance, how to fish. He made sure I wrote thank you cards and reinforced the tricky lessons I shrugged off from my mother. We shared frequent phone calls and inside jokes.
Boompa lost “Geega”, my grandmother Sue, after four decades of marriage to breast cancer. Although he remarried another widow, he still called out for Sue in his sleep.
Till death do us part, he taught me how to love.
When I dropped out of college, he said, “Well, that’s just fine. School isn’t for everyone.” When I went back, he congratulated me and said he knew I was bright enough to get a degree.
He was my Atticus, I was Scout. He always told me not to worry; it was not time to worry.
When someone like Boompa, J. Wells Hull, dies, people don’t cry.
An 85-year-old “pillar of the business community,” reported the local newspaper, he fought cancer for five years and heart disease for over 20. People say things like, “Oh, he’s with Sue now,” or, “We should celebrate the joy of his life.”
But, I’m grieving. I’ve gone to war, as a selfish, petulant child. I feel orphaned.
After the funeral, distant family members looked through the upstairs of his house like it was a museum. Books three times my age were being handled by grade school children. I felt violated, they weren’t being careful enough with my memories.
I returned to Indiana hoping I’d survived the bulk of it, but I still pull my shirt over my tear-brimmed eyes during class. I miss him so much.
On Thanksgiving, I called his voicemail over again. I’ve spent hours trying to describe the feel of his hands.
I never expected to grieve like Izzy Stevens for Denny Duquette in “Grey’s Anatomy” when she resolved, from a bathroom floor in a ball gown, “We are sitting Shiva for Denny.”
Maybe, if I lost a lover or my brother, but now every moment feels like I’m further away from him. I’m afraid I’ll lose him to time, or a crisis, a more pressing priority.
So I insist I’ve gone to war.
I’m heartbroken and the consensus is that I am overreacting. I put a rose atop his casket and told my brother, “I am so angry.”
I now know what inconsolable means.
I am not ready. I haven’t found peace. I am not enlightened. My only comfort is that he is no longer in pain.
I know this isn’t forever. I know I’m so lucky to have had a man like Boompa in my life. I know taking time to grieve is a luxury few have. I know the world is still turning. I know I could stand to gain perspective.
People rattle off clichés, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” But, I’ve gone to war. I am sunk in the trenches of grief.
Laura Arwood is the granddaughter of Wells Hull. She is currently a senior journalism major at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. and works on the The Daily News, the university’s newspaper, as a staff reporter.