My grandfather died. This past weekend we had his wake and funeral. It was my mom’s dad.
I got the phone call from my dad while I was at work. You know when your parents are calling you at 10 AM on a weekday that it is never going to be good things. At first it was shock, and then immediately my thoughts went to my mom and how she was doing. I heard her in the background say that she is doing fine. An obvious lie, but one I would never dare call her out on.
I went on my day at work. It was a busy day at the office and the Barstool company party was that night so everyone was trying to get their stuff done as early as possible. I burrowed my head in work. I am who I am.
Was I upset that my grandfather passed away? Yes, of course. It was sudden. He had been battling health problems for years, but never did anyone expect him to go out as fast as he did. Did it cast a cloud on me, my day and my attitude? Without a doubt.
I really do not want to make this comparison because it reminds me of the terrible movie, but the way I grieved my grandfather passing (and really handle all emotional moments) is very comparable to the song “The Anonymous Ones” performed by Amandla Stenberg in Dear Evan Hansen. Those who know me best know I have gone through some mental health stuff (just as many others have, not saying I am special) and I really enjoy suffering in silence until I can not help it anymore. I tend to hold everything in and hopefully create a dormant volcano. I do my best not to erupt.
The issue with dealing with my emotions this way is that I give off an air of not caring as much. With my grandfather’s passing, I myself busy and forced myself not to think about it. The majority of my family dealt with this heartbreak differently. They were upset, and openly so. My cousin Mike called me to check in on how I was doing, and I felt like the biggest asshole on the planet when I began talking to him.
My cousin Mike is a statue. He is one of the most grounded and even-keeled people I know. Never too amped and not too disappointed. However, with the passing of my grandfather, I could just tell from three minutes of talking that he was devastated, and rightfully so. My grandfather was like a third father to him. Mike, and his sisters, and his mom, have gone through more family heartbreak than anyone should endure, and the consistent presence in their life throughout all the sadness were both my grandparents. Now one of them is gone. Not that Mike needs a safety net, but it is impossible not to feel like have that net became untwined.
I felt like the biggest jerk. It was the hardest thing for me to try and live with the fact that my way of processing this loss made me seem like a robot. Did people think I didn’t care? Did people judge me for how I felt? Very well so, and that is something I have to deal with. I thank my girlfriend for understanding me an letting me express these things to her, but I am not the type to call up someone and explain this all in depth.
That is why I am writing now.
I finally did lose it the day of the funeral. It was not the church service itself, the prayers, or the speeches. What made me break down was realizing and seeing everyone who came to support my family, especially my mom, my grandma, and my cousins. I saw parents of my old middle school friends show their support. I saw parents of old high school friends come to the wake and donate their time to talk to my mom just about every day life. I saw my mom’s Boston College friends (who live in Boston) among the crowd at the church and stay in Southbury all day to be a presence of normality. I saw my girlfriend’s mom, who never met my grandfather, be there and judge the church’s singer along with Emma and I. I saw five of my cousin Mike’s best friends all arrive together and put an immediate smile on his face.
What broke me was seeing the support for the people I love. Not for me, but for those who would never admit they needed it, but truly did appreciate it. These friends and family who come from near and far often know best what someone grieving needs, and that is to be themselves and remind the one’s they care about that while life will be different, it won’t be all bad.
Now cut to my mom and the perfect amount of comic relief.
We are at the cemetery putting my grandfather to rest. The priest is going through his procedure and he gets to the point of the process where he asks the family to please spread the dirt for Ireland over his urn. I learned on this day that this was a tradition in Irish funerals. My aunt is opening up the jar of dirt (yes, insert the Pirates Of The Caribbean GIF) and gradually my grandma, uncles and aunts step up to grab the dirt.
My mom and my father as the last two, and my aunt holding the soil asks if they would grab the dirt. She gestures the dirt toward them. My mom, in absolutely classic Mama Stanko fashion, says: “No, it’s just dirt.”
I can not tell you how funny this moment was. I am standing right behind my parents, and I can not help by bend my knees and start laughing. My girlfriend is also smiling and chuckling while holding onto my arm. I look around at my sisters and they all have smiles on their faces as well. It was the perfect bit of comic relief, and it is the perfect encapsulation of who my mom is. She is a no nonsense, logical thinker. She will choose the straightest route whenever she can. My mom stayed so true to herself in what is arguably one of the saddest moments of her entire life. By her being herself and simply noting that it is just “dirt”, she was everything I needed and love.
My mom and I are similar in a lot of ways. One of those ways is that we avoid emotions like they are the plague. Yes, we feel love, Yes, we know what feelings feel like. But when it comes to showing emotion, public displays of affection or personal vulnerability, we throw up the darkest tinted windows so nobody can see it. Both my mom and I love to keep ourselves busy for as long as possible to disguise ourselves from revealing the way we are really feeling.
There are sometimes cracks in the visage over this weekend of sadness. Anyone, especially my mom, deserve to cry and be vulnerable whenever they want. It is truly remarkable how different people grief and how they cope with stuff. Both my mom and I tend to bury our emotions deep and cover them up with tasks, over-friendly small talk and being as rational and logistical as possible. There is some sort of connection I can make here between my mom joking about putting dirt on her dad’s earn and her burying her emotions but I am not going to jump through a few loops holes to get it there.
What I am going to remember most about the weekend aren’t going to be the tears or the sorrows. It is going to be memories like the one my mom engraved in my head. My mom and her dirt comment will be a running joke for the rest of my life. My cousin impersonating my mom’s busy walk with elbow-out precession. My girlfriend and I looking at one another and immediately mouthing “phrasing” during part of the church service. Me knowing that my girlfriend and her mom were critiquing the choir singer. My dad forgetting his suit jacket and then breaking his winter jacket over the course of the afternoon. The way our families could give guided tours of Woodbury and Southbury. There are so many positive things to recall.
Everyone in my family had a different relationship with my grandfather. Everyone can point to a few moments from their relationships with him. For me, I have three stories. I promise, I will be short.
The first one is from when I was at my youngest. We were at the home he built in Southbury and my grandfather promises my cousin Mike and I that there was a secret Native American graveyard somewhere near the residence. The three of us go into the woods for what we expect to be a short trip. Safe to say…it does not end up like that. We are in the woods for hours, walking into random yards of people we don’t know. Eventually we climb over a fence into an open grassy plain. Off in the distance of this at least two-acre lot are some animals. There are llamas. These beasts begin walking towards us, and then they begin trotting. The only thing i know about llama’s are that they spit at you, and I could swear that some but of saliva went wizzing by my ear at the speed of sound. My cousin and I are gathering ourselves and looking for where to go. We turn around and see our grandfather running down a trail in the woods. He had already hopped the fence and was letting us taste his dust. I had to be tossed over the fence by my cousin and he climbed over and landed on his feet just as the llamas reached the gates. In my mind at that time I was sure that these llamas were rabid. I still don’t know whose llama’s they are, but I do know I still don’t love llamas at petting zoos.
This second story is not necessarily a happy one. It is a story where I learned a tough lesson and also discovered an inspiration source for me. The family was all in the living room at my grandparent’s in Florida. Everyone is talking about colleges, as I am just in the midst of my freshman year and my sisters were beginning to look. My grandfather loved the college process and he took pride at being involved. My grandfather went around the room and asked where my sisters were going or where they wanted to go. To that he said, “well at least we know three of the kids will go to good schools.” I took this as a direct shot and based off the reaction of my mom, it was that. I went steaming into the bathroom and threw a hissy fit. In this moment I didn’t know how to handle hearing something I didn’t want to. It is something I had to learn and had to deal with. Also, this was one of major chip on my shoulders that got my ass into gear in college. I learned then and there I thrive in an underdog roll. This story is not a happy one, but an important one. Even in a moment where I didn’t like him very much, my grandfather still played a major part in my life.
We are going to wrap it up here with the this last story. The one that encapsulated him best. I am visiting colleges and I have taken my grandparents to Iona College, which is where I obviously went to school. I have given them the grand tour and now we are entering the atrium of La Penta looking for the book store. It is at this moment I made one of the most fatal flaws of my life. I said, to my grandfather…”Please Grandpa, just don’t embarrass me.” I mean how stupid could I be? How did I think that was a good idea? My grandfather has the biggest grin on this face. He is gleaming from ear-to-ear for the first chance to accomplish exactly what I told him not to do. It does not take long. My grandfather goes directly up to the front desk, which happens to be manned by a pretty college girl. My grandfather asked this student if she would be my friend because I was a lonely person with no friends at all. He is doing the classic grandad lean on the desk with one elbow up and the other arm pointed directly at me making sure the student remembered who I was. I was mortified. I was experiencing cringe comedy and that is my worst nightmare. My grandfather however, he was loving every minute of it. This was a story I could never live down, and one that my grandfather would remember forever.
My grandfather loved to tease, ridicule and poke fun. He would do it with a smile that would make you want to play along. He accomplished a lot. He made tangible change. But my grandfather’s biggest success was the gregarious legacy. Everyone has a memory they want to remember forever with Michael Kenney. That is crowning achievement. That is who he is and who he will be for everyone who remembers him.
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