Loss is difficult. Not just losing a sock, or a game, but more specifically someone passing away. I remember the first time it happened to me in vague shreds of almost unconnected memories. I was 8 when my grandmother from my dad's side passed away. I was young and distracted by anything shiny, and didn't fully realize what it meant.
We wouldn't go visit her anymore. I had never done that very often anyway, as far as I recall, but I do have 4, maybe 5 specific memories of visiting her. I'm told I was at the service, but all I remember is being told that she had died at school, and then I got to leave early. I wasn't sad, just confused. My 8-year old brain couldn't comprehend what exactly had happened.
For a long while after that, everything went well, and I found no reason to acquire any new coping skills. Then, a little over 10 years ago, my grandfather from my mother's side passed. This was different. I had spent a huge amount of my life, consciously, interacting with this man. He meant the world to me. He had been around in World War 2, stuck in a labor camp somewhere in the Czech Republic. I remember a story about how he escaped from that camp in a truck stolen from the German troops.
That was bad-ass.
He nearly died in that camp, twice, due to illness. And that's almost all I know. He didn't talk about it. Sometimes, during Christmas dinners, he'd let slip one or two more details. I'm still convinced it was the lemon schnapps he was drinking that opened him up, but I was just glad to get more of an insight into his history, his mind.
He at one point played in a Hawaiian band, whatever that is, where he played the ukulele. He played football in the first team of a historic Dutch football club called V.U.C.. For some inexplicable reason chosen as the abbreviation of "Voorwaarts Utile Dulci Combinatie", which should by all accounts have been V.U.D.C..
But that's all I know. Other than the familial history, anyway. It was difficult to get to know him beyond the facade, but I tried. And after he died, I felt for years that I hadn't tried hard enough. That I hadn't been a good grandson to him.
There was a void. I couldn't explain why, but birthdays weren't the same anymore. Christmas felt empty. Like the central spindle of the family had been removed and we were all flopping around randomly.
A year later my grandmother died. My mom's mom. His wife.
And though it hurt, it hurt less. Perhaps because it was the two in a one-two punch. Perhaps because I was less close to her. Perhaps because I had grown harder due to getting hurt by something I could do very little with or about. And perhaps it was because with all of my grandparents gone, it brought my parents, my sister and me closer together than ever before.
My grandparents had a lot of trinkets in their house. There was only one I claimed, and would not unclaim.
A small little picture frame with a little piece of art in it. A very blandly painted background of the ocean and the sky, and little cork carvings of a palm tree on an island and a boat in the distance on top of it. It wasn't beautifully crafted. The frame itself was falling apart then. It still is now, as it hangs above my living room door.
But it, to me, was linked to him more than anything. He'd told me it was from Indonesia. I have no idea if that's true.
He did like to joke. Constantly.
Since my grandmother died, others have as well. Sometimes directly connected to me, and sometimes indirectly. The older you get, the more common it gets. Sometimes in ways too frustrating to ever find peace with.
But today, I was confronted with loss again. It wasn't mine, but it impacted someone I do hold very dear. And it made me think back about why I've got a tattoo with the most important losses on my arm.
Because they meant something. And I'm not sure I can explain exactly what, but they did. They had a lasting impact on me, and none of them have faded.
The tattoo is a work in progress. Over time, I'm certain I'll add people to it. A morbid thought, perhaps, but to me it is a sign of respect and remembrance. And it started with my grandfather. More than 10 years ago, in a dream, I had this tattoo. I mulled it over all that time and now it's real.
And while I know I'll never forget him, there was something I realized today, as I walked home.
10 years is a long time. I love him immensely to this day.
But I can't remember what his voice sounds like.
Author's note: I called my parents, remembering that my dad used to film with his handheld camera at family parties. I asked him if he thought my grandfather and grandmother were on those tapes. He said definitely. I offered to do whatever it took to get those tapes digitized and saved from becoming useless. He said he knew someone who could do it, and that all he needed to do was make a call. I told him to do that, and otherwise let me know.
I'll know my grandfather's voice again. And I'll make sure I never forget it again.