My grandparents on my father’s side lived in a small green house on Clement Street. My grandfather was a tall thin man with smoky white hair in a comb over and my grandmother was a small thin woman with twinkling blue eyes. They were a loud pair, always laughing, dancing, and making fun of each other.
I remember once, when Lily was just a little baby, Granddad had picked me up and took me to the park. It must have been some time in the summer, because I can remember being very warm, and the sun shone so brightly that Granddad took off his sunglasses and gave them to me. They were too big; they kept drooping down, and I had to hold onto them with one hand, while I clutched Granddad’s hand with the other.
He walked around on the neatly paved sidewalk and showed me all the flowers. There were orange ones and white ones and a few red ones, but Granddad stopped me when we passed some purple ones, shaped like funnels turned on the side.
He knelt down and I stared into a pair of kind brown eyes. “See here Pet, these flowers are called Petunias.”
I looked up at him in wonderment. “But Granddad, that’s my name!”
He gave a great laugh. “Yes, I do believe it is. But I wouldn’t mind sharing a name with such a pretty flower, would you?”
I looked into the deep purple inside and said, “I guess not, they’re pretty…”
I looked into the flower again. It was such a deep, deep purple on the inside. I touched the petals, they were velvety soft. “Granddad, you know what?” He looked at me, “What?”
I turned back and fingered the velvety petals. “I think these are my favoritest flowers in the whole park!”
He gave me a warm smile and knelt down to whisper in my ear, “I think they’re my favorites too.”
There is nothing more frightening than seeing your father cry. Nothing. You know that when that happens, something is very wrong with the world, because in all honesty, Dad never cries, he’s the one that holds you when you cry, it shouldn’t be the other way around.
It started with a phone call at around noon. We were planning a welcome home party for Lily who was coming back in a week. We were all laughing and happy, but then that dratted phone rang, and Granny’s friend Florence told my father that Granddad had died.
Dad had answered the phone, Mum and I didn’t know what was being said, we only saw his face get very straight, very flat, before he blinked and started to cry. I had never been so frightened.
He wanted to talk to Granny, he kept asking Florence for his mother, but she wouldn’t put her on. Mum and I still didn’t know what was going on but we went closer to Dad, just to touch him, to let him know we were still there. And Dad kept asking for his mother. When a grown man is crying and begging for his mother, you know there is something bad in the world, and you feel very afraid.
Mum pried the phone from Dad’s fingers and talked to Florence. I put my ear closer so I could hear. I heard her speak the words, but I couldn’t believe. Granddad’s dead…
And I was in shock; I stood there feeling very cold. Who was going to tell me old war stories? Who was going to pull a coin out of my ear every time I went to visit? Who was going to forget that I was almost fifteen, and still treat me like a little girl?
Mum held Dad tightly, but all I could do was stand in shock and let the tears roll down slowly, pattering on my hand.
We spared Lily an extra day. We wrote to her the next day, and she came home a day after that. By the time she got home, we had all calmed down enough to comfort her, calmed down enough to eat, calmed down enough to sleep. But Lily cried, and cried, and cried. I’m glad we spared her that extra day.
Granny came to live with us. She saw how badly Lily was taking it, and how calm the rest of us seemed compared to her. She took it in great strides to be strong for Lily, giving her watery smiles, holding her close, patting her head, and saying it would be okay.
Granny moved into Lily’s room, and Lily moved into mine. Lily would cry at night, I knew she was dreaming about all the times she spent with Granddad, and I knew that when she woke up she wouldn’t even realize she had been crying. I would sit on the edge of her bed, patting her red hair, not daring to wake her, but too afraid to go to sleep myself.
Granny cried too, but hid it when Lily was around.
We had the funeral. There was cake. There was a eulogy. World War I was mentioned, Granny was mentioned, and Dad, Lily and I were mentioned. There was crying and a few watery laughs.
And that was the funeral.
We got better over the summer, all of us I thought. And when Lily went back to school I thought we’d be okay. But Granny wasn’t.
She had known Granddad all her life, they had been next-door neighbors as children, he had been her best friend. They grew up, Granddad went to the Great War, and Granny became a nurse. They met each other again, somewhere in a war hospital. When the war was over, they both went to visit their families. There was a small welcome home party. They met again, and this time Granddad went on one knee and asked Granny to be his wife. She said no. He asked again every day after that, and she finally said yes, two days after his twenty fifth birthday. Granddad was 79 when he died, Granny was 78. Granny had known him for 78 years. That’s a very long time to know somebody.
Once Lily was gone, Granny stopped trying to put up a strong front. She still didn’t cry in front of any of us, but at night I would hear her crying in the next room. I had half a mind to go comfort her, but never did. Truth be told, I was afraid, I couldn’t bear to see her in pain, and I thought that maybe if she cried enough, she’d feel better, maybe if she cried enough she’d be okay.
And she wasn’t.
She locked the door to her room at night, Dad tried to go in there to talk to her, but she wouldn’t open it. And Dad respected her wishes and let her cry in peace.
And then she wouldn’t eat. We tried to give her food, but she refused to eat it. She kept a blank face on, and when ever you tried to talk to her, it was like she wasn’t even listening, like she wasn’t even there. And while we tried to talk to her at first, eventually we let it go, thinking that she might need more time to grieve, and that she would come around when she was ready.
And then she stopped getting out of bed. One day Dad had to unscrew the hinges on the door because she had locked it and wouldn’t get up. We tried to talk to her, tried to beg her to come back out, but she didn’t listen.
We let her be, thinking she would come around when she was ready.
It was all our fault. We let her die. We should have been there but we weren’t. She died of a broken heart in late October.
And we did nothing to prevent it.
Lily came home for two weeks. She cried again, but this time I couldn’t cry with her, I had cried enough tears watching Granny waste away, and all I had left was guilt.
I should have done something, should have dragged her out of that room ages ago, should have forced that food down her throat, should have broke down the door and gave her a hug at night.
But I did nothing.
We went to the funeral. There was cake. There was a eulogy. World War I was mentioned, as were Dad, Lily and I.
Then we went home.
A week later we sent Lily back to school, because school is very important.
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