I wrote about my grandfather last month, about what a great guy he was, with a quirky sense of humor and a straightforward way of loving those close to his heart.
Pop never did get back to me on that column, but the word was that it made him proud. He took it with him on his latest camping trip and showed it around.
This news comes to me now as a sliver of gold buried under ash. Pop didn't talk to me about what I'd written because he died without the chance. His death was sudden, unexpected even at 81, to those who loved him a jolt to the bone.
Like most families, mine went through the rituals designed to comfort "the bereaved" in times such as these. There was the funeral, and the viewing, the flowers, prayers and food.
Most of this went as I had expected. The minister was caring, generous with his sympathies and his time.
And at the mortuary, an unctuous salesman let us know that my grandfather's deed to his cemetery plot amounted to little more than a reservation for the spot. The man demanded lots more cash up front.
My mother said that maybe her fury over the high costs of dying was a good thing; it gave her something to focus on aside from her from grief. My father, meantime, kept going on about how cremation was definitely the way to go.
But mostly what I think I'll remember from my grandfather's passing was the unchartered stuff, the emotional free-for-all that such family milestones entail. It's hard to believe, but I think we know each other--and ourselves--a little better now.
We gathered, told stories mined from our common past, speculated that Pop would have approved of this, winced at that or hooted about something else.
When my father met me at the airport, he mentioned the column I had written about my grandfather just weeks before and now, so suddenly, the man was dead.
"Do me a favor," my father said. "Don't write any columns about me."
Yes, we even laughed.
My sister and I had flown up to be with our parents, leaving our husbands at home with the kids and our jobs on hold. First, however, both of us improvised talks to our children about where Pop had gone.
My 6-year-old daughter would later ask me on the phone if we'd found Pop yet "up there," whereas my sister's 6-year-old seemed to better grasp the concept that his great-grandfather was now in the same place as Walt Disney.
(The child had forced the issue more than a year ago when he demanded to know why he hadn't seen Uncle Walt at Disneyland.)
What was strangely comforting, though, was the sense I had through all of this that I was stepping back. On the outside, my family seemed to march forward to a silent dirge--death as the inevitable progression of life--while on another level, I went back home.
Minus husband and children, I was a daughter and sister again.
My sister and I shared a room in the house that has been my parents for nearly 30 years. And our mother, of course, wondered if Hurricane Andrew had followed us there.
Our clothes and lots of other junk were strewn around the room. Walking was hazardous, so we just hopped to get in and out the door. Naturally, neither my sister nor I bothered to make our beds.
And sensing an opportunity to reclaim some storage space, our father insisted that we go through drawers and take home the mementos of our childhood that had somehow survived intact through the years.
I was pleased to find my high school diploma--the whereabouts of those earned since are anyone's guess--and uncovering my senior class ring was, well, nice.
But what really thrilled me were the more personal artifacts that I found.
There was the little leather pouch full of shells, the bead necklaces and the fixings to make more, and the collection of troll dolls--\o7 wishniks, \f7 we called them back then.
It was as if I were going through my own daughter's drawers at home. Finding my own childhood stash constituted scientific proof that motherhood is part \o7 deja vu.\f7
And then there were the letters--I still haven't re-read them all--that I had seen fit to save. The one I opened was from my sister, who was writing me within days after I'd left for college. I think it must have been the first one she ever sent me. She'd never had the occasion before.
She told me about a girl we both knew, and disliked, who said she was going out "with this really cute guy named Dennis." My sister's "reliable sources," however, told her that it was a lie.
Also she let me know that there were only three more shopping days left to her birthday, that what with me being gone, she is getting blamed for everything at home "because I am your sister," and that the drill team had a perfect performance at the last football game "except Ann's bra strap showed."
Then near the end, my sister asked when I'd be coming home. "I miss you," she wrote. "I know, you didn't think I would say it. It's weird because you aren't here."
But, of course, I am there, as is my sister, my mother and my father. I don't think any of us will ever leave, not really, not in the sense that counts. I know this more than ever now. I think Pop would have approved.