Thursday, December 5, 2013

These Last Gifts

I was five when my Pap, my Mom's father, died. He had a massive heart attack and died the following day. I remember everything about those moments with such strange clarity. I remember how we had to leave suddenly to go there and how my brother and I were dropped off with our other set of grandparents. I remember my parents not really telling us anything, but having that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach like something was very wrong. It all happened so fast.

My grandparents had a living room that was hardly ever used. The floor would shake if you walked in just the right spots, and as kids we used to jump there on purpose. It was one of those rooms, you know the kind, the nice rooms with the nice furniture and the nice lamps that matched and the fancy drapes. It was the room where the tree was put up every Christmas, which was one of the only times we were every really in that room.

The other rooms of the house, the little den with the television, the giant rec room with the pool table and the bar, the teeny tiny dining room and kitchen, that's where we usually were. This room was different. Formal. Special.

The style was straight out of a 60s/70s home decor magazine. I could probably still describe everything about that room. My favorite thing about it was the gigantic plate glass window that overlooked the patio outside.

My parents came back from wherever it was they had gone and left us, and they took us into that room. It wasn't Christmas. There wasn't a wedding. The whole family wasn't there.

We weren't supposed to be in that room.

They both sat on the floor and put us in their laps. I can't for the life of me remember what they said or how they said it, just that they did. He was gone. They tried to explain death the best way they could to two little kids, they tried to contain their own grief and shock. They tried.

They went to the funeral a few days later, leaving us again with someone else. I don't remember who we were with, just that we weren't there. I wanted to be, I wasn't allowed. They thought for sure that they were making the best decision, that they were doing the right thing by us. I can't say what would have happened had I gone to the funeral, had I been given a proper chance to say goodbye. I don't know. I'll never know.

I know that his death affected me for a long, long time.

Only a few weeks later, Christmas arrived. The adults were not in the mood to celebrate, they were all still reeling from the sudden loss. I know that feeling all too well myself. I push it away the best I can, but it still lurks in the shadows, the reminders of who isn't here anymore, of how unfair it all is.

That Christmas morning, with tears in their eyes, my Grandma, my Mom and my Dad watched as I unwrapped one special gift.

The fancy anniversary clock that sat on the console table spun, the chimes rang. Everyone was looking at me, waiting. For a moment time stood still. I had no idea what it was, this gift, but everyone else seemed to know. Their anticipation, the emotions on their faces told me that whatever it was must be important.

It was a tiny pink clock. On the face, a little girl holding a raccoon. It was the kind that you wind by hand on the back and could set an alarm where it would ring the bells on top. I was confused. Why was this clock such a big deal?

He bought it for me, my Pap, just before he died. He had intended to give it to me that day himself, but didn't make it that far. When they told me who it was from, I cried. Really cried. I didn't really know what to do with all the emotions then. I hardly know what to do with them now.

That clock still sits on my dresser today. Aside from photographs of my children, it is the one thing I would save in a fire. It has traveled with me, it has gone to college. When we moved here, it was one of the items that was packed in the car, not on the moving truck, just in case.

In my basement right now, there is a box. A box that has been sitting there for a few years. My Mom bought it. My Mom bought things. Lots of things. Too many things.

The year before my father died was such a chaotic one. There was so much going on, she was buying so much that she lost track of it all, just having it all shipped here. It was out of control, for lack of a better phrase. This box came in with so many others, and was put with the rest to go through before the holiday.

The box was put too far aside unintentionally. Misplaced.

The following year, Dad had died and she moved here. I meant to remember to tell her about the box. That it had been put underneath other things accidentally and the kids hadn't been given what was inside. I meant to. Then so much else happened and I forgot.

I forgot.

I found it last year in the basement again and cried. She had moved back and we were here and I didn't know what to do with it anymore. It didn't feel right to give the items inside to the kids on her behalf without her here. It was all so complicated. They had the gifts she intended for them to have last year to open, and by then she'd forgotten about the box too. If I'm being completely honest, I'm not even sure she remembered ordering it. She ordered so much, and it had been over two years.

Then she was gone. It's been a month and a half now. I went down to the basement a few days ago and saw the box again. I knew it was time. The items in the box will be wrapped and placed beneath the tree this year, one for each of my children. They will be wrapped elaborately the way she loved and the tags will read, "from Grandma Judy".

What will be inside isn't anything fancy or extravagant. Neither was the clock I received. They may not figure out right away why I'll have tears in my eyes when they open these gifts.

They each will get a little trinket box, bought three years ago now, with their names on them, from her. Three years passed with this box sitting there, three years of it being misplaced, of being forgotten, of waiting. Three years of it never being the right moment.

It is time.

I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry that I misplaced it the first year, that I forgot the second year, that you weren't here the third year. I'm sorry.

I'm going to do my best to make this right.  I hope the kids will take ownership of this last best gift from you, that it will be the one that matters the most, that it will be the one they hold dear, that it will be the one they take to college someday, that it will sit on their dressers thirty years from now.

Looking back now, maybe there is a reason that this box in my basement waited. These last gifts from you.

Maybe it wasn't accidental at all.

Maybe, just maybe, this is how it was supposed to be all along.

I love you, Mom.


  1. I can barely see to type this through all of my tears.

    Good god damn you can write some feels. The death of your grandfather parallels the death of mine in so many ways. It also reminded me of the box we found in my grandma's closet after she passed, a box full of things she had bought for my unborn son I was pregnant with, who I lost only months after I lost her.

    You've invoked a lot of emotions and memories in me, as a good writer is supposed to do, but damn you woman! There's snot on my keyboard, I'm ugly crying, and this was wonderful and horrible all at once.

  2. Dude, what the hell with the making me have feels?!

    This was so beautifully written. I could feel your pain, feel the sadness, the longing, the loss.

  3. I'm crying a lot today, for multiple reasons, and this just did it again.

    Love you to pieces. This was truly beautiful.

  4. Stop it with the beautiful stuff already! No one should have to have this much pain. I'm sure your children will treasure their gifts from Grandma Judy.

  5. Ok so now that I've dried my eyes I can respond. I lost my father a year and a half ago. My son lost the only man who really cared about him. As part of my inheritance there is an IRA that my sister and I must drawn from each year to avoid penalties. This was dad's money. I will use it to buy my son a bike but I don't know if he is ready to read "from PawPaw" yet but I will cry knowing where it came from.


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