What To Say To A Four-Year-Old When Their Grandparent Dies Distance – Cold Turkey Grieving on Thanksgiving Day

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Distance – Cold Turkey Grieving on Thanksgiving Day

“He’s gone.” The words hit my cell phone with a finality that hit me in the back of my throat. It was Thanksgiving and my older brother – the fast-talking bodybuilder, the guy with the quick wit, the family man who was always laughing – left us. After he was given the short straw and Type I diabetes at the age of 11, he overcame the odds at every point. But he could not win 2020.

They say siblings are your first friends – your link to the past and a bridge to the future. When I received the news of my brother’s death, I was accepting water – drowning in last words and lost moments. I couldn’t find air. I rushed out. I couldn’t call. Every person within earshot was confined at home by state mandate. There would be no shoulder to cry on or comforting hugs. There would be no “I’m sorry” or back rubs. It was cold turkey mourning on Thanksgiving.

Chris had just texted us the day before to tell us that our uncle had died. Uncle Michael was larger than life. He was a smart, mountain of a man who taught us how to water ski and cheat at cards. And within 48 hours, we would lose Uncle Robert to COVID-19.

It was hard to fathom – three family members in four days. It was too much in a year that was already too much. Six degrees of separation, seven degrees of isolation, 6 feet for 15 minutes in a 24 hour period – our realm for a mask.

It was a year in which we stood at the edge of existence and stared into the abyss—each with their own version of the bottomless pit. Death became a hashtag, life became a meme, and survival became a cyber-stream highlight. We all lived under the grid and over the rainbow save the zooms, rest stops and CGI crowds – manifestations of the life we ​​could no longer have.

I found a photo of my brother as a toddler in shorts and red suspenders. Another as a smiling teenager in front of a Christmas tree in the back room of the house we left thirty years ago. He strikes a pose on a weekend back from college. He leans against his first car in cut-off jeans; his eyes are so clear that they seem to look into eternity.

There is a picture of us sitting in front of pumpkins at a local farm shop around 1970. I remember that day well. He didn’t want to sit next to me. Typical sibling bickering. My mother asked him to come closer. He refused. He had a jaw breaker jammed into his cheek. I just finished a cherry that was all over my lips. I wore my mustard yellow stirrup pants and a straw coat. He was in his herringbone sweater. I turned away from him uninterested. I was tough, little girl. He made me this way. My mother pointed her manual focus Canon camera with the folding fan flash, the shutter clicked and the moment was frozen in time. What I would give to be close to him now, to not have turned away that day, to have grabbed that space between us in my 8 year old hands and held it forever.

The drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix for my brother’s “Celebration of Life” was long and lonely. It would be outside, masked, and around a table of framed photos. It was the best we could do. At a rest stop somewhere between Indio and Blythe, I screamed into the desert in existential protest at all I had lost. The place was deserted except for a large saguaro cactus that guarded the picnic area. It was a massive, columnar tree. It has seen its share of weary travelers and truck drivers. It survived the noise of the highway, the smoke, and dry seasons of high heat. Its pleated spines and hard skin were a welcome defiance in a world of stark indifference.

My mother always said that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but He gave me so much at once. As I drove through the dune-backed moonscape, my mind shifted back to easy rooms and soft furnishings, snowmen and shells, relieving bugs and grills, stickball and Halloween, banana chairs and little league.

I still have my brother’s number on my cell phone. He is still smiling from his Facebook page. His big, bold purposeful life endures in a fixed-length contiguous block of virtual memory. Technology is cruel like that – cyberhead fakery, digital trickery. Much like the “social” distance that kept us apart.

There are no redoes forever. There is no encore after curtain fall. We don’t get a second shot at a last goodbye. So, when this great sequestration is over – shake hands, pump fists and high five. Hug everyone you care about and never let them go. Say ‘I love you’ every waking moment, and never let physical distance come between you and your family again.

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