Sometimes I look back in reflection at some of the poignant moments in life, at some of the characters in my family. I like to analyze in retrospect, how I felt about a certain situation while emotions were running high, and interpret them later in time by dissecting some of those events to see how I handled the situation while experiencing the emotional moment and if my perceptions were accurate.
This particular incident recently resurfaced in my memory. I try to look for the compassion I may have missed back then while originally feeling confusion and resentment. As a memoir writer, I tend to do this with many of life’s difficult situations I’ve encountered to assess and better understand not just my perspective but what the other parties concerned may have been feeling. So today I’m going to bring up a sad memory about my father’s death. It seemed only fitting to write about this today when January 9th was the day I buried my father in 1991.
The situation was tragic enough that my father had died suddenly and out of country, but with a dysfunctional family background to add to the mix, there were many more mixed emotions presented at that time.
My paternal grandmother had been dead for a few years prior to my father’s death. And my dad was the only child left of my grandfather’s – a man who’d been dominated by his overbearing, bossy wife throughout his marriage. My dad had one older brother who had been disowned, completely banished by his parents, and consequently, from all of our lives when the edict had come down from my grandmother twenty-five years prior. “We shall speak no more of his name” were her words. And so it was written. And so it was done.
Dad and my estranged uncle Don ran the family business with their father up until that fateful day when something huge went down. I was only about 6 or 7 years old at the time and my investigative listening skills were already fine-tuned from growing up in a volatile and emotional roller coaster household, where listening in the shadows always gave me a leg up on what I could expect come tomorrow. But despite my efforts, I wasn’t permitted to ask questions without being reprimanded for doing so, consequently, much about what I learned about this occurrence was from the chatter that went on after the event at my grandparents’ house and afterward in my own home while I listened to my mother tell her sisters and friends.
To this day, I still don’t know the whole reasoning behind the incident that had my uncle banished for life, but what I got from it was, my quick-tempered uncle grew very angry at his father one day at work and pegged his dad up against the outside brick wall and was stopped short by my father who heard the ruckus and he restrained my uncle from throwing a brick at my grandfather’s head, as he shouted in anger with what seemed the end of his tolerance for his father’s orders. After the feud was broken up by my dad, my uncle was thrown out from the family business – and the family.
When my stern grandmother was informed about what had transpired, she made an instant declaration ( I heard it with my own ears), her son Don was now dead to my grandparents. They even sat the traditional ‘Shiva’ period as we do in our religion to mourn the dead.
We never saw my uncle or our cousins again for almost a quarter of a century.
On January 9th, 1991, 4 children and their grandfather sat in the mourner’s room at the funeral home before it was time for the funeral to begin in the chapel. The door opened and a strange man walked in. He looked as though he was in his early 60s, dressed in a dark suit and tie, slighted hunched over with age, he kept his eyes focused toward the floor as he entered while adjusting his yarmulke (skullcap). I leaned over to my one brother and asked him who this man was that just invaded our mourner’s space. My brother replied, “It’s Uncle Don.”
My heart skipped a beat. In my dire moments of grief, I didn’t know what to make of the sudden appearance of my long lost uncle. Within the same one whirlwind moment of emotions, I felt curious, angry, and heartbroken. I never said a word to him and moments later we proceeded into the chapel for the ceremony then out to the cemetery. We buried our father on that freezing cold day in January and my Uncle Don stood along right beside us.
After burying my father, we proceeded to my younger brother’s house to commence the Shiva where we’d sit in mourning for one week from morning til sundown and receive guests and visitors who would come by to keep us company and pay their condolences.
We’d just arrived from the cemetery, and took our respective seats on the cushionless couches, as tradition warranted for the immediate mourners. Immediate family of the lost loved one are the mourners – parents, children and siblings. And then into my brother’s home walked Uncle Don. That’s when emotions were escalated. My siblings and I were dumbfounded, wondering why he had suddenly showed up after a quarter of a century to his brother’s funeral and for mourning. This was a brother who never even went to his own mother’s funeral a few years earlier.
Suspicions, doubts, and curiosity ran through each one of us and before any of us even voiced our opinion to the others, my grandfather stood up, embraced his long lost son and announced aloud, “I lost one son, but I gained another.”
Who does that?
Resentment built up within me that the complete stranger to us could walk into my brother’s home the day we buried our father and our grandfather greeted him like he was the consolation gift God had given him – the man who threatened to kill him a quarter century past, when his only other son who had been nothing but obedient at his beck and call for all his life had saved his father’s life.
Many thoughts rolled through my head that day – why did he show up decades later? Was there remorse? Was his sudden arrival back into my grandfather’s life for monetary gain?
I felt heart-broken when I lost my father, but I also managed to feel sorry for my grandfather too, for losing his only son who had stood by him all his life. I was never close with my grandfather because of the years growing up around him, feeling no love or compassion from him or from my grandmother – the price I paid for my mother’s deceit when she purposefully got pregnant with me to get my father to marry her. I was a constant reminder to them of my parent’s union.
Because I harbored a life-long resentment toward my grandfather, it wasn’t difficult for me to speak to him with snark and sarcasm. I never had a problem letting someone know what I thought once I moved away from home and found my voice. The four of us confronted him when we were alone together, questioning how he could welcome our uncle with open arms as though the past had never happened. We didn’t hesitate to let him know we suspected the only reason our uncle had shown up was because he knew he was the only child left and there was plenty of money to be gained if he got himself back in my grandfather’s good graces and ultimately back into the will. My grandfather didn’t seem to care. In his own moments of grief I think he felt alone with the loss of his beloved wife and no children left, and so he clung to whatever rope was thrown to him despite motives. Sad.
Us four kids had spent much of our growing up years at my grandparents’ home, despite our reluctance or desire to do so. We were to become the inheritors, but as suspected, my uncle did manage to get involved with the finances. Sure there was some left in the end of it all, but not much. And whatever was left was not divided evenly between us four. I got the biggest shaft of all of us, and that was quite expected. But I never used that against my own siblings because, as I learned well, money had the great potential to divide a family.