Two weeks ago Mom messaged me on Facebook to say my grandfather had fallen ill. I didn’t think much of it; my grandfather’s been ill several times over the past few years, but he’s tough as nails and hard to beat down.
Within a few hours she replied again: “Candice, he’s gone.”
I received the message while eating dinner in the hostel’s kitchen. Millie was talking to me but my heart had fallen down to my stomach where it laid beating like a jackhammer. “My grandfather died,” I blurted out. It rang out all silly-sounding. What words of comfort can anyone offer to someone who they’ve only known little over a week? I left my food and went to my room to be alone. Really, that’s all I could do.
My Pop was 94-years-old but I truly thought he’d live forever. He moved into the senior care home shortly after my grandmother passed nearly 20 years ago, and he stayed there ever since. He was the king of the place; he was a ladies’ man. Even when his legs started failing, he remained sharp-witted and quick-tongued. We were never close, exactly. But it’s been hard to imagine I won’t sit on the edge of his bed with him anymore. He with his suspenders taut, staring down at his clasped thumbs. His falling-apart-at-the-spine Bible tucked into his bed’s headboard. His shelves decorated in his grandchildren’s photos.
“You’re getting to be a big girl!” he’d say, and both Mom and I would pretend it didn’t mean I’d grown plump with beer and pastry consumption on my travels.
I didn’t know whether I should leave Greece and go home. Mom told me not to. If I did, my trip would come to an end and I wouldn’t be back. I decided to stay, obviously, but not without guilt. Dad had been away on the road as well, so it left only Mom and Adam at home (and of course, our entire and massive extensive family).
So I didn’t. And I didn’t get to say goodbye to the last of my grandparents. And when you have an entire family of 12 aunts and uncles and their spouses and their offspring and their cousins and in-laws it makes you feel terribly lonely to be on the other side of the world left to mourn your grandfather’s death inside a cave on Santorini Island.
The problem is that I’m not so sure I “mourned.” Writing this blog is about as close as it gets, because finally I sit here crying and missing home, missing my parents and brother, missing my family. And the next time I go home, I won’t be going to see my grandfather at the senior care home, and I won’t be lamenting the awkward stares from the other seniors, and life won’t feel entirely different until I realize he’s not there. No more little grannies or grandpas to love me. We’ve lost another part of Newfoundland. A thread to the past that keeps unraveling until the spool eventually spins out.
The day before Pop’s funeral, I hiked a mountain to Ancient Thera. It was hard to forget about my family paying their final respects to a great patriarch inside the teeny Morrisville church – a place of baptisms and burials and marriages for most of the Kendell clan. And it was easy to ignore that he’d be coming to rest next to my grandmother, Sadie, one of the most important role models in my life, even in the short seven years I knew her.
I climbed over loose gravel and ancient stairs and a makeshift route carved out by generations and generations of Greeks. Halfway up the mountain I came across a typical white-walled Santorini church, its cross painted white against the rock-face. While my friends Ami and Inbal took photos from the lookout, I pushed a tentative nudge against the blue door. It opened.
Inside: a two-room place of worship with a burning candle and images of the Mother Mary. A collection plate for donations. A dozen half-burned candles. A church even tinier than Morrisville’s Ascension Anglican Church.
So I picked up a candle, and fumbled around for a lighter. Lit the candle’s crooked fuse, and placed it burning in the golden offering. I am not a girl of prayer; instead, I offered Pop my thanks. Thank you, Pop, for loving my grandmother and creating my wonderful, sensitive, comical, family. Thank you, Pop, for giving me my loving mother. Thank you, Pop, for being an integral part of the domino effect that led me to pursuing my dreams in Greece.