Death, Donuts, And A Cigarette In The Morning

I kept a journal over the past week, to help process my thoughts. It’s not the most uplifting, but, it’s life.

8.4.11 {Donuts.}

I’m writing this while at the hospital, laying on the bed across from my grandpa. He’s been gasping for breath and finally admits that the smoking got the best of him – not that this foreshadowing would have changed anything. “There’s just nothing like coffee and a cigarette in the morning,” he always said.

He’s been around since I was born, although he’s not my dad’s biological father. When I was young, I didn’t know what a bitter and broken man he was. I didn’t know that he stormed Normandy Beach and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, only surviving because his friend’s bodies shielded him. Nor did I know that he had two children in the cemetery, and his only surviving son (Larry) was born prematurely, which resulted in visual and mental impairments. And I did not know that his first wife died of a sudden illness when Larry was only 25. All I knew back then was that he had an awesome underground pool, liked to drink “highballs” and made me cry when he dressed up as Santa.

Santa always did scare the crap out of me.

He was generally nice to me, albeit a bit cranky and argumentative. But as I grew, it became apparent that he never accepted my father or our family. I saw how controlling he was of my sweet and wonderful grandma. How he caused our family to fall apart. How my father had to tolerate years of awful mistreatment just to see his own mother. In latter days, bitterness caused me to detach, which carried along the tragic side effect of lost time spent with my grandma while she still had her memory.

So I’m sad today, but not for obvious reasons. I’m sad for my uncle Larry, who has no family of his own and whose mother died when he was young. I’m sad for him because now he’s losing his caregiver and father; and his stepmother (my grandma) has Alzheimer’s. I’m sad because he’s been sitting by his dad’s bedside for a week, without barely sleeping or eating, just waiting for him to open his eyes. I’m sad because I know that he envisions himself in that bed someday and he wonders if anyone will be sitting by his side. And I’m sad because I realize that I’ll have to go through this with my own parents someday and that thought is incomprehensible to me.

I don’t know what to say. I can’t hold it together when I see the tears welling up in someone’s eyes. I leave for a while to regain my composure and to buy some sprinkle donuts and Excedrin for Larry. And a few hundred purses for myself.

Larry turns to me and says, “If dad were awake he would yell at me to change my shirt because it has stains on it… I wish he would wake up and yell at me.” My dad shows up with a stack of To Do lists, tired and stressed, although no one could possibly tell except me. I force him to sit down and eat something. He’s always taking care of everything but himself. Just like any five year-old would, he jumps on the wheelchair scale and starts weighing himself, in attempt to distract Larry for a second. It works.

8.5.11 {Death.}

Grandpa dies. My dad and cousin are digging through files and making funeral arrangements at my grandma’s apartment. I see the heaviness in my dad’s eyes as he contemplates how to tell his mother the news and having to move her into a home. I try to distract grandma by looking through picture albums with her. Larry is in the bedroom crying and we hope she doesn’t notice. As I flip through pages, I start removing pictures of my grandpa to use for the memorial posters at his funeral. My grandma repeatedly asks what I’m doing and I tell her that I’m making a special project for her.

8.6.11 {Five poster boards.}

As I sort through eleven boxes of pictures, I attempt to summarize my grandpa’s life in five poster boards. Five, because that’s how many easels the funeral home gives you. How do I possibly divide up a person’s life like that? I look at the growing stack of pictures I’m not going to use and I realize that in the end, pictures of trips and toys and new wallpaper don’t matter. They all get thrown away. No one is going to pass those down. They won’t be displayed at your funeral. I cry for the first time as I glue his life together, picture by picture, and I think about what he did and didn’t mean to me. Then I turn off Damien Rice because he’s not helping any.

My dad stops by to bring me lunch because – he’s concerned about my stress level. He says when the pastor asked him for stories for the funeral,  he couldn’t think of one good memory. He admits that it is hard for him to listen to everyone gush about how great his step dad was. Of course, my dad is too much of a man to ever let them think otherwise.

 8.8.11 {The funeral.}

The morning of the funeral, my grandma has to be told all over again that her husband is gone. The funeral is about to start and she is the last to arrive. My dad finally walks in, holding her arm with tears in his eyes as he sees how broken up and scared she is. I have to look away.

I sit right behind them in the second row and all I can focus on are her silent sobs as her shoulders shake with overwhelming sadness. Larry’s frequent outbursts are heartbreaking and I try to stare at the ground. Later on, my grandma keeps saying that she isn’t able to take care of herself and she doesn’t know how to live without her husband. We assure her that we’ll be taking care of her and hope to God she forgets all of this by tomorrow.

I feel sad and relieved and guilty and bitter. My grandpa was a great war hero. He was a wonderful father to Larry. And growing up, we did have some good times at the pool. Our Christmases were always a blast, until we stopped having them. He made my grandma happy, for the most part. He had a lot of sadness in his life and I do cut him some slack for that.

I don’t know. But those are the things I’ll try to remember about him.

Wondering where I went? I have returned to blogging over at my whole foods blog Celery and the City, where we live so clean it’s like your insides took a bath.

57 thoughts on “Death, Donuts, And A Cigarette In The Morning

  1. I slept on a trundle bed by Stephen’s side in the hospital until he died. It’s the most heartbreaking thing to endure. I am so very sorry for your loss BD, and for Larry too. You probably won’t be able to play any Damien Rice for quite some time. It’s been nearly four years for me and I still can’t listen to Nick Cave yet. Stay strong xx

  2. Dearest Blunt…..

    First, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this so beautifully. Honest, sincere, and so open about all your feelings while moving through this time.

    Second, as I was reading this I was immediately transported back to the week I spent with my father while he passed away in hospice. I actually felt all those feelings again. But, that’s a good thing because as difficult as it was to watch my father die, so much healing between the two of us took place.

    “I feel sad and relieved and guilty and bitter.”

    Just allow yourself to feel EVERYTHING, and I guarantee those feelings will take you to a place of peace.

    Sending ya a BIG hug, girl…..

    (((( You )))))


    • Oh bestie..

      First, thank you. Second, I am so sorry for your dad… but I am very glad to hear that you were able to patch some things up in the end. I wish the same could have happened for our family… but, it’s okay. I’m glad the chapter is closed, honestly. It was very hard for all involved.

  3. The kind of death where you feel sad is awful. The kind of death where you feel… anger. resentment. bitter. confused. and a little bit relieved but not relieved because that’s terrible. and then sad because you know things could have been better. That death is impossible. I know we’re just internet friends, but I’m here for you. I know that kind of death. And I’m pretty sure I will know it again. I think what you did/are doing for your grandmother is wonderful.

    • Aw, thanks soooo much katie. I know we’re just internet friends, yes, but I feel like we “get” eachother… for sure.

      Yea, it is hard when you look back on things and what could have been. Or the relationship that was never repaired… it’s hard to grasp.

  4. First of all, I am so sorry. And I’m also really sorry that saying “sorry” doesn’t help at all. But for some reason, the strongest thing I took away from this was how accurately you capture how everyone we “know” our whole lives – like parents that we often only think of as parents to more vague relatives we only think of for specific things like Christmas or pools – have entire existences full of dreams and demons just like us. And how weird it is when you’re old enough to open your eyes to that and it all comes flooding in.

    • Thanks Hannah.

      Yea, it’s interesting. Some people we only ever know from a distance, even if they are our relatives… yet they all have stories, hurts, and reasons why they are they way they are. I think I always tried to excuse his behavior cus of everything my grandpa had gone through.. but, that only goes so far.

  5. Everything you’ve written is resonating with me right now, the fear that someday in the future will my parents be bed-ridden, will they hopefully live till their 90? I wish I could sprinkle fairy dust and allow everyone to live a full life filled with happiness and till a kind old age of 90 plus. I’m sorry you are feeling sad.

    • Yes. My grandpa was almost 90. and he had a very full life. But, sometimes, when people lose their health or in my grandma’s case, their memory, i wonder if a long life is actually a curse.

      it’s hard to tell. but it’s really hard to see someone you love go through that.

  6. So saddened by your Uncle and Grandma. My Aunt recently passed away after struggling for 8 years with increase Altzheimers. Her husband died 6 years ago and even then it was difficult because with one breathe she would say she was going to miss him and the next wondered where he was.

    They say death is a normal part of life….just never figured out why it had to be so hard.

    • Ugh. Yea that’s the worst. She remembers people and long term stuff, just not short term. So although she might not remember the funeral, she still asks occasionally where he is and when he’s coming home.

      It’s a cruel disease. especially when she knows her mind is gone.

      Sorry about your Aunt, Bear.

  7. Wow, rough week. . . it always feels awful when someone you don’t really like but should dies. I recently went though this with a family member who was very similar, but female. I’m sorry you guys are going through this, and hope the pieces fall in a better way for everyone, somehow. . .

  8. I’m so terribly sorry to hear about this…
    I can’t even imagine how difficult these times must be… my deepest and most heartfelt condolences.
    In times like this I wish I was much, much better with words… but please know that you and your family are in my thoughts… try to stay strong, B.D…

  9. I can’t even imagine how conflicted all of this must leave you. Endless digital hugs, because when someone experiences death – whatever the relationship was – there’s not a whole lot else you can do.

  10. Hey lady…

    Thanks a lot for making me tear up at work! And on a Friday! What the F Blunty!

    Kidding, of course (except for the tears part). Another blogger also recently lost a grandfather she was not close to because he had such a tumultuous relationships with her father, his son. She was dealing more with how his death was affecting her dad – but also how to feel, what to feel, what you don’t feel. Death can be… so complicated. Sometimes it’s straightforward and somehow that seems… easier, but only in the sense that it’s simple, not in terms of grief. Sometimes there are other emotions that aren’t “normal” … and there are emotions that we’re told should be there… but are missing. It can be so convoluted… but that doesn’t make it easier, nor the ramifications less profound and devastating.

    We may just be internet buds, but you and your family are in my thoughts. My heart to your uncle and grandma and your father. Keep taking care of each other AND YOURSELF as best you can. I’ll echo others here – if you need someone to talk to you, don’t hesitate ( We are certainly not strangers to Grief.

    Much love,


    • 1. you’re welcome for the Friday depression. hah.

      2. Yea, I have to agree with your friend, that I have been mostly focused on how this has all affected my dad. He’s going through a lot of emotions right now, and like i said, dealing with some anger. I think he’s just happy this is all over, except that my grandpa really did tear our family apart and made it miserable to see grandma… and now her memory is gone. So it’s just unfortunate all the way around.

      3. Thanks so much, and you know the same goes to you. Email me ANY time.

  11. Brit, I’m sorry for your loss, and even more sorry of having to go through such a conflicting event. Deaths are always tough on a family, especially when it’s a polarizing figure, since you’re well aware of how most people feel about it as they try to hide their true feelings.

    And since there’s only so much to say regarding such a situation, I’ll add an experience of my own:

    I went through something similar a decade ago when my grandpa died. I had largely positive memories of him, because I was young and fairly naive to what he was doing to others, but he was always great to me. He put my grandma through hell at times, he controlled all finances while simultaneously screwing them up so bad that my dad and his brothers had to bail him out a few times and a final time after he died. He did shady things once he got himself on the internet, things I probably will never get the full details of. But on the flip side, he never polarized the family (other than making his sons mad at him for stupid things he did, like once putting diesel into his Buick), my grandma still loved him after 50+ years of marriage, and he didn’t drive anyone in the family away.

    He died in his sleep one night, and when my grandma woke up and realized it, it was definitely too late. I remember that day fairly well, largely because my mom wouldn’t tell me what had happened when I stopped home in the middle of the school day (high school) despite being obviously shaken, and instead waited until after school when my brothers were home as well.

    The part that continues to get to me the most about all of it is not that my grandma lives alone in a house, has no driver’s license, has twice fallen in the past 5+ years and broken bones, and even had a stroke, but that she hasn’t slept in her bed since he died… she sleeps in one of the living room chairs every night with a blanket and pillow. Everyone shows different levels of concern, but she’s the type of person who doesn’t want anyone ever worrying about her, she just wants to see everyone else happy… so she brushes it all off. She always places everyone else above herself, and when her sons go out of her way to help her, you can see her light up.

    Anyway, I know what you’re going through. Not exactly, but close enough. As always, if you ever need or want someone to talk to, you know how to reach me.


    p.s. Serious Brit writing continues to be my favorite. It’s emotional, it’s powerful, it’s just more real. Unfortunately most of it revolves around tragedy, so maybe I shouldn’t ask for more of it from the woman who has already been through 3 lifetimes worth of shit.

    • Oh Brandon what can I say.

      That is really a sad situation about your grandma. And it was funny that you mention the internet… hah, same thing with my grandpa. In fact, my mom caught him showing my brother porn when he was 6 yrs old… needless to say there has been a wedge between them ever since to the point where my mom wouldn’t even go there any more.

      I get that about your grandma though. My other grandma wouldn’t leave the house my grandpa built after he died, even though she couldn’t take care of anything and didn’t want any help. it’s sad. when you get to that point in life and you have no choice but to let go… of your independence, your house, your life.


      Thanks for the encouraging words. I always feel a little weird when I post serious stuff, feeling like people will hate it since that’s not what they come here for. But, alas, I have to just write about what’s going on. And, life is pretty serious sometimes.

  12. I’m so sorry for all of this. It’s a miserable part of life to go through. I think back when my mother died and trying to keep it together for everyone else. There were panic attacks. I couldn’t drink coffee for a month afterwards because the caffeine alone would trigger one. Hang in there and thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, panic attacks. They run in my family as well. They’re horrible and I can’t imagine losing my mother. I won’t be able to keep it together for myself, much less anyone.

      So sorry for your loss Jen.

  13. What a heart-wrenching story. My heart goes out to everyone–even grandpa. You expressed your thoughts and feelings so eloquently. I wish I could do that. Bless you, dear girl. May your heart and mind find peace in the days ahead.

  14. This is such a beautiful, honest post.

    I’m so sorry for you & your family’s loss. I hope Larry and your Grandma are OK.

    I think its OK to have complicated feelings about your grandparents – I do. I try and place how I feel within the context that they were men from a different era. My grandpa like yours was in WWII – he was very patriarchal, often seemed frustrated & I don’t think he really made the best husband or father figure – I’m basing this on how I saw him treat my grandma & the complicated relationship my Dad had with his father. However, in the end, I think my grandparents really loved each other (even though their relationship seemed really dysfunctional to outsiders) and my grandpa made up for the not so great stuff by being a really fun loving, generous grandpa (funny how that works) – he always kept his fridge stocked full of pop for when we came over & would always take us to the zoo – I try to remember these good things or else I’ll drive myself crazy. Anyways, I hope you and your family are doing OK and that you’re able to make peace with everything in your own way.


    • Thanks Simone.

      Yes, our grandpas have a lot in common. I think it was a generational thing too… or just the general bitterness from the war. He was obsessed with money and like yours, did not treat my grandma well but they seemed very much in love, nonetheless.

      Strange…. thanks for the encouragement dear.

  15. I am sorry to hear about your Grandpa :/. Its hard when someone passes regardless of what your relationship was during their life. Hope everything is ok with you.

  16. I don’t know what is wrong with me today but for some odd reason the tears are flowing and I’m amazed that I’m not dehydrated yet. Reading this post there is a fresh batch of them as I feel them chap my face. I can relate to you on so many levels because of this, my grandfather was very very similar. He was a war hero as well but he had his demons. Sometimes I am amazed by the memories we preserve and the stories that we keep because in the end that’s what keeps them alive to us. I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you feel better. E-mail me if you ever need anything.

    • Thanks so much Kelly. Sorry for making you cry… I’ve been doing a lot of that lately myself.

      Yes, I feel alot of men from his generation had many demons.. Some recognizable, some not.

  17. Brit,
    Been out of the country the past two weeks & missed this post. Sorry to hear about your loss. I love your honesty and fresh writing style – even in difficult times.

  18. Gosh Brit…I’m so sorry. I’m just now catching up from being away at the beach. What a heart-wrenching post this was, so I can tell this must have been extremely painful for you. I hope Larry adapts and can find peace with it all. Hugs.

  19. Wow. This was amazingly sad and reminded me a lot of when my grandparents passed. But was also amazingly beautiful. I know that losing a grandparent is hard for so many reasons, the least of which is seeing our parents at their most vulnerable, but every one is different. I wish you peace in this time.

  20. I can’t imagine my own parents’ deaths, yet my friend’s 63-yr-old husband just passed away suddenly. Their kids are my age.

    I also have a similar situation with my dad’s side of the family. I know I’ll go to my grandma’s funeral, but my tears will be because I don’t feel any kind of loss, but feel like a bad person (so I’ll cry). It’s not my fault we aren’t close. There are other factors at work.

    Thank you for standing my your dad, your Uncle Larry, and you grandma. This is a hard time for each of them in different ways. Thank you for making the photo tribute. You are a good cookie.

  21. Purses are a great way to vent… calories. But then, doughnuts are a lot cheaper.
    I suppose what I am really trying to say is….I’ve been there….way too many times. I know your pain. I have buried all my grandparents…..starting with my great grandma (way back when I was about 4) who (if I close my eyes) I can still smell her cologne and recall the feel of her soft flabby flesh when she would hold me close, and her voice speaking to me , speaking my name. I buried my (older) brother when I was 13…..a loss I wish not for any parent or sibling. And I buried both parents, what seams like only yesterday but actually has been over 15 and 11 years ago. It never gets easier and the older I get the more I miss them all.
    I am so very sorry for your loss….so sorry for your pain

  22. this made me tear up, not gonna lie.
    You paint a very poignant portrait of the people involved.
    I wasn’t able to be around when my nan met her end, and while I think that fact played a key roll in getting me where I am today I still regret it. . . there’s so much I didn’t know about my nan – her experiences in the war, her family life, etc. I wish I could’ve been there for her funeral just to hear the stories.
    I’m sorry for your sadness, but I commend you for being there for your family when they needed you. I can’t imagine how difficult the whole experience was for you, but I’m sure all your efforts were appreciated.

    I’ve never had to sit by the hospital bed of the dieing, and it horrifies me. . . Hopefully you don’t have to be in that room again for a long time.

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  24. I am so sorry for you and your family’s loss. Never easy to lose a loved one, even with complicated relationships and unfinished discoveries. I found your blog thanks to the awesome Dan Perez and he was right about your gift. I hope that you and your family are healing and that your grandmother is doing well.

  25. Oh my goodness! I would reivle that day over and over if I could. Those boys were so wonderful and are each just amazing with their unique personalities! Love them!

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