I learned how to deal with death
The death of 15-year-old Amiee’s grandfather was a huge shock and ongoing loss.
They said it was a heart attack. My grandpa was found in his office, slumped over his computer. Colleagues tried CPR on him until an ambulance arrived. But it was too late.
My grandpa was dead. And he was only 67. That was almost four years ago, but I still remember like it happened yesterday.
My grandparents have always been important to me. Every year, all the grandkids spent a week with them at their house in Woodland Hills. My grandma would make us huge breakfasts of scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast—whatever we wanted, she’d make it. Then she’d take us to the movies or do something fun for the day. At night, when my grandpa came home from work, he’d take us to Travel Town or play games like Monopoly, Scrabble or cards.
But four years ago, the annual trip overlapped with a weeklong visit to my friend’s beach house. My grandparents understood and arranged for me to visit them later that summer. So I went on my way.
It all seemed so great. Noel and I went to the beach and played with her cousins. The sky was gloomy, but we didn’t care. We stayed up late talking and watching movies. It was fun.
A few days later, my dad called Noel’s house and said he was coming to pick me up.
"Why?" I asked. I still had a few days of the beach left before I was supposed to head for home.
My dad said we’d discuss it when he got there. I knew something bad had happened and my mind started to wander. My mother smoked cigarettes at the time, and I wondered if her health was in trouble.
Two hours later my dad pulled up in the driveway. "Amiee, Grandpa passed away," he said with tears in his eyes.
I was stunned and speechless. Suddenly, my knees felt weak and tears began to stream down my face. I didn’t want to cry, but couldn’t stop.
We had to drive to my grandma’s house where the rest of my family was gathering. That two-hour drive to my grandma’s felt like the longest ride in my life. My dad tried talking to me about it, but I didn’t want to. I kept asking how my grandpa died and hoped it would change each time my dad explained it, but it didn’t.
This was my first major funeral
My mom wrote a letter to my grandpa to put in his casket. I wanted to put something in his casket, too. I found an old photo from when I was a 4-year-old. It was a picture of me sitting on his lap as he helped me put on my Little Mermaid sandals. At the time, I didn’t want to go home and refused to put on my sandals. My grandpa sat me on his lap and told me a story.
When the story ended, he said, "Well, you might as well go home now. Your shoes are on." I looked down and my sandals were on my feet. I hadn’t even noticed that he did that. But I agreed with him and went on my way. I loved that picture. It illustrated our special bond.
Then my family decided to make our own tape of songs that reminded us of my grandpa to play at his funeral. I recorded "I need you," and "Anything" by 3T. Others included Aerosmith’s song from the movie Armageddon, and "My Heart Will Go On," by Celine Dion. We replayed the tape throughout the viewing and funeral.
I got so immersed in the details of preparing for his funeral, that I didn’t have time to think about much else. It all felt like a dream.
So it didn’t really dawn on me that he was gone until we were at the funeral and they were getting ready to bring the casket outside. I tried my hardest not to cry. But the thought of never again seeing his blue eyes or smelling his Old Spice cologne made me break down.
Months later, when I got over the shock of his death, I started feeling angry with him. I blamed him for leaving me and not fighting for his life. I hid my feelings from my family and feared they’d feel more pain if they knew how sad I was. My parents tried to get me to talk about it, but I wanted to be alone. For months, I cried myself to sleep.
Then I blamed myself for not being able to say goodbye to him. If I didn’t go to my friend’s house in San Diego, I would have seen him one last time.
One night things changed for the better
My whole attitude changed when I had a dream with him in it one night.
In the dream, my cousin and I went for a walk with my grandma and her dogs through a peaceful park. There were big houses sitting on the hill above us. We stopped in front of my grandpa’s grave. I did not cry, but just stood there and really looked at it. I soon realized my grandpa’s arm was around my cousin and me. Only the two of us could see him, but not my grandma. She knelt next to his grave and cried. He gave my cousin and me a kiss on the cheek.
"Take care of your grandma for me," he said. I agreed and then he said, "I love you very much." He hugged me and I could smell the Old Spice cologne he always wore. "I love you, too," I said. I did not feel sad or upset. I finally felt calm and at peace with myself. I smiled.
When I woke up, I still wore that smile. I had finally said goodbye, and it felt so good.
It has been almost four years since my grandpa died. I’ve only gone to his grave a couple of times, once to see his headstone and another time around Christmas. Part of me doesn’t want to accept what happened, and another part of me doesn’t want to remember him as a headstone. I don’t have to see his name in a piece of stone to know he’s still here, because I can feel him in my heart.
I’m slowly healing and learning to live my life not regretting his death or being angry with him or myself for what happened. The memories, the traditions, the love we had will always live on in my heart. Whenever I feel remorse, I will remember that he’s in a better place—smiling down at me and me smiling up at him.