By T.J. Grayson

I’ve never really experienced death until now. While some were arriving late to sixth grade classes because of lost grandparents, I was still figuring out who mine were. While most were embracing holidays and reunions with their relatives, I was begging my parents to buy plane tickets to meet mine. Eventually, it was this lack of connection and understanding that ended up lessening the blow.
A couple weeks ago my grandfather on my dad’s side passed away.
Leading up to his death, my father kept our family up-to-date with his condition. I sat on my kitchen counter and listened to my father. I looked down from his tear-soaked eyes and hid my unemotional face.
I felt embarrassed, disappointed, and confused because of my selfish reaction, I couldn’t comfort my broken parent.
By the time he actually passed. my dad started coming home late after spending time at his sister’s, working on funeral arrangements.
On one of these late nights he had me choose a watch from my grandfather’s collection. My father said it would take a while to repair, but it would give me something to remember him by.
Was I supposed to use it to remember all the times we had together? all the times my grandmother needed his help raising my dad? all the times he spent with his 20 or so other step-grandchildren?
A few weeks later the funeral arrived.
I dreaded it because I hated the idea of sitting in a sea of distressed black men and women, praising Jesus for his gifts as I sat awkwardly in the corner.
During the actual service, after hundreds embraces from people I didn’t know, I sat in the front row next to my father and brother, clutching the velvet padding below me and bracing myself for what was to come.
But while the preacher began blessing the mourners, I straightened my younger brother’s back; while relatives sang soulful melodies I brushed the lint off my pants; while friends laughed at tender memories, I straightened my tie. It wasn’t until my sister spoke that things began to change.
With tears in her eyes, she discussed the fact that we had no idea who our family was and how important these connections that we never took part in were.
After a minute or so of fighting with the lump in my throat and holding back tears in my eyes, I cracked, and all I felt was embarrassment. I didn’t have touching memories; I didn’t have a connection to the ashes in that urn.
My sister went on to read a memoir of my grandfather’s life written by my father.
This is what he wrote, “They will look into our eyes and they always seem to know that we are the seeds of our Willie…Many have known him in this life so much more than I. Though I doubt the ways you mourn for him will be the ways I cry…though his body may be gone his soul still remains in us, the signs of his youth.” Whether I knew him or not he was the reason I’m here today, the reason why my dad tells me he loves me every day.
I began to look at family differently. I don’t always appreciate mine, but the truth is, they made us who we are now, and we owe them something. Maybe they got you through school, supported your siblings, or just genetically gave you some great parents, either way, you owe them something.
So I would like to thank my grandpa, not for the life he lived but for the memory he left behind because even something as simple that can reunite a family.