The first July after Grandpop passed away was especially hard. Everyone felt it. His presence and his absence, simultaneously.
We'd traveled to the Outer Banks for our annual family reunion. And though he wasn't a particularly loud man while he was alive, everything seemed quieter that year.
Months had passed since he'd left us, but the sting, the loss, the pain was still so palpable. I thought of him often and cried every time.
That summer, Aunt Kath and Aunt Marg laid out some of his possessions in the living room, on the couches and the chairs.
T-shirts he'd had made, with images from some of the earliest family reunions. His ties, his eyeglasses, a travel sewing kit, a travel clothes line he'd made himself, his hats, more clothes, and other assorted belongings leftover from his children's painstakingly tedious sorting through of his things.
Pieces of him, scattered around.
To pick and choose, and take home with us. To remember.
I wanted to rush up in front of my cousins and grab up everything I could get my hands on. To get first choice. To keep every tangible bit of him. To take him home with me.
It felt wrong. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed for some reason. But I wanted any pieces of him I could have.
A few minutes passed. I looked around the room at people wearing his shirts and his sunglasses, smiling, laughing.
And I noticed there was still something very special sitting on the couch. I asked one of my aunts if I could have it: his little medicine trunk. A brown leather Samsonite travel case, with a hard frame and brass buckles on the front. Inside, a few of his old medications and travel supplies were still tidily tucked away.
I also took some of his ties, which I gave to my husband, Eddie, and a pair of his military-issued thick-rimmed eyeglasses.
I remember that I carefully rolled his ties and placed them, along with his glasses, in his travel case.
Tears welling up in my eyes, as they are now, I clutched the case tightly and walked downstairs to my room, silently asking forgiveness for my greed.
This morning, years later, I opened that medicine trunk.
And the smell of my grandfather spilled into the air, hitting me hard in the face and the heart. My throat tightened and I felt hot tears slide down my face.
It still happens, but not as much as before.
It's funny, isn't it, how someone can be something very different to each person they know?
I know for a fact that his relationship with my older cousins wasn't the same as it was with my sister and I.
And the nearly three quarters of a century he spent with my grandmother, too, was surely a very different kind of relationship. Many challenges, to be sure. He was away a lot, in the Navy. My Nanny did so much on her own to raise a family of four children.
But for me, Grandpop was always such a hero type of man. Loving, kind, supportive. He always believed in me and he always told me so.
To me, he was wonderful. I'm so grateful I got to know him that way. That for me, he was all goodness and nothing bad. I hope he knew that about our relationship. I have to believe he did, and still does.
On this November 2nd, Día de los Muertos, All Souls Day, he surely has come back home.
I feel his presence all around me. My tears are both of love and of loss.
It's a day to remember those who've gone before and who are no longer here in their physical form. A day to welcome them back home to the Earthly world, honor them and love them, and then send them safely back to the spiritual world.
It's been years since I've done this, though I always mean to, and long overdue, but this afternoon I built an altar for my grandparents and Eddie's grandfather, too.
We built it by the window, to let the light shine in, the rays of light symbolizing the impermanence of life. And to guide them home to us for the day. To "catch up".
Photographs, belongings, candles, favorite foods, memories. Time and attention. Permission to cry. Permission to smile as you speak of them. And to let the love flow. It's so simple, but so powerful, too.
How often do we stop to remember our dead?
Gone but not forgotten. I love this tradition. Day of the Dead.
Today, I especially honor and celebrate the lives of our loved ones who have gone before us.
Because the last thing I want is to forget.