2-3 months ago my stepdad’s mother passed away. Two weeks ago, my dad’s father passed away. On Friday, my dad’s mother passed away. The last three grandparents I had, were all gone within a few months. They were the last of a generation in my immediate family, by blood and by marriage. The emotional roller coaster has been nonstop. Surprisingly, the feeling I keep coming back to is motivation.
That’s not to say that I haven’t been sad. Sadness hits me uncontrollably. Anger does, too. Frustration with a broken system that has completely forgotten what my family is going through and has prioritized paperwork, permissions, and profits, over understanding the pain people go through when they lose loved ones is a frequent feeling as well. Then there is the confusion that is unavoidable. Did I do enough? How did I not know about that? Who are these people and what are their stories? Did I even really know my grandparents at all?
Being back home after spending the last 15 years moving to places like Austin, Brooklyn, Boulder, Detroit, and Los Angeles, has been challenging for me without even considering losing the last of my grandparents. As much as I love my hometown of Sacramento, it’s also been the place I’ve loved to escape the most. Sacramento is perfect…if you can escape enough triple-digit days in the summer to keep your sanity. It’s an hour or so drive to the Bay Area and the ocean, about the same distance to wine country, and just a bit more of a drive in the opposite direction to Lake Tahoe. Yet being back home, I find myself wandering familiar places from my childhood in search of something I can’t quite define.
I moved home almost two years ago knowing that it would be to see my grandparents before they passed away. My grandma Joy didn’t really recognize me around Christmas of 2020. I don’t really know if she ever recognized me since coming home. She had been battling dementia for quite some time and most of the time it felt like she didn’t know me, even when she may have said she did. It’s been difficult to process for me. From a very young age, I spent nearly every summer with my dad’s parents all the way into my high school years.
My stepdad’s mother, Winona Lewin, passed away earlier this year. It had been years since I had seen her. My mom and stepdad don’t really speak to many people in the family. My grandmother was one of the first to be cut off from the family many many years ago. The reasons for all things family-related, to me at least, can be credited to how broken we all really are and how broken the families we come from are but that’s a deep dive for another time. Nevertheless, the news hit me much harder than I would have imagined. It still does on occasion as I pass by somewhere we used to live or a place we used to go.
On my dad’s side, my grandparents, Joy and Charlie Engvall were married for 71 years, longer than a lot of people even get to live. In the final weeks, they sometimes denied knowing each other. I won’t get into all the health issues and struggles, but losing them has me reconsidering a lot of things in life. I’m pretty happy with the experiences I’ve had in life but over the last few months, as I wander around Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Shingle Springs, Placerville, Loomis, Penryn, and beyond, I’m reminded of things that if you asked me about a year or two ago, I might not have even remembered.
It’s weird. It’s sad. It’s at times triggering.
As I continue to deal with all of the things that come up, both physically and emotionally, I can’t help but wonder about the people and stories that get lost along the way. My grandparents are further and further removed from the story of life with every day that passes. We all are. Not intentionally, of course.
It’s just that, well, life keeps moving and the things people collect along the way tend to be the artifacts of their story. Unfortunately, without them to tell the story of the photos, the collectibles, and the memorabilia from experiences, those stories often end up in a thrift store someplace without any context for the next owner.
Similarly, the stories that reside in the boxes of photos, the Music Circus show theater programs from the events attended, the San Francisco Giants ticket stubs, have instantly become stories lost in translation to the next generation…me.
To some that read this, I may have an interesting life. To others, maybe not. To me, I’m not really sure right now and I am okay with that at this moment.
I am sure that I am going to make a more conscious effort to document my experiences from now on because one day when my time here is over, it will help add a little more context to my life’s story for those curious enough to reminisce about it.
If I’ve learned anything from the past few months, it’s that we should all do EVERYTHING a lot sooner.