Opi died last night – on his birthday, which I didn’t even really remember because we were supposed to celebrate it together on the weekend. I spent the day as normally as any other day. I ate breakfast, went to work, came home, taught piano, and then sat down to watch Elysium. And then, right in the middle of ordinary life, the phone rings. I think nothing of it. My mom comes down the stairs.
“Opi died,” she says. “We’re going to Omi’s.”
I only remember fragments of what happened next. I think we all sort of looked about us in a daze. I remember feeling a shock, as if someone had just randomly turned the lights off in the middle of a party or school assembly. I remember my dad yelling about how we should have visited him today and then suddenly, we were in the car driving to pick up my other sister who was watching The Fault in Our Stars at the movie theaters.
In the car, my mom called my Uncle who was currently visiting from California and staying at my grandma’s. He told us she was already asleep. Then she called my other Uncle. I sat in the backseat of the car trying to make myself as small as possible and silently screaming into nothing. I was crying because I never got a chance to say good-bye. Crying because I’ll never kiss him again. Crying because one of the first people ever to hold me when I came into this world, was gone.
We got to my Grandma’s house and saw my Uncle talking on the phone outside. My aunt arrived shortly after and all the siblings went inside to tell my Grandma. We sat in the dark waiting. I couldn’t look at my Grandpa’s desk – see his pencils all neatly lined up as though they were waiting for him, hear the creak of his chair, or see the frayed cushion without crying.
At length my Grandma came down. She was all dressed in black. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said. Then we piled into the car and drove to the care home to see him. The nurse led us into his room. I couldn’t look at him at first but then I forced myself to. There lay my Opi, looking as though he had just lain down to sleep. He looked so peaceful and quiet. No ragged breathing, no blue ears, no protruding veins, no runny nose. Just my Opi, silent and still, as though he were a wax figure.
I can still hear him laughing, and saying “Isn’t it?” and twiddling his thumbs. I saw his little shoes in the corner, and the BC Catholic paper on the desk, and Rango still tied to his bed. I wanted him to get up. To wake up with that dazed look on his face, followed by the smile of recognition when he saw me. I wanted him to stroke my hair again and ask me about school and tell me that I’m a young lady or fraulein, and give me transit directions, or tell me about the books he read, or share stories about his time in Kitimat. Stories that I was going to write into a book one day but now I can’t because I don’t remember the details and it’s too late to ask him.
We went back to my grandma’s house after that. We drank tea and my grandma took out some photos of him. I spilled the flower vase when I learned over to see them and water got everywhere. We got home at around 1:30 and I don’t even remember falling asleep. Suddenly I was awake and saw that it was 7:00. By 7:30 I was on the bus on my way to work. I had to force myself not to think because every time I thought, I started to tear up. “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know ” – this was the thought running through my head all day.
It was weird to see people going normally about their day. Their normal, ordinary day while I was living without my beloved Opi. I think about how I’ll never knock on his door and hear him say “Coming!” as he gets off his favourite grey chair to open it for me. He’ll never walk me to the bus stop again or give me and Krystyna each $5 to buy a drink at Canuck game. How I’ll never lean my head against his shoulder or lovingly touch his hand again.
My bed is covered in tissues and my eyes are overflowing with tears as I think about one of the kindest and generous men I ever knew. My eyes were so puffy this morning that I could barely open them and my vision was blurry all day. We had another family dinner and I think we all felt guilty. I felt guilty, and my dad felt guilty, and my cousin felt guilty – we all felt guilty because we should have visited him more when he was at the carehome, and we didn’t.
I took a picture of my grandpa on the last day I saw him. 2 weeks ago: May 23, 2014. He’s old and weak but he’s smiling in the spring sun and he’s happy. When I zoom in, I can see the creases on his skin when he smiles, the blotches of red on his cheeks, and the deep indent of his Adam’s apple, and I love him.