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Grandfatherly Advice

Illinois, USA
October 1998

There is an old cliche, 'Love knows no bounds.' But little did I believe such an emotion could transcend death itself. Growing up in a close knit Italian/American family, my world revolved around my grandfather. The second eldest of 9 grandchildren, I was his favorite. He had only ever wanted two things from life: a united family and to live to see me graduate high school. Unfortunately during my sophomore year of high school, he was diagnosed with cancer. We watched day by day as the disease claimed more of his life, helpless to find a cure. March 2, 1991 was a cool and foggy morning. Like most of the other musicians within the Chicagoland suburbs, I was preparing to compete in several competitions. The morning was ominous with minute warnings: fog, chills, even momentary lapses of memory. In the greatest of ironies, the day appeared cast from the very backdrop of some classical Poe story. My performance time was pushed twenty minutes earlier than scheduled, due to the withdrawal of two prior competitors. Halfway through the performance, my mind drew a blank and I had a mild seizure. It was as if watching the world spin by at a rapid pace, unable to gain control of the wheel. While the brief seizure lasted what only must have been scantly a minute, it appeared to have lasted forever. When I finally regained control, I felt empty....and without words or warning, I knew my grandfather was gone.

The call arrived nearly 2 hours later (it took the family awhile to track my father and I down). My grandfather had passed away at 10:03 am....the exact same moment of my performance. I left the competitions early, withdrawing from my late afternoon affairs and returned home. After dropping me off at home, Dad went with grandma to purchase a new suit and tie for the burial. The wake was held the next day and spanned over two evenings. Due to my close relationship with my grandfather, dad felt it would be best to shelter me from the pain at 15 years of age. The night before the funeral was dismal and stressed. I retired early, not really wanting to be around anyone else. Around 2am I was awakened by a sudden chill in my bedroom. I opened my eyes and saw nothing so I curled up deeper beneath my covers. The chill did not leave though and soon it was accompanied by the faint scent of garlic. (Now even though we were an Italian family, we did not use garlic at all in the house because Dad did not really care much for it.) My eyes slowly opened again, only this time I saw my grandfather. He was dressed in a double-breasted notch lapel suit of deep black with an oddly designed tie in various blues and grays. His form was bent over my head, as if waiting for me to respond. He gave a small grin, while I fought the urge to run. I thought myself mad or possibly dreaming, so I pinched myself to be sure. He spoke: "Be easy on your father, he is going through a hard time too. You will have your differences in the future, but do not hate him for it." And with that he was gone. Part of me wanted to reach out and hold him back, not letting him leave...the other part of me wanted to crawl and hide until reason could regain control of my senses.

The next morning, at the funeral, I was able to see the body for the first and final time. I had gotten no further than the doorway when I saw the suit and tie. There, on the deceased body of my grandfather, were the exact same suit and tie from my visit the night before. My grandma merely looked at me and smiled in sympathy, as I ran from the room. When she finally did see me later that day, she spoke: "John wouldn't have harmed you last night...he was only saying goodbye....he told me he wanted to say goodbye."

Illinois, USA
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