I have a friend who bought a new house.
Well, it’s actually an old house; nearly 100 years old. I don’t know why we call them new houses. Why don’t we call them new-to-me or gently-used like we do with cars and clothing? Whatever.
The man who sold my friend the house was an 80-year-old widower. And apparently, his late wife was keen on wallpaper. My friend said she could watch the decades roll backward as she removed layer after layer of wallpaper. I inquired if she saved any to frame and hang in the kitchen. Unfortunately, the removal process was too much for paper that was decades old.
The conversation made me think of the wallpaper in my grandparents’ kitchen. It was golden pears and apples in fruit bowls. I have a vague memory of color in the design, but it escapes me. If I close my eyes, I can almost reach out and feel the texture; its linen fibers under my touch.
My grandparents lived in a ranch-style home and, as a child, it seemed like one long hallway. On Easter, the five of us granddaughters would show up in white dresses and black patent-leather shoes. We would run up and down the linoleum much to the chagrin of my grandfather. I can still hear the tapping and slapping of our shoes as they echoed through the kitchen.
My memory of my grandfather is one of a quiet and stern man. There seemed to be an angry burden on his soul that he carried with him. Was it his badge of honor? Was it the power to mask feelings of powerlessness? When I was a young adult, I wondered perhaps if it was one of these.
My grandparents had five children. But they lost their first two children before the age of five. Both were sons. One of the boys drown and the other was taken by Polio. I can’t imagine losing one child let alone two. And then to lose them less than three years apart. No parent should have to endure such agony.
It was the late 1930’s and early 40’s. Who even understood grief back in the day? Did they understand what it did to the mind, soul, and body? Last year was a year of grief for us. Yet, we endured nothing like the pain my grandparents endured. For us, it seemed death was ever-present and camped out on our doorstep. It was a constant reminder of the brevity of life. And it took its toll.
It made me think and ponder my grandparents’ life. Maybe it wasn’t anger that I saw in my grandfather. Perhaps it was profound and unspeakable grief. When I think about it now, it is clear he was an introvert with no way to express his pain. He worked hard, went to Mass, and cut the grass. It was what he knew to deal with the loss.
I’ve wondered often if he looked at his other children afraid to love them. Was he afraid to give his heart away and possibly have it shattered beyond repair? Was there a constant fear camped out on his doorstep threatening to crush him completely?
If my grandfather were here today, I would tell him it wasn’t his fault that his sons died. It wasn’t God punishing him. I would tell him it’s okay to be angry and to yell at God because maybe yelling at God would help him heal. And then maybe the healing would allow him to smile and experience joy once more.
There are people in our lives who carry unspeakable burdens. It often appears as anger, sadness, or fear. Today, might you stop and pray for those who work so hard to hide their pain. May God reach down and heal their souls that they might experience true joy in this life!