Death is defined as the end of a life. When we are, in some way, connected to whoever has died, the way we deal with that loss varies. Along with death, often comes thoughts of them being gone from our lives. However, it is often said that the deceased live on in our memories. Although, that may be true, I can’t help wondering about when the memories begin to fade. What if you were fairly young when someone close to you died and now you have trouble remembering him or her clearly?
Thomas Francis Kenney Junior died when I was eleven. He was my mom’s dad, but to me he was Grandpa. I was his oldest grandchild. At the time my sister was nine and my younger cousin was two. You’d think that since I was the oldest cousin, I’d have the clearest memory of him today. Although that that may be true when it comes to comparing the grandchildren; today the memories I have left of him are beginning to become hazy and I’m not sure if I’m confusing facts and stories with memories.
In June of 2004, my grandparents were planning a trip to Ireland, a place they’d wanted to go to for a while. Unfortunately, that trip was canceled when doctors told my grandpa that he had pancreatic cancer and most likely wouldn’t live longer than summer’s end.
I can remember my mom and her sister crying in my kitchen the night they found out and that later my mom and her other sister were arguing, and then crying because they were so distraught. I remember having to take pictures with him when he was still able to, but he didn’t smile in those pictures and my smile was forced. Seeing my smile next to his abnormally pale, straight, face only makes me want that haze that clouds many of my memories of him to disappear. I can remember his birthday passing and instead of people being in a celebratory mood, I remember that day being so glum to the point of it seeming as if that day’s importance didn’t even exist. I remember him sleeping in that hospital bed, at home, as the cancer claimed him. I can remember being picked up from my summer school the day he died. I remember his funeral and the wanting to stay strong despite how hard that was. I can remember not crying but still being very sad.
My mom, my aunts, my granma, and my uncles all can tell stories about him. Those stories usually make them laugh and then they get very reminiscent about the good times they had with him. They all have all these fond memories, which are probably as clear to them as if they were watching a movie. These memories seem to come to them easily as well. I, however, now have to really put my mind to it, in order to differentiate between stories I’ve been told or things I know about him and an actual memory. If I can conjure a memory it often seems as if I’m remembering a dream, where it doesn’t seem quite real, as opposed to what I wish the memory was like.
I know a lot about my grandpa, but these are facts I’ve been told over time and they don’t seem like memories in a way I would want them to be. I know he chewed his ice cream and that his favorite flavor was chocolate. I know the Red Sox were his favorite baseball team and that he liked sports. I know he was one hundred percent Irish and grew up near Boston, MA. I know that he would guess the gender of every baby born in the family before they were born and was right every time (which was a total of nine children – his kids, then his grandkids). I know that he went to Ocean Park, Maine almost every summer of his life and that he really liked it there. I know that he didn’t like the process of decorating Christmas trees. I know he lived through a stroke. I also know that he never wore sun block, but always made sure others did.
Out of all the things I know about him, very few allow me to recall a memory in the way I want to remember. I wish I could remember instances like my mom, my aunts, my uncles and my granma, so that a movie plays in my head. If I could control it, I’d want that movie to play as vividly as if I were actually reliving the instance that I’d be remembering. Although, more than anything, I’d want that developing haze which still clouds my memories of him to disappear so that I could remember.
However, there are still some pretty vivid memories that I do have of him. One example that I can remember is that every summer my grandpa would rent a little red cottage in Maine and that almost every summer my family, along with my aunts and uncles, would spend two weeks up there with him and my granma. I remember one summer, when I was about seven or eight, in particular. My grandpa and I were sitting out side, one beautiful day, on the screened in porch. We were talking and I remember him asking me what my favorite baseball team was. He didn’t know that at the time that I didn’t have one, but instead of saying that, I said, “I don’t know. Who’s winning?” He stated flatly that the Yankees were, so I chose them as my favorite team. When looking back on this, I laugh, because at the time I knew pretty much nothing about pro sports and I also didn’t know that his favorite team, the Red Sox, were huge rivals with the Yankees. However, if someone were to ask me today what my favorite baseball team was, my answer would be the Red Sox, not because they’re the Massachusetts home team or because I changed my mind, but because that the Red Sox were my grandpa’s favorite and I choose them in order to stay connected to him.
In a way, don’t most people’s minds, when someone they know dies and they are still considerably young, begin to get cloudy? What if that cloud grows to the point where all the person has left are the facts and stories they’ve been told? That might be considered fine if the person who died, died before you were born because that would be all you’d be able to have anyway. However, when you’ve had the chance to know a person well enough, facts and stories are not an acceptable replacement for the memories because most people would probably want more vivid memories so that they can still feel connected to the person who died. Even if facts and stories aren’t the perfect replacement, they’re still better than nothing though. What if the cloud that sweeps over vivid memories not only clouds those but would eventually cloud the remnants of connections that people cherish as well?
Seven years have passed since the death of Thomas Francis Kenney Junior. Although I still have some unclouded memories left, I cannot help but wondering how long those memories will stay unclouded. Will those unclouded memories begin to blur and become part of the confusion I have between information I’ve been given and actual memories that I can recall or will they gradually vanish? Will that haze also eventually cloud the connection that I still have to my grandpa? I often wish that this cloud didn’t exist so that I could remember more. However, even if I cannot completely control the clouding of memories that that haze produces, I can still cherish the memories I do have for as long as I have them. By cherishing those memories, it allows the connections to stay unclouded and if that is all I can do, then so be it.