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Faces (and Spaces)

Benjamin Graham (far left), Mannheim, Germany, 1946, image courtesy of the Grahams


My mother was going to visit her parents. I went along. Didn’t know what to expect today. There was a car in the driveway that I recognized as my cousin’s. The timing was pretty good. I spent a lot of my childhood with him and with only a year age difference, I considered him more of a brother than a cousin. We all did our cordial hellos. I haven’t been as close with him as I had over the last few years. At one point we used to both work for his mother and enjoyed the opportunity to see each other daily. Many days were spent having the most fantastical conversations that ranged from philosophical to bizarre. Recently there had been a space and distance between us but I had missed my friend. A few minutes pass and we go back into the bedroom. Seeing grief in the eyes of someone feeds into your own. You are practically watching all the feelings and raw, yet quiet emotion, being played out by another. He was so attentive to her as he leaned over her bed and wiped the face that she has been unable to wipe herself for years. He leaned over the hospital bed that she has stayed in, unable to move for years. I felt his sadness watching him with our grandmother. All my emotions flooded within me and I had to prevent myself from a crying outburst. Things seemed grim. Today, she was not responsive. If spoken to, there was nothing, only a blank stare. My grandfather informed us that she had not consumed any Ensure or water in a day or so.

I had the tunic on again today for my grandmother to see. I made sure to stand at a reasonable distance so she could see it. When asked if she could see it, she replied that she could. I would bring it up a few more times for some comic relief. I could tell my cousin was getting a kick out of me being a bit narcissistic about my wardrobe. At some point, we all began a conversation about all kinds of stuff, about the past, the present and about Frances. Throughout that time while I was sitting next to my cousin, he showed me pictures that he had on his phone of pictures throughout the life of my grandmother. At some point we had a conversation about her father and what he looked like and I remembered the picture of him downstairs hanging on the wall. I asked my cousin to join me so I could show him and we excused ourselves and went into my grandfather’s office in the basement. Along with the photo of my great grandfather, I did my best to remember some of the other faces hanging on the wall. My cousin said that he never really paid attention to the pictures. I don’t know if I had noticed them because I had spent a lot of time in that room perhaps more recently than he had or if it was because I had always noticed them. I specifically took out a photo album I knew was from grandfather’s Army deployment to Mannheim, Germany at the end of World War II. While we were upstairs, one of our conversations was about my grandfather’s time in the war and how the U.S military distributed money to the soldiers they called scrip (military payment certificates). He told us that he still had it downstairs pinned to their board. Sure enough, there it was. Money is like life, such an arbitrary thing.

It was nice to spend time alone with my cousin again, shoulder to shoulder. It was a nice moment that we shared learning more about ourselves by talking about the people that came before us. I know this will impact all of us in a sorrowful way, but I think he and I will have the most difficult time. As my mother told me, we are both the tender hearts of the family.

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