I dreamed that my grandfather died and in this dream it felt as though my soul were emptying out an ocean’s worth of grief. I woke up confused. I was seven years old and had met my grandfather only twice. Why would I have become so overwhelmed with sorrow for a man who, for me, was the spectre of a grandpa and not a real presence in my life?
Grandpa Germaine owned a hotel in Quebec, just on the border with Ontario. He had a grade eight education, was brilliant with numbers, and was prone to yelling at the radio when something did not agree with him.
He once fell while attempting to get on his horse-drawn sled.
“Did you fall, John?” a friend had asked with a smirk.
“No, I did not fall. That’s how I always get on my sled,” he said with determination and climbed onto his transport with as much dignity as he could muster.
Less than a week after my dream, I was told by my mother that Grandpa John had died. I was uneasy at this news. I believed that my dream had caused this man to die. I kept this information to myself because I had no idea how my mother–it was her father who had died–would react to such a thing.
We drove across the Ottawa River to a village called Campbell’s Bay, where the Ringrose Brothers Funeral Home laid out the dead, for the three-day wake. The room smelled of candles, flowers, incense, and carpet cleaner. This house of the dead was filled with hushed conversations and quiet weeping. There was coffee in the basement. Then my step-grandmother, Laura, arrived, and she was overcome with grief, throwing herself against the wall with a high-pitched keening. She was comforted by people I didn’t know. She then threw herself on the corpse of my grandfather, who lay stone-faced and dignified in the open casket. Laura’s red hair had loosened from her tightly wound bun and strands of bright red hair fell across her anguished face. She appeared possessed as she screamed and grasped desperately at Grandpa while younger men pulled her away. This display had set others off, like a room full of infants who are set to crying as soon as the first begins. The room filled with a crushing sadness.
Seeing this display was terrifying, and I knew then that I could never tell a soul that I had killed Grandpa. I would take this to my grave. If someday we meet I’ll tell Grandpa I’m sorry. Or as sorry as I can be for a man I never really knew.