Christmas is my favorite time of the year. Gifts are shared, snow hits the ground, temps drop down, grass is officially dead and best of all, the family gets together. I love it and always will. However, on December 24th, 2011, my wonderful grandmother, Henrieta Bulus, passed away. We all called her “Meme” because in my family, that is what we did since we were kids.
The death sprung a horrible trap inside my family, with the loss taking a serious toll on my mom. Meme was my mom’s best friend. Sure, a daughter can be worn down by countless questions about my brother or what I am doing or how work is, but my mother loved Meme right down to her bones. My wife and my dad were stunned for sure, but the impact on my mother rings two years later louder than ever.
I had a personal connection with Meme. She taught me things that are hard to be put into words. She was the sweetest soul on earth and nurtured strangers on a daily basis. If she was at a party, her night wasn’t fulfilled until she talked to everybody in the place and in depth. She was a people’s person who loved to talk, drink wine and connect. That’s what Meme did. She connected with anybody. As bad as Osama Bin Laden was, I used to tell my friends I could put 100 on my grandmother holding a conversation with the guy in some form of Arabic or similar language for at least 5 minutes before she realized who she was talking to. She could do it all.
She was in her early 80’s when she passed away two years ago today. She went out in typical Meme fashion. At a party, talking to people, breathing and inhaling different cultures and sipping wine all night. Working with a hip replacement she received in December 2010 she made an attempt to go down a flight of stairs to talk to more people. She probably had half the place down but still had around 5 different groups of people to attack with that energy of hers. She lost her balance somewhere in her trip on the stairs. She fell down 9 stairs and smacked her head on the concrete at the bottom. The fall wasn’t the worst part. It was the final thud onto the ground. Meme spent nearly 2 weeks in intensive care and passed away on Christmas Eve. Coincidentally, it was the same day she was married decades before. Simply bittersweet.
I remember the time of day and everything on that morning 2 years ago. We got the call early in the morning and it came after my son entered the room and we did this extended picture flurry that is common in the Buffa household. There is even a picture of my wife and son that was taken right before the phone rung. It was my dad and he told us Meme had passed. I hadn’t heard that tone of his voice since I listened to him find out on the phone in 1989 that Meme’s husband, Larry(from which I got my middle name) had passed away of a heart attack. Imagine a gruff John Wayne and a wounded animal and that is my dad when emotion is starting to flood his systems. It’s weird for a son to hear his dad cry. If you have had the pleasure of meeting my old man, you quickly notice the 6 foot 4 frame and monstrous size and build. Imagining that breaking down over a phone call and what doesn’t seem right at first clicks later. He really loved his mother and father in law.
When he first met my mom, Larry gave my dad a hard time. My mom’s parents were Lebanese and my dad was half Italian. You can guess there was some friction at first. My dad had to earn their respect and then some. It took years for him to get the trust of my grandfather. He had to take a hammer to that tough thick layer of ice for a long time before it was a done deal that he was marrying my mom. That kind of trial and tribulation either separates a man from his in-law’s or it binds them together forever. My dad grew very close to Meme and Pepe(our version of grandpa).
So when I heard his voice on the phone, I knew what happened. I didn’t cry or even crack a tear. My wife immediately broke down and my poor son(3 months old and 10 days) didn’t have any expression to offer. It was silent before we both decided to get off the damn phone. A time of death was given to me but my ears basically went deaf after the finality hit. We went to the hospital and we all broke down in the room. Looking at Meme, who was still in the room, it was sort of a final moment thing. Those are never easy to work with emotionally. You can almost hear a timer ticking before someone starts to cry. You don’t have the words or emotional depth to conjure up a good sendoff. So you cry and try to dull the pain away.
Death is a son of a bitch. It’s finality is only outran by its blunt force trauma strike to normalcy. You don’t get to say when or where. You take it in and let it destroy you and slowly you get back up. Some people told me they would be happy to make it to their 80’s. Sure, we all would like to. George Carlin got there and he did every drug known to mankind in his life. He passed away on his own watch.
Meme’s death proves the theory that death is unfair. She was old but she had so much more life to give. She had an energy that couldn’t be taught. She was infectious in a crowd. You couldn’t get mad at her and if you did, you felt like rotten shit later. Meme was one of a kind and needed to stay a while. She needed to watch my son grow into a beastly 2 year old and eventually take his first bus ride to school. Maybe even go on his first date. Every time I look at him I think of her reaction to him spouting off some gibberish about trains or running around the house. I get sad and then regroup. This happens nearly every day.
I’d like to mention my grandmother around my mom more often but it would be like pouring salt in an open wound. My mom still misses her like hell and we all know it. My dad’s mom mentioned her at my wife’s birthday two months ago and it’s like we all looked at her with crazy eyes. Then again, it’s easy to talk about Meme and smile. She was great. Angelic and tough. Her forearms were a third of the size of my own but when she grabbed my arm I confused her grip for Lou Ferrigno’s. She kept me in line and asked me questions every time I saw her. I miss those questions I once found to be mind grating. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? When will I ask my popular friend Bill for a job with the Cards? When will I go back to school? I would love to answer those today. I would even answer them repeatedly.
Today, I remember Meme just like I have all year long. She was special because she gave a shit a lot more than others. She’d feed a homeless person only if they would watch 60 Minutes with her. She would give you advice you didn’t want to hear but should have written down with a permanent marker. She gave you pearls when you weren’t even asking. I miss Meme and tonight I remember her.
I used to take her to movies at the Plaza Frontenac, which isn’t my favorite theater by any stretch. It is tightly conceived, contains small theaters and an old fashioned look that can grow irritating. However, she loved the place so I took her. Independent films or French language films. She ate more popcorn than anyone and spit it out of her mouth as she created a commentary inside the theater while the movie played. One of the most quiet attributes of her was her confidence and denial of others thinking about what she was doing. Every time I go there I think about Meme.
Well, I have overstayed my welcome here. If you made it this far, thanks. Meme was special and if anyone or anything deserves 1400 words, it’s my late grandmother. If you had the honor of meeting her, you would understand.
Merry Christmas and goodnight,
Dan L. Buffa