Herb *

This was originally posted in October of 2007.   What strikes me as I read it today is the way I went back and forth between tenses, as if  he was gone already.

Yesterday afternoon, he died.  In a hospital, by himself.  I hadn’t spoken to him in over 10 years.  He never met my children, never wanted to meet them.  They don’t know he existed. 

Please don’t tell me you’re sorry for my loss.  Because as horrible as it sounds, I’m not sure it was a loss, and I don’t think I’m all that sorry.

Old people were supposed to be shrunken, diminutive. But he was an enormous lump of a man. At least 350 pounds. And even with his stooped shoulders, his beaten posture, he stood at least 6 foot 4. (My husband insists he must have been a professional wrestler in a secret, alternate life). His rainbow colored suspenders (“braces”, he called them) were an incongruous splash of color against his worn out blue work shirt and grimy jeans. He hefted himself, with considerable effort, into the rusted out motor home that hadn’t moved in years. I kept driving past, glad he was OK, glad he hadn’t seen me. Not that he would have recognized me. Grandpa and I haven’t talked in ten years.


I think he’s about 75. He lied about so many things, twisting facts to suit himself, I’ll never be sure of his real age. Or how many children he had. There were the 3 “legitimate” ones he had with my grandmother. But new kids pop up all the time. In a twist out of a bad sitcom, my mom found out her high school nemesis was her half sister. At last count, there were maybe half a dozen. We don’t even raise our eyebrows anymore, when a new one pops up. He grew up as the youngest of 6 kids. He was the only boy, a position that earned him an outsize proportion of his mother’s attention and affection. Maybe the women “on the side” were a way to make himself feel as special as his mom had made him feel.


He liked to make inappropriate jokes in an inappropriately loud voice. He had opinions on any world event ever discussed in his presence, even though his world never extended outside of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta (except for a brief vacation to Banff that my grandmother had to beg him to go on). He was a welder, before that a foreman in a glass factory. He liked to fish. He loved to smoke. He ate mammoth amounts of food; his “snacks” would have been a large meal for anyone else. And he seemed to take pleasure in ordering the nearest female to prepare them for him.


For all his bluster, he was cripplingly introverted. He would make the hour and a half drive to our farm every Christmas, and then stay in his room while we ate with my dad’s family. He stopped talking to anyone after his divorce from my grandma (including bankers, his lawyer). After he lost the house and his welding truck, he parked the motor home behind an industrial building, and insisted he was where he wanted to be. I don’t believe him. But he’s gone to so much effort to alienate us all, that I pretend he means it.


22 responses to “Herb *

  1. i can hear the ‘whatever’ in your words… i know the feeling. what do you say when a blight on the ass of humanity disappears? ‘whatever’…

  2. I feel bad sometimes because although I don’t speak to my aunt, who is the most horrible person I’ve ever met, I know we’re all human, and on a desert island we would have to get along, and aren’t we on some kind of deserted island now? Or something like that, which doesn’t make much sense.

    And she’s such a no-redeeming-qualities-whatsoever kind of a person, that I’m willing to turn a blind eye to our shared humanity. And I’m happy knowing I probably will never see her again.

  3. I have a ‘Herb’ of sorts, unfortunately one generation closer.

    Not easy to work your head around.

  4. Sounds like he was just baggage that’s now out of your life. It’s a shame he was alone at the end, but it sounds like he drove everyone away, so…we reap what we sow.

  5. I had a similar feeling when my grandfather died. Strange thing.

  6. My husband’s father is not unlike Herb* and it makes me feel sad for him, and my husband. It also makes me wonder how my husband turned out so great for a guy with a shell of a father. I see broken people here and there and I always wonder, how did they get there. I know personal responsibility is part of it but I think there’s something else too. I look and study, sometimes int he dispassionate way of an nonemotional observer and sometimes in a way to send juju out into the world that I never become one of those people. I’m inclined to say this life is the only one we get so it’s a little tragic to me when people spend it on the wrong stuff.

    I’m not sorry for your loss in his passing but more what you lost out on by not having it be different than it was.

  7. It’s really the loss that should have been that I feel for you. What do you do with family like that? One of my grandma’s seems to be preparing to join the KKK in her old age, getting meaner and more stupid with every passing month. I’ve a cousin throwing himself into white trash culture, taking his wife and children with him. Sometimes I wish we could pick our family.

  8. Sad he wasted the opportunity to meet your kids. but you probably wouldn’t have wanted that anyway.

  9. Watching my dad and uncles grieve for their father made me wonder what had changed my grandfather from the man they remembered into the frightening and abusive man I knew him to be.

    I was glad they didn’t have the same memories I did.

  10. One of my grandpa’s was the same and his son (my dad) is well on his way. Thank you for this Ginny. The mix of emotions in this reality is sometimes a lot for me to handle. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  11. I had horribly mixed emotions when my grandfather died, and again later when my grandmother died. I had pleasant memories of them from when I was a kid, but that was all mixed in with all the other turmoil that they created and fostered in our family. I couldn’t help but feel a bit happy that a lot of that crap died with them.

  12. Wow. Wonder what made him that way? And why he chose not to change?

  13. They say blood is thicker than water, and I don’t believe them for a second. I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest for not being sorry.

  14. Wonderfully written. It’s a shame that there are Herbs everywhere who blow the chance to live a fulfilling life, shutting out the few people who *might* give a crap.

    My grandfather died when I was eight, and my family was puzzled by my ambivalence. Somehow, none of them knew the same drunken, arrogant, asshole I did.

  15. how the hell did he get so many women to sleep with him? he sounds like he was a nightmare on so many levels

  16. You paint a very vivid picture of your grandfather. My mom’s father was sort of an asshole – so I get how you could not consider his death a loss.

  17. greenduckiesgirl

    Thank you for this. I have had mixed feelings for years about my father and not speaking to him for 3 years before he died. While I’ve been able to remember the good times and forgive him for the bad, it helps to know that there are others who have been in the same situation.

  18. in October of last year I “lost” my Grandmother (and I do use the term “lost” very loosely). I was much like you NOT overwhelmed with grief and/or sadness.

    I still feel guilty about that once in a while. Guilty like that I’m not sad enough that my Grandmother died or that I should feel something more, I mean she was my family for God’s sake right? Hmmm…..nope, not there. Nothing there.

    I cried all weekend over having to give my cat away but couldn’t muster a tear at my Grandmother’s funeral (which consisted of 6 people…..all family members….no friends if that tells you anything)

    I blogged last October about having my handbasket all decorated since I’m going to hell and all but I know how tacky it is to link to posts in comment sections…

    Enjoy your blog….you are too funny!

  19. Hmm. Not sure what to make of this. Solid picture of him, but you still seem to be isolated from him. What do you feel?

  20. My Grandpa is an Herb too. I go see him to remind myself of what regret looks like.

  21. Gosh…this makes me wildly grateful for the positive relationships that I do have in my life. It also deepens my resolve to make sure that my kids (hypothetical though they may be) know how important it is to be honest and kind.

    Thank you for sharing.

  22. I too lost my grandfather last year… but I continue to be devastated because he was more of a father to me in adult life than my father has been.

    My father is much like your grandfather. I haven’t spoken to him in months, which might not seem like that long but I am only 21. He’s progressively alienated everyone in my family. He was the one who came to family get-togethers and dozed in the other room the whole time. He has the mommy issues and the inappropriate humor that was so often hurtful…
    He wasn’t always this way but there seems to be nothing anyone can do to wake him up and make him see how much he hurts those who love him, at least who he used to be and not who he now chooses to be.

    Sometimes I wish it was my father, and not my grandpa who left us last summer. Maybe it wouldn’t have hurt as much. And grandpa sure as hell would have done a lot better job at being with us through our loss than my father did.

    I dunno, I’m being silly I guess. I don’t miss my dad in that I have any desire to speak to him or anything like that, but I miss the idea of him, of having a dad who loves his kids more than he loves his couch, his giant soda cup, and his 800 DVDs.

    I’ve been reading your blog a lot recently. You’re very likeable and easy to identify with. And thought provoking. It’s nice that you share yourself with the world. I like that.

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