I was about 15 when I walked into my Mom and stepdad's bedroom with a tray of tea. If I remember correctly, it was a Sunday, and I think my Mom and I were going to hang out and read in her bed. As I walked in, she put the phone down and had a strange look on her face. She told me my father had just called, and I remember thinking it was weird that he didn't ask to talk to me. Since my parents divorced in the early seventies, they hadn't exactly had a warm, co-parenting relationship. The twice yearly drop-offs in the south of Sweden were never happy family reunions, more somber transactions I think.
The explanation for the call came a few seconds later. My mother asked me to put the tray down and come sit with her, and then she told me my Grandpa Allan had died from a blood clot in the leg. I was confused and I suppose sad, but mostly confused. This wasn't just the first grandparent to die, this was the first person I knew who had died period. Also, I wasn't sure what a blood clot was, and my Grandpa Allan was probably the grandparent that I had the least close relationship to, so I really wasn't sure how to feel.
Don't get me wrong, spending summers at Grandpa and Grandma Lundins' house in the south of Sweden was magical and exciting. Allan and Agda had a big house with a huge yard, on account of him being the head of a farming union or co-op, so there was a lot of room to play and discover both inside and out. Also, my uncle Thomas, who was just a few years older than Ulrik and I, still lived at home which we thought was so cool. We worshipped him, but it seemed our attemps to hang out in his room and be part of his life was probably more irritating than anything.
The best part of summers in Ljungbyhed, which was what the litte town was called, was Grandma Agda. She was patient and kind, playing cards and other games with us, and of course there were her baked goods. She baked the most heavenly of cinnamon rolls, mocca squares and cookies and there seemed to be an endless supply for us, without us having to do any chores. Thinking back on it now, I think the summers spent there were some of the happiest times of my life.
But back to Grandpa Allan. I don't know how old he was when I was a child, and I don't know how old he was when he passed away, because to me he was always the same age, which I suppose was simply "old." Not sure how to sugar coat this next part, so I won't. He drank and smoked a fair amount, and could be quite tough to be around. I don't think he was always kind to Grandma Agda, or his five children. It was complicated because on the one hand, if he was in a great mood, he'd be really fun and he might send us to the store to get cigarettes, which meant we'd get to buy candy with the change, but he could also be quite moody and harsh if we played too loudly in the house.
The funeral was held in a church in the south of Sweden, so we took a train down there to attend. In Sweden there is no separation between church and state, which means everyone is automatically born into the Swedish Church, unless one is Jewish and asks to leave it. So although the Lundin clan isn't particularly Christian or religious, it made sense that the funeral would be in a church. Except for I had been raised Jewish, and had never been to a church before, so it was a bit strange to me.
There was always a part of me that was conflicted about this growing up. We lived in Stockholm with our Mom and stepfather and kept kosher, but in the summer we'd spend time with our father and his side of the family, and then we'd eat pork meatballs and whatever else was served. And it had never been explained to me by either of my parents, so I was left religiously confused, while my brother didn't seem to think it was a big deal.
Going to church for a family member's funeral on top of all of that didn't make me any less confused. There were crosses and stuff. Hard benches. I think Bibles or some sort of prayerbook. I remember thinking how interesting it was that the praying was done in Swedish, simply because my praying was always done in Hebrew. It was new and scary although the songs were pretty, and I suppose this was the beginning of my understanding that there was this other part to me that I didn't know or know about. Not necessarily a Christian part, but a Swedish part, which included some aspects of Christianity. I found it interesting and still do.
All of the Lundins were there; my uncles Arne, Lars, Thomas and my sweet aunt Ingrid, my siblings Jessica and Max, the big and little cousins, which was really nice, because I hadn't seen many of them in years. After the service, we went somewhere and had a smorgasbord of Swedish delicacies and beers. It was a nice afternoon and there was talk of Grandpa Allan being a "son-of-a-bitch" but in that festive, fun meaning of the word.
I think Allan was cremated and had his ashed scattered. Maybe I'm making that part up, but I vaguely remember being told, I think by my aunt Ingrid, that Grandma Agda didn't want anyone to feel forced to come around and visit them in some plot after they were both gone. Or have to come and plant things. It sounds like something Grandma Agda would say, for she was someone who was truly selfless and lived to make everyone else's life a little easier and happier.