Immediate and Tremendous

The fire had burned out and had quite likely gone completely cold by the time I was awoken.

My mother’s light touch on my back, her whispers in my ear in the dark of my bedroom coaxed me from my dreams.  She wasn’t herself as she helped me to put my coat on over my pajamas, gently, but absentmindedly, threading my arms through the sleeves.

Her whispers, “going to your aunt’s house…choose a toy to bring with you…”

I chose my new silver baton, with the white rubber tips, such a random thing to remember all these years later.

It was just before Christmas.

The bitter cold pierced through my coat and the snow swirled about our heads as my mother carried me to the car.

The drive was a blur, but when we arrived at my aunt’s house, I was elated to see my cousins.  This visit was a gift, an unexpected sleepover.  We all piled into my aunt’s bed and snuggled and whispered until sleep overtook us.

When we woke to the white Maine winter sunlight, streaming through the gap where the heavy curtains didn’t quite meet, my mother and her sister sat on the bed and told us that our grandfather had died the previous evening.

In a fire.

My magical, glorious, Pépère was dead.


No warning, no goodbyes, no chance for final I love yous.

It was late.  My pépère packed logs into his wood stove, with bits of kindling and newspaper to help the fire catch, leaving the door ajar for precious oxygen to help feed the fire.  He lay on the couch for just a moment and dozed off.  When he woke, his living room was on fire and he couldn’t get to the front door, as that part of the living room was ablaze.

He tried to make his escape out the back door, but it was blocked.

He had hired a neighborhood boy the previous autumn to help him stack his firewood by the back door. When the boy stacked it, he blocked the door just enough that my grandfather was trapped.

My magnificent grandfather had no means of escape from his burning home.

The logical and controlling part of my brain always goes back to the little details.  How did he not notice that the door was blocked when he checked the boy’s work?  How could he have thought it okay to lie down and close his eyes, even for just a small moment?

But the answers don’t matter…they can’t change what happened.

Though I was all too familiar with the void left by loss, I had never felt that acute pain, that immediate and tremendous loss. Death was no longer represented by a dull ache.*

In an evening and in an instant, my pépère was gone.

*My brother died before I was born, and my father died when I was just two years old.

This post was inspired by a prompt from The Red Dress Club, a photo of a Christmas ornament not unlike those on my pépère’s Christmas tree.


  1. Oh, lovely one.

    I miss him too now.

    And I didn't know he existed until three minutes ago.

  2. Oh, Nichole…I can't begin to imagine how painful this memory is for you, or how you must still miss your grandfather. Hugs to you, sweet girl.

  3. kris

    How I love the juxtaposition you have managed here . . . an unfolding tragedy that prompts a series of events that are nothing but wondrous in your little girl mind.

    A mother's touch, a favorite toy, an unexpected sleepover with beloved cousins, whispering and giggling and snuggling together. Small unexpected joys.

    As a life is lost.

    And a beloved grandfather is lost.

    And the memory of those small unexpected joys is forever altered.

    Much love to you, Nichole.

    Much love.

  4. Carolyn

    Tragic deaths always stick with you the strongest. When I was a child my aunt and uncle were killed by a drunk driver. I was 7. I've never gotten over waking up in the middle of the night to the phone ringing and hearing my mother cry. It still gives me chills.

  5. Cheryl @ Mommypants

    Beautifully written, my friend.

    The details you remember make it all the more poignant.


  6. Kim

    It always amazes me that we remember nothing from those run-of-the-mill days of our childhood but the days of sorrow, we can recall even the tiniest details. What a tragic way to die and what a terrible picture it must have been in your little mind.

  7. Rebekah C.

    *sniffles* I appreciated how you captured your childlike excitement at your unexpected sleepover surprise and the harsh crash of the following morning.

    I also just want to give you a hug. So much loss at such a young age.

  8. Alicia

    Wiping away tears…..I am so sorry Nichole. I know how hard it is to lose a grandpa that you love very much. Your post was beautifully written. Hugs to you from me.

  9. ksluiter

    aren't our emotions and feelings complex? There is so much love and excitement and happy about the unexpected journey to your aunt's, but a the same time so much pain and loss about losing your grandpa. That memory will always be a mix of joy and extreme sorrow. unexpected surprises both happy and horrible.

    this was beautiful.

  10. You words are striking. I am sorry for all of this loss. Thank you for sharing this.

    Stopping by from the red dress club.

  11. Dear God you have a gift. This was so beautifully expressed. And sweet. And painful.

    And then I clicked over to read the post about your brother (because I wasn't blogging yet when you wrote that).

    And now my guts are all twisted up.

    I am truly amazed at how beautifully you can express such pain.

  12. KLZ

    You always know just how to pull my heart strings.

    And I'm so, so glad that your mother and aunt let you kids have the night before breaking the news.

    Yet so horrified that things like this are part of life.

  13. Natalie

    Grandfathers are such an amazing part of childhod. I’m so sorry you experienced this loss at such an early age.
    I barely know you and you’ve brought me to tears. again.

  14. CDG

    Oh Nichole, to be drawn into your memories is such a sweet gift and such a merciless one, too.

    Yours is an intense magic.

  15. Jennifer Dillon

    The weaving of so many of the elements of Christmas, firewood, presents, snow, bitter cold, to create such a textural retelling of such a strong moment was well done, beautiful and above all devestatingly heartbreaking.

  16. naturegirl21

    you have endured so much loss. You've brought honor and respect to your grandfather with this. He sounds like a wonderful man taken way too soon

  17. Adelle

    When we lose those we love in an unfair and abrupt manner, they are never gone from us, especially at the holidays.

    We should be in Maine this year, but we're not. Yours is the second post I've read that speaks of Maine and I'm actually missing it this year.

  18. I am so, so sorry. This is such a hard lesson for a kid to have to face. You wrote about this so beautifully.

  19. Renee

    I am so sorry for the loss you experienced.
    Yet you've once again told a sad story with the ability to draw one into the moment. You are a gifted writer.

  20. Nichole

    He was magic, Lori.
    He was a little Frenchman who played the banjo and loved Hawaiian music.
    Kind and soft. We all miss him so much.

  21. Nichole

    Yes, I miss him so much.
    It was funny how he always felt more like one of us kids, the way he would laugh with us and sneak us treats.
    He left a huge hole in our family.
    Thank you so much for your kind words.

  22. Nichole

    Thank you, Kris, for seeing so much in my writing, for seeing exactly what I hope you'll see.
    And for being such a lovely friend.
    Much love in return.

  23. Nichole

    Calls in the night still unnerve me. Very little good comes from a middle of the night call.
    That must have been heartbreaking to see your mother cry. I can't imagine how horrible that was for your family.
    Love to you.

  24. Nichole

    Thank you, my friend.
    I am both blessed and cursed by this memory of mine.

  25. Nichole

    That's so true, Kim. I couldn't tell you what I had for dinner three days ago, but I can remember that night like it was yesterday. The smallest details are etched in my mind.
    Thank you for reading…

  26. Nichole

    I would happily take that hug, Rebekah.
    Thank you so much for reading.

  27. Nichole

    Thank you, Alicia.
    There is something so wonderful about a grandfather. I was blessed with two amazing grandfathers and I treasure every moment that I had with each of them.
    Thank you for your lovely words.

  28. Nichole

    Thank you, Katie.
    I can't tell you how many times I've thought about how we all giggled in that bed while my mother and aunt were suffering such tremendous heartbreak…the loss of their father.
    Both joy and devastation under one room that night. So sad.

  29. Nichole

    Thank you so much for reading and leaving your thoughtful comment.
    I truly appreciate it.

  30. Nichole

    Thank you so very much for your lovely compliment.
    My grandfather's death was the third tremendous blow in my mother's life. She lost her son, her husband, and her father in the span of eight years.
    I can't fathom having that much strength.

  31. Nichole

    I still can't imagine how difficult it was for them to process what had happened that night.
    I think of them sitting at my aunt's kitchen table trying to understand how such a tragedy could have happened.
    He was so vibrant and full of life and he died far young.

  32. Nichole

    Thank you, Natalie.
    Grandfathers are indeed a magical part of childhood. I am grateful for the years we had, but feel robbed of those that we could have had still.

  33. Nichole

    Thank you.
    Much love, my wonderful friend. So much love.

  34. Nichole

    Thank you, Jennifer, for both your visit and for your lovely comment.

  35. Nichole

    He really was amazing.
    Thank you for your sweet comment.
    Yes, I've endured much loss, but I've also known tremendous joy. Joy that I might not have appreciated nearly as much as I do, if it weren't for the heartache.

  36. You amaze me over and over with your gift. You are able to take painful memories and weave them together beautifully and poignantly. Your losses make my heart ache for you, but your words leave me with hope for the beauty that can always be found in the world.

  37. SquashedMom

    I don't think there is anything new for me to add here to what everyone above me has already said, beautifully. So I just want you to know that I was here, and I heard you. And if I could pick up that little girl who has known too much loss for her too few years and give her a hug that would wrap around her heart and protect her from more pain, I would. Much love.

  38. Yuliya

    If you ever doubt why you do this blogging thing you do, you need not look further than this. This piece that gives life to the memory of your Grandfather.
    By now it's all been said, so I will say, I am here and I am listening.

  39. Elizabeth Flora Ross

    So much sadness for you this time of year. I'm so sorry for all the loss you have endured. Thank goodness you have that wonderful man and two beautiful children to bring you joy.

  40. Lyndsey

    Nichole I had no idea just how much you and your family have endured. That being said, I can see how it has all made you the wonderful wife and mother that you are.

  41. Alexandra174

    Isn't it odd what we remember from those significant moments?

    When my father died, when I was 6, most of what I remember from that moment is my sparkly gold little ball, that I thought was a crystal ball.

    How strange how our mind fixates on those things.

  42. Nancy C

    Yes. When my grandfather died, on my tenth birthday, I'll always remember looking at a stuffed frog. The strange things that stay with us forever.

    This story…whew! Powerful and so incredibly moving. The holidays are a bit loaded for you, I imagine. In between this and your own loss.

    Does the writing help? I find it helps me, but it's also hard to relieve some things.

  43. sherrikuhn

    Oh, this is so sad. Your words really took me there, too. There are just some things that happen and they are etched on your mind, part of who you are.

    xoxo, my friend….

  44. melissa

    this is heartbreaking. so horribly sad. i'm so sorry for you, this must have been such a horrible thing to have to deal with.

  45. Kir

    SO sorry for all those losses, for the questions and the things that never get answered. For imagining the how and why. At such an early age, to have those kinds of things swirling in your mind.

    Your words were so vivid that tears bit at the corner of my eyes and I wanted to hug all that hurt away.

  46. Kristy

    I'm so sorry for your loss. Your words really captured the different feelings that death and loss can bring.

  47. Oh, how sad. I am so sorry.
    Came from TRDC.

  48. Your story is beautifully written, rich with details from a child's point of view. I am so sorry for your loss.

  49. Mandyland

    This was such a beautiful and poignant post. Your words wrapped around me and lulled me into comfort and then exposed me to the pain. Wonderfully done.

  50. Amazing post. It is strange the details that we remember. And how hard it must have been for you to imagine.

Add a comment

(required, won’t be displayed)

About this post