The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday September 25th

Column: I wish you were here

My grandfather passed away Tuesday. 

My siblings and I called him Zaza. He and my grandmother both originally planned to go by the Yiddish translation, Bubbe and Zeyde, but as a child, my older brother couldn’t pronounce it correctly. Hence, the name Zaza was born.  

Zaza had been battling cancer for years. The last time I saw him was this past summer, when we were socially distanced and wearing masks. 

My grandfather was a pretty rad guy. He was a navigator in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam and was roommates with Jim Morrison in college. He was the kind of guy to give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. 

He was a man of few words and would read just about anything he could get his hands on. My grandparents traveled around the country in an RV, and he detailed his thoughts and experiences in a blog. I like to think I got my passion for writing from him.

Last week, my family gathered in one place for a singular purpose: to say goodbye to my grandfather for the final time over FaceTime. I live 45 minutes away from my mom’s house, so I drove back at around 2 in the afternoon. However, it felt like the drive took hours. 

The past couple of years have been full of loss, but I never bargained for this — nothing prepares you for losing a loved one.

As I was about to turn onto my mom’s street, "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd came on the radio. Pink Floyd was my grandfather’s favorite band and I have always associated the two together. 

Until this moment, I had been holding it all in.

I began sobbing so hard that I couldn’t see. I was frustrated that I didn’t know what to say to my dad or how to comfort him. I was angry that I wasn’t able to say goodbye in person. 

A part of me had hoped a semblance of normalcy would be regained after the past couple of years, but it dawned on me that my family would be facing a post-pandemic world without him. I turned up the radio and sat there as the song played out, channeling the chaos I was feeling into their words.

I swear his spirit was there in that car with me. 

Brooke Dougherty is held by her grandfather, Robert Harry Dougherty. Photo courtesy of Brooke Dougherty.

I’ve always believed in the cathartic power of music, but especially so that day. 

I wondered how people can move forward after losing something so familiar. It is debilitating, but my grandfather wouldn’t want that for me. He was incredibly supportive of me working toward my goals. It’s hard to accept that I won’t see him again, but I’m thankful for his impact on my life — and that he isn’t suffering anymore. At the end of the day, that is what is most important.

I’ve always liked the concept that funerals shouldn’t be mourning a loss, but rather a celebration of life. My grandfather had a life well-lived, and he would want me to do the same. 

How can I write a tribute to someone’s entire existence in roughly 600 words? I can’t. Grief is complicated — it's the most bizarre combination of swelling emotion and emptiness. It’s uncomfortable. 

I know it’s easy to get stir-crazy right now. It’s easy to get tired of being around the same people all the time, but take a moment to imagine a world without them in it. If we are to learn anything from times like these, it is that connection matters, and nothing should be taken for granted.

We don’t get to decide how much time we have with someone, but we can choose what to do with their memory when they are gone. 

His memory lives on in every word I write. 

And Zaza, I don’t know if you can hear me, but I miss you already, and as Pink Floyd would say, "I wish you were here."


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


Welcome Back Edition 2021

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive