Saturday, February 26, 2011

I will think of you each time I see a storm: a grandfather remembered



Today is the all dreaded day. The day we attend my grandfather's funeral.

This has been a very hard few weeks for my family, the culmination of a years-long battle with cancer that my grandfather fought. Originally he was diagnosed with colon cancer, and that fighter... good grief, he beat it pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it managed to come back and with fury. It spread to his liver, lungs, lymph nodes and pancreas, and he was given the diagnosis of "2 weeks to 2 months" on February 10th. The first week he looked so good, we could never imagine he wouldn't beat the cancer again. However, the second week was completely different. He lost his ability to eat (his very most favorite thing), speak and walk. The last few days were spent confined to a hospital bed in his own bedroom, the cancer now in his brain and skeleton, making the most gentle touch unbearable to his body. It was tough. It was really, really tough. There were so many moments that I witnessed which broke my heart. Little remembrances of my grandmother and times when she stole away to "cling on to him", stroking his forehead and telling him how much their 55-year marriage meant to her. Even my own remembrances were painful. I held his hand for hours, both of us unable to speak (he due to his cancer, and my own mouth clenched shut from emotion), and thought of all the family gatherings I missed, times I was too busy for lunch and little disagreements that all seemed so petty now. I nearly drove myself crazy with regret, crying giant tears that soaked his nightshirt and stroking his hand. Death is so, so hard.
We tried to make it as easy on him as we could. The entire family was there for my grandfather, gathered from all around the country. It was exactly what he would have wanted. He absolutely LOVED his family and his whole goal in life was to have a large, noisy, happy family. He definitely succeeded. My grandparents gave birth to 6 girls, though one died as an infant. The other 5 grew up to marry incredible men and give birth to families of their own. They have 12 grandchildren (not including spouses) and 2 great-grandchildren. Our family is a whole clan! Grandpa loved nothing more than to sit in the room and listen to all of us make noise. Lots and lots of noise. He would engage in conversation, listen to the conversation of others and pepper everything with his kind, hearty, jovial laugh. I miss that laugh so much. In the last days, when he could no longer speak but could still sit up now and then, he would still find reasons to laugh. It was beautiful. It was such a gift.
I'm choosing to remember that laughing, kind man. I'm choosing to remember the man who lived to love his family, who took us out in the boat over and over again in the summer, even skiing himself up til last summer when he was 76 years old! The man who was a famed pianist in his youth and as an elder played "Flight of the Bumblebee" with perfection, ease and skill while the littlest cousins ran around imitating buzzing bees in the living room. He invested all of his time into us. He was interested in what we were interested in. He made our lives a priority... even when our lives revolved around something as silly as Beanie Babies. For a while, i was the youngest grandchild, with several years between me and the next child. It seemed like the fuzzy end of the lollipop as a child, never having anyone to play with. But when I look back now, i see the blessing. Being the "island grandchild" allowed me to go with them EVERYWHERE! My grandmother restored and sold antique dolls, frequently traveling to shows and auctions. They took me with them as often as schedule allowed. I LOVED listening to the fast-paced auctioneers, being allowed to bid for my grandparents, helping them to scour the markets for a good find and more than anything... being given my own corner of their booth to sell from. I was an avid Beanie Baby collector and had quite the display. My grandfather, a financial genius, would help me to market them and haggle the best possible price. It was such fun for me! It couldn't have been so important to him, except that it was important to me.
He absolutely loved storms. When we were all running for cover, he was running to his balcony. He was never afraid, a good storm really energized him. He loved my grandma, from the moment he saw her until he took his last breath. He loved people in general. My husband remarked yesterday about how no matter who walked through the door, he was genuinely delighted to see him or her. He just loved people. He also loved politics, always running and winning in our little townships elections, always going to conventions and fiercely, but kindly, debating his position. And of course, he loved food. Oh.My.Goodness. We always teased him on our annual family vacation, because as soon as breakfast was over (and before we even left the restaurant!) he'd be asking about plans for lunch. It wasn't even about quality for grandpa, Pizza Hut buffets, buffets in general, were his favorite thing. He never met a meal he didn't like, though now and then he'd refer to one as "interesting". I think a lot of his love for food stems from the fact that people bond over food. And people were his number one concern. In fact, the day he died, two of my cousins and I sat around a table and ate giant, stuffed cupcakes in honor of him. He would have loved that, three of his favorite people in the world, eating baked goods, laughing and loving and remembering him.
The one thing I reiterated to him over and over again in those last few hours together was love. How much i absolutely loved him, and how i knew he had always loved me. Whenever we told him that we loved him, he would begin to really struggle and fight. It became apparent that he was trying to tell us he loved us, too. He desperately wanted us to know he loved us. But we already knew. He had told us our entire lives, and more importantly, he had always shown us.
Grandpa, I will never forget you. I'll wear the locket you gave me for Christmas when I was 12 as a reminder, but more than having your picture around my neck, your picture and your life are etched into my heart. I'll try to be like you at your best, loving others and in turn being loved. And I will remember the values you held that made your life one of integrity and love. You're the only blood grandpa I ever had... but if i was only going to get one, I sure did get the best one possible. I love you. I pray that you have found your place in heaven, with your own father, and am overjoyed that the pain and tears that life on earth gave you have been erased.
I love you,
Little Doll
And one more thing... Grandma told me while you were still with us about my brother and I. She said that when I was a little girl and you'd come to our home, I'd stand on the table and jump at you. She said you came home one day, finally having had more startle than you could stand and asked my grandma, "why does she always do that?!" and Grandma told you, "Because she expects you to catch her... do you?" and you said, "yup!". Thanks for catching me every single time, Grandpa... as I got older, I learned to take more drastic jumps in life, and no matter what I leaped from, I knew you'd always be there to catch me.