So… my grandpa died.
It happened early Thursday morning, and while it wasn’t exactly sudden since he’d been in and out of the hospital for the last few months, it definitely was a surprise. Right before I went to Florida he fell and was experiencing loss of sensation in his limbs, but he was stable. I talked to my mom a few times while I was gone to keep tabs on what was happening at home, and she didn’t think there was any reason for me to cut my trip short or go home. Obviously, I knew there were no guarantees, but I didn’t expect the end to come so quickly. No one did. The entire family is devastated.
The service was today, and because I’m 700 miles from home in the middle of nowhere I couldn’t be there. It would have involved an almost 12-hour drive or a difficult and very expensive flight home; after driving 3,000 miles last week I wasn’t prepared for either option, physically, emotionally or financially. I don’t feel guilty about not being there because my family is really close and support each other, but I do wish I’d been able to go home and be with everyone and say goodbye.
When he was diagnosed with bladder cancer after Christmas I started thinking about what I’d want to say about him if I had the opportunity.
I still hadn’t come up with anything.
His obituary gives the basics; Navy, Xerox, golf, kids, grandkids, great grandkids. But they couldn’t convey who he was as a person. His dry sense of humor. His love for his family, biological or otherwise. I don’t think he expected his oldest son to fall in love with a woman who already had kids, or to adopt those kids in all but name and raise them as his own. I never felt like he made a distinction between my sister and I and his “real” grandkids. He was a man of few words but always had some to spare for us, and if we were lucky those words were a little snarky.
They didn’t talk about his indomitable presence. I remember being a kid and meeting him for the first time. It was Christmas, I was 8 or 9, and he and my grandma were hosting their annual dinner for the entire family. The place was full to bursting with people and kids and chaos, but he still took a minute to introduce himself and talk to us. He seemed like a giant standing behind the bar in the living room of their house. I remember he poured me a soda in a real rocks glass from the bar, and it felt like he was trusting me with something special. We didn’t have soda often (we were a Kool-Aid house) and almost never used real glass (because children break everything), so I made sure to be extra careful. I didn’t want to let him down.
They didn’t talk about his love for The Lawrence Welk Show, and how 35 years after the last episode aired he still looked forward to watching it every Saturday night; so much so that he could often be heard urging my grandma to leave events and family gatherings because he didn’t want to miss Lawrence. It became somewhat of a family joke, and we would tease him by tapping our non-existant watches and intoning “Elaine. Elaine!” in our best Dick voices.
These are the things I’ll remember about him the most. He’s the only grandfather who was around all the time and witnessed all of the major events in my life, other than my birth, and he will be missed.