Two months ago, one of the best men that I have known passed from this world into the next. My grandfather is gone, and my heart hurts to know that I can't stop by his house and talk with him, that my children will have such limited memories of him, that I won't have another opportunity to dance with him and sing "Sweet Caroline" like we did at my wedding (see below), or sing "No, Nay, Never" on Saint Patrick's Day, or at other various family gatherings.
As I sit here and type this, I am fighting back tears because I know that if I start to cry, I'll never get this post up, and I really want you all to know about him. About how much I love him -- about how I knew he loved me. There was never ever a question in my mind. Ever. (and here I am eight days later still trying to get this post up...)
He taught me to drive, you know. When I was twenty. Yes, twenty. We would drive through the City of Pittsburgh and he would tell me stories about where he worked, and who lived in Morningside, and how he used to deliver bread to Allderdice high school, and then he'd shout, "Nicole, hug the yellow line! The yellow line is your friend!" or "Stop at the stop sign!" or "Nicole, there is a car trying to turn, SLOW DOWN!" and I would freak out, usually slam on the breaks, then we would laugh. He would continue talking and tell me about how the streets had changed, that old businesses were gone, but about how much was still the same. Those few months in the car with him really are some of my favorite memories. We talked and laughed and just enjoyed being together.
No matter what I had decided to do in my short lifetime -- not to go to college right away, to work, then to go to college, not to work, then work again -- he always supported my decisions and respected that I did what I needed to do in my time and that I would be okay, and that I was already okay. It was so good to have his support as I know that I threw my parents for a loop many times. He would stand firm and just support me. He loved me and I always always knew it.
The short of it is this: In February he had neck surgery, then two weeks later he had a heart attack, which lead to his needing open heart surgery two weeks later. Yikes.
The night before his heart surgery, we talked about how he was afraid of the surgery. About how he didn't want to go through the recovery, because he was afraid of how difficult it would be. He just wanted to be on the other side of it. I am glad for his honesty and that he didn't pretend that it would all be, "okay". I liked that he was always real with me. Even still, I didn't let myself think anything besides his making it through recovery. How could I? I assured him that he could do it, that he would do it. "You can do this, Pap, you are stubborn. You are strong. In no time, we'll go out for the hamburger that you want and we'll have a drink together. And then you'll road trip to Florida when you can drive again. I know you. You'll get this done."
Yes, indeed, I discussed alcohol (a vodka/iced tea, his favorite) and hamburgers with a man going in for a quadruple bypass. What of it? ;) Gosh, I am so very thankful for my visit with him that night because he had surgery the next morning and a stroke twelve hours later. Everything was different after that.
And then I smile to think that I baked banana bread and pumpkin bread for him during the week leading up to the heart surgery. I wanted him to have a taste of home. The pumpkin bread I made is a family recipe -- gosh it's SO good, I should share it with you all sometime -- and I think it was one of the last things he ate when he was "okay" before the stroke. I am glad for that.
The night after I
On the day he died, I was able to spend a few minutes with him. I was out running errands early in the morning and on a whim (prompt of grace?), I decided run into the hospital and visit him because I didn't know what that day was going to bring. My mother was with him when I got there. We chatted for a few minutes, she and I, about how he was doing, but we both knew that he just wasn't okay. I just cried in a way that I hadn't before while in his room. I almost couldn't look at him, he just wasn't fine. Not that I thought he was, it's just, it was just different this time. When I left, I told him that I loved him, and he glanced in my direction. I think he knew I was there. A few hours later he was gone.
At the funeral we raised (small) glasses in his honor of vodka and iced tea (this is something he and I talked about at the funeral of his brother-in-law where we toasted with Baileys and Jameson ;), and I promised him that we'd toast him with his drink of choice when the day would come and he laughed but liked the idea as we would be celebrating his life and not mourning our loss in the moment), we shared Ruffles potato chips because they were his favorite, and we all laughed and talked about his kindness to so many. We talked about the way he would stand in a corner of a room and look on -- he would take it all in, he would smile, he would just watch. In recent years when I caught him standing on the edge of our crowd, I would wander over to him and watch with him. I would see the very small people, and the middle sized ones, and the grown ups all just being together. When I would stand with him, I would see his life's work. Sure, he retired from Schwebel's. He was a humble bread man, who worked hard. But we, his family, were his work, we are his legacy. We are what he's left behind, we are his. How cool. How wonderful, what an honor. It's up to us, his messy and beautiful family, to be together and to love. We are what was most important to him, we are who he watched, we are who he loved, and dare I say it, still loves. I hope that we can honor his life's work. I hope that we can be messy and beautiful for years and years and years to come.
If this is disjointed (and I think it is, but don't have it in me to rework this post today, it's taken a million hours to write it -- maybe not a million, but practically a million), please don't tell me...or if you do, tell me nicely. I can handle nice criticism. Actually, think of this post as a series of little stories about one of my favorite humans. I just wanted to write a little about me and my pap. I love him, and I miss him. Maybe I'll rework it another day. Or maybe not.
This weekend, much of our family is getting together to celebrate the birthdays of three of his grandchildren! In celebrating these beautiful beings, we will be celebrating our grandfather, too. I think he'll be with us in spirit. Yes, he will, indeed.
blessings! and joy!