A reader left a comment on my blog checking up on me. Can we take a moment to recognize how sweet that is? It just warmed my heart and I knew it was time. Time to share.
We lost my grandpa on January 2. It was by far the most painful thing I have ever experienced and the most beautiful.
My grandparents are pretty special to me. I’ve written about them here and here. There is so much I want to say about my grandpa and my grandma. Their story is Nicholas Sparks meets the Griswolds: deep love, loyalty, family and adventure.
Nothing about my grandparents or my family is normal. This January would be their 61st wedding anniversary. They had 13 children (lost one after birth), 38 grand children and 20 great grandchildren. When you add in spouses there 96 of us.
I spent my summers in my grandparents pool and my Sundays sitting next to them at church and having brunch at their house. They took my twin brother and me camping every summer. We gathered at their house regularly and there aren’t any life events they were not there for. As an adult, I started stopping by to visit them after picking Quinn up from school and I have loved watching my kids develop a relationship with them.
My grandpa was a fun guy. He loved life and truly lived it. He was cheap, which was always attributed to his Scottish heritage. He pushed a tree house down the highway, because someone was giving it away for free. That was for the grandkids. Someone was throwing out the giant crash mats from track and field, so he took them and piled them up. They were a good 6 feet high (or more) and all us grandkids climbed up there and jumped into the pool.
I don’t like to think of death. Who does? Some part of me always thought that if we were older, it would somehow be more okay. I was wrong. It hurts. My grandpa was diagnosed after Thanksgiving with cancer and passed away on January 2. It was fast and came as a shock. My aunts and uncles stepped up immediately. Spending the night and giving around the clock care. As he neared the end all 12 children gathered. They stayed for days. Sleeping on the floor, always leaving the bed in the guest room for someone who might need it more. I have an uncle who is a doctor and an aunt who is a nurse and that was extremely helpful. They prayed, told stories, cried and laughed.
In the midst of something awful, they slowed down and reconnected. They cared for their father and mother. There is something so beautiful about the way a family can come together and lift each other up. My grandpa passed away on a bed in his living room surrounded by his family. When my mom called to give us the news my brother and I headed over together. I walked into the living room to see my grandma sitting by his side holding his hand. 61 years of love and devotion. Again, there was more hugging, sharing, crying, laughing and praying. It is amazing how the human heart can hold so much at once. How quickly you can go from crying to laughing to crying. Again, more beauty in something awful.
When it was time for them to take my grandpa there are no words–the sobs and the pain. We went in the other room to allow them to do their job. When we returned to living room, he was gone. We stayed–aunts, uncles, grandchildren, great grandchildren. Again, we shared stories, we prayed, we laughed and we cried.
Over the following week I did what I could to support my mom. Gathering pictures and comforting her in any way I could. The amount of decisions that had to be made were overwhelming, but again–my family came together and supported one another.
The wake was overwhelming. Quinn sobbed at the casket, Eleanor asked for her real grandpa and I was overwhelmed by the photos and memories. There was a line weaving through the chairs out to the lobby the entire 4 hours. The funeral was beautiful and such a wonderful celebration of my grandfather’s life. I wanted everyone to be there. I wanted everyone to know how special he was.
This is the part where I tell you how inadequate I have been in the past. How I didn’t know that it mattered if I was there or not. For everyone I know who has ever lost someone, I want to say I’m sorry. I am so so sorry. I didn’t know.
We are all busy. We all have our excuses, but make the time. I should have made the time. Send a card. Acknowledge that piece of their heart and life that is forever broken.
Remember how I told you my grandparent’s could be a Nicholas Spark book? My grandpa wrote a poem for my grandma. She cannot tell you why or when. She tucked it away. When my grandpa was dying she was searching for something and she stumbled upon this poem.
To My JoAnn
The years have passed so very fast,
and we grow old together
We weaved the cloth of life
from strings of love, joy, and sorrow.
And when it’s finally finished,
and we must leave it here behind,
I hope it silhouettes the love
we had for each, and one another
May all the joy stand out in
golden, shining thread.
And in the background
the thread of sorrow, which highlights all our love.
We leave this to our children
to frame upon their minds,
So they can have a reference
in their lonesome and darkest time.
The true weaver of this picture
through all the years of past
Was a strong and kind, loving wife
and I, only a partner in the cast.
No one can hold a needle to this weaver in my life.
She helped to mesh the threads of life, and make it all so bright.
Isn’t it so beautiful? It was like God knew exactly what my grandma needed to hear.
I also wanted to share this letter my mom wrote and read to her dad before he died. Her sister actually read it for her, since she couldn’t get through it.
December 16, 2013
Thank you for giving me my dad this Christmas. He has brought me so much joy! As a little girl, I would wait on the porch for him to come home from work. He would have fun ideas, and would even bring me a powerhouse or payday candy bar sometimes. He played with me in the yard. Taught me how to play red rover and kick the can. He built me monkey bars and a skating rink for the winter. He took me to Rouge pools, Kent Lake and camping. Sometimes we were lucky enough to pile in the car for drive-in movies. He told me stories and fueled my imagination. He would let me sit on his lap and reassure me when I was scared of King Kong or Godzilla. He shared his friend George who lived in his pocket.
I remember him and my big sister Christine holding my hand telling me I could do it…I could skate. I remember him holding me in the shallow end of Rouge pool telling me I could do it…I could swim. I remember him pushing me off on my bike and telling me I could do it…I could ride my bike. I remember sitting on his lap learning to tie my shoe (while my mother lined up all of the dining room chairs in the living room to mop the floor) and him telling me I could do…I could tie my shoe.
I remember him driving to the hospital so we could wave hi to my mom after she had given birth to another brother or sister. I remember singing songs in the car and thinking how great my dad could sing. I remember sitting in the back of the car with my sister, Patty telling all of the cars to “get back there cars…get back there car’s…so my daddy can go”. I remember my cousins waiting for us to get to my grandma’s house so MY dad could take us caroling. I remember falling asleep waiting for my dad to leave my grandma’s house. I remember pretending to fall asleep so he could carry me to my bed. I remember a man who made Halloween costumes, took us trick-or-treating, hung the Christmas lights, carved the pumpkins and made every holiday more special. I remember my dad straddling cars trying to get video of me on my first communion day. I remember walking home from church and having a party and a “new” used bike.
Through all of my achievements and failures, my dad was there to cheer me up and to cheer me on. When I was disappointed, he was there to pick up the pieces, or give me a hug or to tell me to try harder, but to never give up. As an adult, I remember my dad walking me down the aisle. I remember hugging him so tight because I thought I wasn’t going to be his little girl anymore…but I was wrong. I will always be his little girl, but I became something more…I became his friend. I love the memories of us bowling together, playing cards together, going out to eat together, watching old movies together, sitting in church and singing together. Too many to mention and many have blurred into one GOOD feeling.
I remember a dad who became a grandpa many times over and he started all over again with each of them. He made each grandchild feel special. He took them camping, he told them stories, he taught them to swim in his pool. Sometimes he would let them ride on his back while he swam across the pool. He thought of fun games for them to play….I remember a dad who became a great-gandpa and he was still camping, still telling stories, still making his kids, his grandkids and his great-grandkids feel special.
I remember a man who always had room in his house, in his car, in his heart for one more. So, thank you Santa for giving me the best gift a girl could ever want…a hero…my dad! I love him more than words can say.
As big as the hole is and as painful as this loss is, I’m thankful for the time to say goodbye. I’m thankful for the grace and beauty my family has shown. I’m thankful for the reminder of what is important–family. I’m thankful for the way in which my family has lifted each other up. I’m thankful that traditions that had died are starting again and that new traditions are being made. And while I will never find the words to express my love, I am so thankful that I had the best grandpa of them all.