Just Like That, Life Changes

May 2, 2010 at 10:47 pm (Family Life) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I find it funny how your whole life can change in an instant. Last Friday night I was to get off work at 5:30pm and go to Red Lobster with my mom and step-dad. Then it was party time at my friend’s house. I ended up getting off work about 30 minutes early and was standing around talking to my boss until her phone rang. It was my mom. I thought nothing of this because my boss had backed into my mom’s car two weeks prior and there had been many phone calls back and forth to discuss insurance and such. When she got off the phone, she lightly said, “Hey your mom thinks you are already half way home.” We finished talking and I started my forty minute drive home.

I walked in the door and yelled, “Okay I’m ready for some crab legs!” into an oddly quiet house. Just then my mom appeared in her office doorway and she had been crying. My face dropped with a panicked, “what happened?” She reached out to grab me and uttered the words I have been dreading my entire life… “Grandpa died.”

I heard myself let out the most agonizing scream imaginable. I fell apart on my living room floor holding my mom close trying to remember that this was not just my loss…she had just lost her father too. In the midst of my sobbing, I tried to ask what had happened. My mom said he had had a heart attack at about eight o’ clock that morning. He had gone quickly and in my grandma’s arms. I immediately remembered my grandma. How was she? What would she do now? I tried to calm myself down enough to talk to her on the phone. In twenty-six years, that was the first time I had ever heard my grandma cry. She asked if I was doing okay and if I wanted to know the details of what had transpired that morning. I muttered that I did and tried not to let her hear me crying. She said he woke her up about 4 a.m. complaining that he was very cold and that he felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest. Grandma said she could see his heart beating through his pajamas. She wrapped him up in an electric blanket and had put him back to bed where his heart began to calm down. At about 8 a.m., he got up and walked into the bathroom and she dampened a washcloth to wipe his face. He sat down and just as she touched his face, he looked up and said, “oh no” and collapsed into her arms. Grandma called 911 and held him until paramedics arrived. She knew he was gone.

In one instant, sixty-four years of marriage was over. The witty, sentimental, big-hearted man we have cherished for decades was gone.

I have always had a very close bond with my grandpa and I had never pictured what life would be like without him. My fun filled Friday night had suddenly become hurried packing so we could get on a plane to California the next day. My step-dad had planned ahead for all of us knowing my mom and I would be in pretty bad shape. He had bereavement flights scheduled for all three of us before we even knew Grandpa had passed. My grandma had a neighbor call him that afternoon and he went home to tell my mom immediately. His support through this week has been nothing less than amazing and selfless.

The first time he held me...

 When we arrived late Saturday night to my Grandma’s house we were surprised to find that everyone was doing quite well. My aunt and cousin had driven the two hours from San Diego and had planned almost every detail for the services and were making phone calls. I asked my cousin, who is one year younger than I am, if she planned on speaking at the funeral. She right away said no and that I shouldn’t either because Grandpa would’ve been so ashamed if I got up there and broke down. Yes, she actually said that. This was so hurtful and offensive to me because my cousin didn’t have much of a relationship with my grandparents. She didn’t seem to see the importance of spending time with them; she very rarely called and was embarrassed to be seen with Grandpa during those few months he was in a wheelchair. I was told to do what I needed to do by my mom, step-dad and grandma and whether I decided to speak or not, either way was okay.
Sunday morning, I started going through pictures while my mom rewrote the obituary for the paper. I had decided that I wanted to bury a few small mementos with him. I found a photo of the first time he held me. The look on his face said it all…he was so proud and excited. I made a copy of that and wrote a private goodbye message to him on the back. The viewing was set for Tuesday night and the funeral Wednesday morning. There was also a debate about whether or not he should be buried with his glasses on. No one ever saw him without glasses and my grandma made it clear that she wanted them on him. My aunt sniped, “Mom, why? His eyes are going to be closed and he didn’t sleep with them on.” Let’s just say my aunt has a bit of a control issue and my mom and I were about to deck her.

Earlier that weekend, we had gone to Wal-Mart which happened to be across the street from the mortuary. I was having a really hard time with the fact that he was in there all alone and the rest of the family was down the street. I realized that it was just his body and that his Spirit was in Heaven with his siblings and parents but I still wasn’t even close to okay with that. Tuesday evening came quickly. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to see my grandpa laying there but when we arrived at the chapel, there he was. Dressed in his best suit, hands neatly folded across his big belly that jiggled like Santa Clause when he laughed. An American flag placed over the bottom portion of his casket; he served as a self-taught radioman in the Navy and was extremely proud to be a member of the Greatest Generation. I held my grandma’s arm tightly and asked if she was ready for this…she nodded and handed me his glasses. We slowly approached the casket and we both began to cry as we got a closer glimpse. I put his glasses on and half way collapsed, weeping on my grandma’s shoulder. I didn’t realize my mom and step-dad we coming down the aisle right after me until I heard that same guttural scream coming from my mom as she saw her father for the first time since his passing. My step-dad grabbed her and tried to console her. We sat in the front row for a few minutes and gathered our composure while other people started pouring into the building to pay their respects. I had so many people who meant so much to my grandpa coming up to me to tell stories about him and share their memories. That was simply amazing to hear how much he meant to that community. After talking with ten or so different people, I began to feel uplifted. There was something comforting about being with him. The entire two hours of the viewing, I stayed pretty close to Grandpa. I put the picture I had copied near his hand and tucked a pack of Juicy Fruit gum under his thumb. I held his hand and talked to him for a while. I told him that I was going to speak at his funeral and that I hoped I could make him proud. I told him how much I loved him and that I was sorry I couldn’t say goodbye. I stroked his hair remembering how soft it always was. I noticed that his cheeks were a bit scruffy just like they always had been when he hugged me and our cheeks touched.

Grandpa and I in May of 2009

When we got home from the viewing, I began to brainstorm on what I would share at the funeral the following morning. My head flooded with memories of my twenty-six years with him. The weekends he came to stay with us and slept on my bedroom floor when I was sick. The road trip contests we’d have with each other to see how many sticks of Juicy Fruit we could get in our mouths. The Saturday morning breakfasts together. The days I spent at his shop playing in grease puddles and napping on the leather couch in his office. The way he smelled, the roughness of his voice and the tender way he held me. The list goes on and on.

The pastor who did the funeral was amazing. He told a few stories he had remembered about my grandpa stinking up the lobby of the church with onions he brought for anyone who needed them. How he always brought bags of candy for the children’s church and had taken care of so many military families. More proof of the generous heart he had. I did get up and speak and was able to share some memories with everyone that brought smiles and laughter into the room which made sense because Grandpa was always the center of attention, life of the party storyteller. I thanked everyone for telling their stories and experiences with my grandpa. That was extremely uplifting to hear how much he meant to everyone else.

When I was a baby, my grandparents used to fight over who got to hold me first. One day, I was crying and nothing my mom was doing seemed to help. My grandpa kept insisting that I was crying because I obviously wanted him. After a few more minutes of this struggle, she gave up and handed me over. I immediately shut up and snuggled up close to him. That pretty much set the tone of our bond with each other.

My step-dad, uncle and both of my aunt’s ex-husbands served as pallbearers. Once we were at the cemetery, the pastor said a few more words and we sang “Jesus Loves Me”. My grandfather was given a gun salute for his military service during WWII and they presented my grandma with the American flag from his casket. We all placed a single red rose on his casket and I escorted my grandma back to the car. It was very surreal that that was it…I was never going to see him again.

The next three days were spent going through pictures to make copies of, going through my grandpa’s clothes so my grandma wouldn’t have to after we all left and creating a scrap book of the funeral events for my grandma. I gathered a few precious mementos and a bottle of the cologne he always wore.

My grandfather obviously left a huge footprint on my heart and I will miss him every day. Who do you love the most?

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Ancestry Project

April 21, 2010 at 12:28 pm (Family Life)

Since the NBC show Who Do You Think You Are? came out a couple of months ago I’ve been very curious about where my heritage lies. If you’ve never seen this show, you should. Celebrities start building their family trees and actually travel around the world to see where their family began. Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe from Friends) visited Germany and stood at the mass grave site where her Great Grandmother was murdered during the Holocaust. Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) found a relative who was tracked back to the Revolutionary War. It is pretty cool to watch this stuff so my mom and I got hooked.

The show is made possible by Ancestry.com so I created an account there and slowly started building my family tree. Here are some of the interesting stories and facts I’ve come across during my search…

1.) On my Mom’s side, I am related to outlaw, Jesse James.

2.) My Father’s Grandfather was the first US Postman to deliver the mail by truck instead of horse and buggy and I’ve heard a rumor that there is a picture floating around of him posing in front of his truck.

3.) After hitting several brick walls with my Great Grandmother, Jean Adams, I found out through a 2nd cousin that Jean wasn’t her given name which is why I couldn’t find documented proof that she existed. At age 15, she decided that Jane was too boring and legally changed her name to Jean.

4.) One of my Great Great Grandfathers fought in both the Revolutionary War and Civil War.

I’m still hunting for family facts but I’m enjoying learning about where I came from. In this process I have discovered that I am very Irish. I had no idea! Oddly, I’ve been drawn to Celtic symbolism and Irish dancing/clogging for most of my life. So, I decided to get a tattoo to celebrate my Irish heritage…

I hope to find even more interesting stories about generations passed…the search continues!

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