It was 2:30 on the Tuesday morning after Martin Luther King Jr. Day when I realized my phone was ringing. My sister was calling from Oregon to tell me that Grandpa was dying in a hospital in Utah. My parents, an aunt, and some of my siblings were there. I hung up the phone and for the next two hours my sisters and I texted back and forth, waiting for the final word from the one sister who was at his bedside. A little after 4:00am it came.
Grandpa was my last grandparent, my oldest grandparent, and the grandparent who was strongest and healthiest at the end. His death has hit me the hardest and made me the saddest.
I am glad that I decided a couple of years ago that when he died, I wanted the whole family to be at his funeral. We didn’t hesitate to buy plane tickets to Utah, even though we’d only been there a few weeks before.
Over the next few days before we flew out to Utah, Elsa was kind enough to do the dishes a couple of times and make a snack for me one day (bread with butter, grape jam, and honey). She also told me once that if I wanted to keep crying, I could go in my room. She said, “It’s just hard with Felix.” I assume she meant it was hard for her to take care of me when Felix also needed attention, but I also think she just heard me say that once when Felix was crying a lot more than he is these days.
I won’t talk about how sad I am that we missed our chance to see him when we were in Utah at Christmas time, or that I had hopes that my kids would remember him and they mostly don’t. Instead I will say that I am so grateful to have known him, to know that he was proud of me and what I am doing with my life, and that I am proud to be his granddaughter. In talking to a friend whose grandfather was also a WWII vet who died somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly, she said it was nice to go through his journal and transcribe it after he died because it carried so much more meaning to her. I can already see that in my continuing relationship with Grandpa. I realized as I was going through his books at his house after the funeral that we had similar tastes in literature (history, mostly about war) and that made me feel closer to him. We also value being active: he was still doing pushups and walking 3 miles a day even at age 95. (He had the muscles of a man in his 70s.)
Two more memories: When Micah and I were first married, Grandma and Grandpa told us that it just gets better as you go along and that as you get older, you get to fall in love all over again. They were looking at each other like newlyweds. I really had no idea what they were talking about, but I said something about how Micah and I fall in love all over again every day. HA! Hahaha. Now that we have more than a decade of marital bliss under our belts, I see better what they meant and I am grateful for the perspective they subtly imparted. We’re in the trenches a lot these days and the love we share is more zone defense and sacrificing for the greater good and less candlelight dinners and footsie under the table. But I know it won’t always be this way and I look forward to being newlyweds again in 20 and 30 and 40 years . . . to walking around the high school track in matching sweatsuits and waking up at 4am to make bread together. And to be holding hands and making eyes at each other again at age 80.
Years ago I posted a picture on my blog of me carrying my big old laundry bag on my back to the laundromat around the corner from my apartment. My mom showed him the photo. He wanted to show me his sweet laundry set up as well, so he had my aunt take a photo of him with his fancy washer and dryer under the stairs in his home.
Even though this has been hard for me, I am trying to remember that this is what he has wanted for years. The last time I saw him, he mentioned a couple of times that he didn’t know why he was still here when his wife and all his friends were gone. I know it must have been so hard to be one of the last of his generation around. My brother who lived next door to him said he often said, “No offense to you guys, but I’d rather be with her.” Her, meaning my grandma of course. And I’m trying to imagine them together, young and whole again.