Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saying goodbye

January of 2015 has gone out like a lion. And she took one of the best people on earth home with her.

EB's grandfather, her dad's dad, died a little over a week ago. And while it was not totally unexpected -- he had been in a nursing home for more than a year following a minor stroke -- it was still a shock, and still sad. Because Grandpa was a man who had been in her life, and her cousins' lives, forever. Earbaby was devastated.

When someone is old, you know that it's just a matter of time. But no matter how much you try to prepare, you're just not going to be ready and it's not going to be easy. And especially when that person, the last of his generation in the family, will leave such a void.

I came late to the party in knowing Jack. He had already been widowed by the time his son, my husband, and I came to know each other, date, fall in love, and marry. In this world where people are so entrenched in their own beliefs we ask only for "tolerance" my father-in-law was way ahead of his time. He fully accepted the brown-skinned woman his only son chose, and then fell in love with the only brown-eyed granddaughter in a blue-eyed clan, his son's only child, and the one who bears his last name. If Jack had any concerns about an interracial union or a biracial grandchild, he was way too classy to let it show. But I don't believe he ever really did. He genuinely loved us all. And we all adored him.

EB, like his other five grandchildren, had her own special relationship with Grandpa. When he was more mobile, he was a part of family trips. We took him with us to upstate New York, he went to Florida and Maine with other grandchildren and their families. He was part of every birthday celebration, every birth. There are so many pictures of him holding newborns, including greatnieces and nephews. This proud World War II veteran and former Navy submarine radioman was not above wearing a silly birthday hat, a mask of feathers, or even a Darth Vader helmet. He was never too uptight for silly. He was the big kid who gave his first grandchild his first taste of whipped cream, encouraged every child to surreptitiously steal a fingerful of any cake in any celebration.

When EB was little and Grandpa was living independently, she and her dad would frequently visit on the weekends while I worked. He introduced her to Chinese food and pineapples. He showed her the fine art of shaking hands and leaving a bill behind in the little hand. He generously gave his grandchildren the maraschino cherries out of his beloved Manhattan drinks. I only learned this last week sometimes those cherries weren't rinsed out as well as they should have been.

My own lasting memories come of conversations with him when he assured me that my husband's mother "would have loved me." I remember on our wedding day he and my father, who like Jack, never knew strangers, only friends they hadn't met yet, chatting as if they had known each other for years. On Jack's last day, when I whispered goodbye in his ear, I asked him to say hello to Daddy for me.

EB is getting better after the first big loss of her life. She had grown sadder and sadder with the sight of Grandpa slowly withering away, sometimes forgetting who was in front of him, other times being sharp as a tack.

In the previous weeks she had been focused on her upcoming sweet 16 party, driving me to distraction with constant texts on this dress, those shoes, more outfits than Cher wore in her five most recent farewell tours, and unbelievable stressing about the drama created by inviting "only" 100 of her nearest and dearest friends, only to have several of the less near and dear get their noses out of joint. Oh, the pressure of having the perfect party!

Then suddenly something important happened. Grandpa was ready to go home. He had already stopped eating, although the man could still suck down the sweetness of a Dunkin Donuts coolatta if it was offered. He was still happy to see visitors, and there were plenty, but five minutes later, he was trying to shoo them out the door. He tired easily, but we weren't tired of being with him. He was surrounded by family and staff when he drew his last breath. They all mourned and comforted the family. I had taken EB home, and decided to let her sleep through the night, instead of waking her with the news.

Of course Dad had the last laugh. The night of his wake was the beginning of a blizzard, forcing the postponement of the funeral for a couple of more days. When we finally did gather again, after 2 1/2 days of shoveling, there were still plenty of tales to be told, songs to be sung (after a lot of Manhattans, mind you) and celebration of a life well lived and a man well loved. EB got a long look at the extended side of her dad's family. She and I agreed that yes, her Irish-American half is just as crazy as her African-American half. Just different kinds of crazy fun.

Jack, Dad, Grandpa, we're just going to miss you. But this world is a much better place. Because for 91-plus years, you were in it.

1 comment:

  1. Cheryl, Sean, and Sarah, I'm so sorry for your loss; but how blessed you were to have this good man is your lives for all these years. Thank you for sharing his story. 'So very touching. Please assure EB that Grandfathers have a way of looking over their loved ones from the other side and be know he will not miss her sweet 16. My condolences, Carla