You know, I rarely talk about serious stuff on here. There was that time, and this time, and that time, but I rarely do serious. I’m not good at serious. I’m better at funny. In fact, there are many times that I turn serious things into funny, like this, for example, and that’s just the way I deal.
So, here I am faced with serious — not a common occurrence in my life, since I like to surround myself with uplifting and light people and situations — and this time, I don’t think there’s much room for joking around. My grandpa, Jules, my mom’s dad, is currently seeing the sun set on his life. Well, he’s not seeing much of it, but we all are. I am lucky enough to not have really seen the face of death in my own life. The only prominent death I’ve experienced is my Poppa’s, my dad’s dad, and I was 17 and not really prepared for what his decline meant. Since then, I’ve felt guilty that I didn’t spend enough time with him, that I didn’t appreciate what I had, that I should have visited more at the end. We were close and I adored him. We had lots of fun together, but at 17, so many other things were going on with my life as a high school senior, that I don’t think I understood the severity of his health status and the imminence of death, and instead, I went through the motions with the rest of my family without really being deeply affected. Of course, now I am affected and I wish I could hear his voice again and joke around with him (I’d like to think I have his sense of humor. I think he’d find me funny today).
So, as with all things in life, we take previous experiences and learn from them. Now that I’m faced with my last grandfather’s final days, I am choosing to reflect on our almost 30 years together and be present by his side and, where it matters most, by the side of my immediate family. It’s not out of obligation, but a greater sense of family and value for my roots.
I’ve been lucky to know all four of my grandparents. And after my Grandpa goes, I will still have two very wonderful grandmothers. I grew up within 20 minutes of both sets, and my positive experiences with my grandparents is the reason why we choose to stay close to both of Madelyn’s sets of grandparents.
I am in awe, more than anything, that in 2011, Madelyn was born into a family of THREE great-grandmothers and one great-grandfather! Madelyn got to meet every one of them and Bryan even explained his very similar feelings when Madelyn met his then-only living grandparent when she was four months old. He wrote about it in December of 2011, and Grandma Jeannie passed away three months later. Her yarzheit, the anniversary of her death, was actually this week, and we are going to temple tonight to commemorate it.
Knowing that my Grandpa’s life will most likely be over in a matter of days, if not less, as projected by the wonderful and compassionate Hospice nurse, Madelyn will be losing another great-grandparent before her second birthday. I am just so grateful that she got to know my Grandpa, her Grandy, and even though he’s been fairly ill for all of her life (Alzheimer’s is a mean and nasty disease), I know he enjoyed spending time with her. Even when he asked how old she was 17 times in a single visit, he smiled wider than when he wasn’t with her. He always talked about how beautiful she is, how cute she is. He stared at her with true contentment on his face. We might have walked out the door and those moments never happened in his memory, but they definitely left their mark in our togetherness.
He’s 92. He hasn’t lived a short life. With three daughters and three sons-in-law, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, the youngest being Madelyn, he has seen the world and then some. And even though my most recent visit with him on Monday showed a dying man, to me, he looked like a well-lived man. He didn’t speak much — he can’t — and I really don’t even know if he knew my mom and I were there, but when he woke up for minutes from his frequent snoozes, he reached out for our hands and even had the strength to squeeze them lightly. He was cold, but I felt warmth. He was quiet, but he spoke love.
I don’t think that when he told me stories in his house or took me to my Girl Scouts square dance in first grade that I would have ever imagined I wouldn’t have my Grandpa at any point in my life. I’m sad that his time is coming to a close, but it’s a strange thing because it’s concurrently difficult and comforting. I’m just so glad that he’s been part of my life for so long, that he walked down the aisle at my wedding, adored Bryan like his own grandson, and his eyes twinkled for Madelyn.
When he’s finally gone, I will miss him, but I will be proud to take on the responsibility of talking about him and keeping him in everyone’s memory. Madelyn will know about him because we will talk about him. We will tell funny stories about him and even joke about how he chews everything — even Jell-o — for five minutes on both sides of his mouth. We will also talk about his generosity toward everyone and his well-dressed, dapper appearance. I even remember him charming all my friends in high school with a wink — always the flirt, in that cute old Grandpa way.
Life is short. This isn’t news to any of us. We always say this when something bad happens or when someone dies. My Grandpa will leave a legacy, though, not just in the people left behind, but as a reminder to me to be like him: thoughtful, kind, and loving. I think back on 30 years, and instead of taking him for granted, I know that he’s made life — his and mine — grand.