And it sucks today.
I have a feeling this truth is going to suck for a while.
The “Explore 4-H” bicycling workshop for the kiddos at Marshall Elementary went GREAT Wednesday evening. Bobby & Elliot engaged 16 kids in checking their bike tires, adjusting their seats, fitting their helmets … & Elliot showed a what-not-to-do short film of his epic crash the previous Sunday.
The weather outside deteriorated, with crazy winds & sideways rain.
Dr. Scott, the school principal, led a crew of 14 bikes up & down the school hallways … I don’t know if Mr. Benny would have been that cool at my elementary school back in the day. It was awesome.
We packed up gear, called the night a success, & I drove home in the pouring rain. Tired but happy.
At 9:45pm, my phone buzzed, & I noticed it was my dad. Our phone calls are pretty spaced out, months between. Not for lack of care, just a truth of our relationship.
I knew why he was calling & my legs got wobbly.
“Hey kiddo …” He still calls me “kiddo,” even at age 45 :).
The exact words I don’t recall after that. Only that my grandpa was gone.
My Grandpa Fran died peacefully at the Cedar Community care facility, where he & Grandma had moved in the last year. (They’d lived in their own home til well into their 8th & 9th decades.) He’d returned from dinner, & when staff came to prepare him for bed, they found him slumped in his armchair.
My Grandpa, as I knew & loved him, was a quiet yet fiery & funny man. He’d regale us with stories of his prankster & rowdy days as a kid & young adult in northern Illinois — hopping in & out of train cars & dodging police in orchards to name a few. He served in the Merchant Marine on the Great Lakes, & one of the last times I sat with him he went on & on about the ships, the fickleness of the Lakes, & how he navigated them both.
My Grandpa loved the outdoors & animals. I’ve seen pictures of their travels to the Grand Canyon & other national parks, & when he couldn’t travel much anymore, he had every national park DVD in his collection. He built a porch onto their last home that anyone would envy, just so they could enjoy watching the birds, squirrels & rabbits … especially the hummingbirds. He always walked to the hummingbird feeder several times a day & tipped it with his finger to make sure the bubbles didn’t hinder the hummers from feeding.
My Grandpa built their first house. Built it. He poured-the-concrete-blocks built it. Basement & 2 stories (& a porch) built it. While working full-time & with a new young family built it.
When I was growing up, we visited my grandparents once a year, every year, for our summer vacation. Twelve hours in a conversion van =). I remember lazy days of slip-n-slide over their immaculate yard (they never complained), building 5,000 piece puzzles on their porch, & catching fireflies at night. I remember HUGE meals & the pea green tupperware pickle container. I remember the elves I were sure lived behind the attic door in our upstairs room.
As I grew older, into college & beyond, my grandparents sold their home & moved to a smaller place, which I was sure I’d hate. It wasn’t MY grandparents’ home. And yet, over the following 25 years, I’d come to love that place too — because Grandma & Grandpa were there, & they were solid — my stable place between exciting adventures, but also amidst family turbulence.
The last few years were not kind to my Grandpa’s mind. Physically, he slowed down & yet was amazingly healthy despite his love of all things sweet — donuts, frozen Snickers bars, cookies, you name it, Grandpa got hold of it. His brain, however, began to betray him. He grew more unkind to my Grandma, which was painful for both of them. For better or worse, we Norwegians seem to maintain our stoicism. My Grandma still says in spite of turmoil, “onward & upward.”
My Grandpa was hard to live with the past few years, & I’d give anything to have spared him, my Grandma, my aunt & uncle who looked after them daily, the emotional & mental pain of memory loss.
My Grandpa was ready to die. I cannot imagine, & it’s heartbreaking for me — & that’s my selfishness speaking. Wanting to keep him on the back porch with me watching hummingbirds on a summer day forever.
I talked with Grandma yesterday, & she said Grandpa had gone to Ash Wednesday service the day he died. I actually felt a little chuckle inside, my Grandpa’s chuckle. My grandparents weren’t regular church-goers, & I have always appreciated their everyday faith … we didn’t talk about God … I don’t think we needed to. I don’t recall big crosses in their home or Bible verses decorating the walls (not that there’s anything wrong with that). There’s something to be said, to be felt, in just “being.” My grandparents never preached to me in all my 45 years. My Grandma still doesn’t. They always accepted me, no questions asked.
How I wish to know what my Grandpa & God talked about. I hope Grandpa was comforted. & I hope they laughed a lot. I KNOW they laughed a lot. No way could God survive 94 years of my Grandfather’s mischief without laughing … a LOT.
“… & to dust we shall return.”
My heart is broken. I cannot be consoled today. Maybe tomorrow. Nothing is bright, or funny, or love & light, or … anything. Everything hurts.
I know the last words my Grandpa & I shared were “I love you.”