For the last few days, I have been experiencing grief like I have never felt, matched with a tender love I didn’t know I could access. It comes in waves, where I am in the middle of a sentence or a thought, and then my breath catches and I am weeping. I am soothed by thoughts of my family, and by the interconnection of all things. Still, I am deeply sad.
On Sunday night, at sunset, my 90 year old grandfather crossed over. He waited to see his brother one more time, my grandma said she loved him and put him to bed at the new facility he was only in for a week (he’d never been away from her indefinitely) and an hour later, his heart stopped beating. 90 years is a good long run, no? He is survived by his wife, my badass grandma, 5 children of which my father is the middle child, and 13 grandchildren, of which I am eldest. If you do the math, I knew this man for 30 years, a third of his life. In those 30 years, I have memories so sweet, that I often wonder how I got so lucky.
My grandpa was what you would call “the strong silent type”. One of my dad’s cousins described him as the John Wayne of the family. He was steady and constant, and everyone who knew him, knew Mike was a stand-up guy. He courted my grandma because he knew her older brothers. When he talked about dating her in high school (she is about 5 years his junior) he would always start with “When Anne and I was keepin’ company…” and that’s what he did for 64 years. He kept her company. He did this while working long hours as a mechanic, while quitting smoking and saving for a whole year the money he would have spent on cigarettes so he could buy his family a beautiful Easter meal, and while raising 5 kind and hilarious children, my dear family.
This is the man who was my emergency contact at school when my parents couldn’t get me. If I spiked a fever, he’d be there to pick me up and take me home. When my parents were working longer hours and my brother and I needed childcare, he’d come over after school and sit through hours of Monopoly with us. When I was really little and the botanical garden he volunteered at had a “Spooky Walk” for Halloween, my parents took me- but I was so scared in the middle of it. Out of the woods, my grandpa came. He scooped me up and ran me out a side exit. I always felt so safe when I was near him. He would let my cousins and I take the black comb out of his shirt pocket and comb his hair and put all kinds of bows and clips in it. On the outside, he seemed stern, but with us- he was silly and sweet. His calm and steady presence was almost monk-like in its nature. That same presence let me drive his luxurious Crown Victoria when I was 17. He just sat next to me, and let me drive. He trusted me, and I him.
He was a man of few words, and near the end, almost none. There were days he wouldn’t speak at all, but when I’d call and my grandma would say “Mike!! It’s Danielle on the phone!” he’d croak out “I love you Danielle.” Those were the only words that really mattered. On days he was silent, he would sit and hold my hand, and as I type this I weep, remembering still how sweetly he would look at me, how he would tear up when I left.
As I experience this grief and this loss, I also experience a deep love and support. Life comes in these dichotomies. Usually it’s my mother who calls with the hard news. This time, it was my dad and I am so grateful for that. When I saw my grandma yesterday. she reminded me that he wouldn’t want me to be sad, that he loved me, and that he’s happier now. I know all of these things to be true. My grandpa was a religious man, but in a way that comforted me. He never forced it on me, and I would only go to church services when I was with him because I liked to hold his hand and I loved to be part of his ritual. If there is heaven, the one that my grandpa believed in- I am sure he is there. I am sure God has called him home because his work here was done. And he did some damn good work. I believe his work was dedication and devotion to his family and a deep kindness that cannot be taught, but only lived into. How profoundly lucky I am to be able to carry it forward.
I remember him always singing me this song:
“I love you a bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck
A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap
A barrel and a heap and I’m talkin’ in my sleep”
I love you too. May angels lead you in.