Allan: Your hair’s really long all of a sudden.
Allan: And it’s wavy.
Allan: Has it always been wavy?
Allan: You kinda look like a hippie.
My grandfather died in his sleep last Thursday morning.
Allan and I were already planning a trip to Maryland to see my brother’s family (nephew!!!) last weekend, which we still took. Where they live is a great half-way point between Raleigh and Pittsburgh. So, on Friday we drove to the D.C. area, then on Sunday we drove to Pittsburgh, then on Tuesday we drove back to the D.C. area, then today we drove back to Raleigh.
It was a lot of time in the car.
But I’m so glad we went. The silver lining of all the hours in the car and of his death was the time I got to spend with my family.
I don’t think I’ve spent so many consecutive days with my brother since we were in college. I saw aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, third cousins, great aunts, great uncles. I met people who knew my grandfather throughout all the stages of his life. I heard funny stories about my father, about his brothers and about their shenanigans.
I ate a ton of homemade food. I ate a ton of food that was no good for me, and I can only imagine the lecture I’ll get from my doctor tomorrow at my weekly appointment. But I don’t care.
There were toasts (for me, with Shirley Temples) to my grandfather’s memory. There were toasts to my baby.
There were a lot of tears. A whole lot of tears. But the beautiful thing about my family is that there was so much more laughter than tears. We laughed at our dinners together. We laughed during the viewing. We laughed during the funeral. We laughed at the wake.
I was asked to give the eulogy and was pleased with myself for not crying at the altar. I’d read that thing so many times, I became numb to the words.
I was truly honored to be asked to stand-up in front of his friends and family and try to capture his spirit.
Everything in the eulogy is true. There are no exaggerations. He really was that fantastic. In fact, there were so many more things I could have said that painted an even better picture of what a wonderful grandfather he was.
I miss him already.
I am honored to be speaking to you today on behalf of my family, and in memory of my grandfather.
I could start by telling you some fundamental things about him – that he was born and raised right here in Etna, Pennsylvania, the son of Croatian immigrants, the brother of Sonny and Betty.
But you probably already knew that.
I could tell you that he spent nearly 40 years very happily married to Patricia, with whom he had four children he loved beyond measure – Bill, Nick, Diane and Mike. He had 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who brought immense joy to his life, but you probably already knew that, too.
And I’m sure you already knew that he was a roofer by trade, that he was a black and gold loyalist, and that no one – not a single person – ever had anything bad to say about him.
So, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about the man I knew best – my grandpap.
When I was a little girl, he let me wrap his jet black hair around my grandma’s pale pink rollers. He let my brothers and I tug on his eyelashes as he dozed on the couch, always assuring us that he wasn’t sleeping… just resting his eyelids.
He ran behind me when the training wheels were removed from my first bicycle, and when it was time to earn my driver’s license, he picked me up on Sunday mornings, led me through the narrow streets of Aspinwall, then treated me to breakfast at King’s… some of you might say teaching me how to drive was one of the few things he didn’t do well.
When I went away to college, he became my chauffeur, bringing me back to Pittsburgh on breaks. He and my grandma, full of pride, meandered through the hills of Morgantown, West Virginia to fetch their oldest grandchild.
I remember when my grandpap got his first car with a CD player, how excited he was to be in such a high-tech vehicle. I wanted to go out and get him a CD, help usher him into the 21st century, but he told me he already got one… I was expecting to hear him say that he bought a CCR album or maybe Eric Clapton, but instead he told me that he bought himself ABBA’s Greatest Hits.
So, there’s something else you may not have known about my grandpap – he was apparently a fan of Swedish pop music.
He was one of the first adults I knew to treat me as a peer, to have conversations with me that went beyond what I was learning in class or what movies I wanted to see. We often sat beneath the giant tree in his yard, spitting cherry pits, while he emphasized the importance of family ties and family bonds, how strong and delicate they could be.
He didn’t shy away from discussing the sad parts that hide in the shadows of everyday life, but he pointed out that the good would be far more plentiful.
And he was right.
He loved his wife and missed her terribly. I am comforted by the thought that they are together now, one eating Chinese food, the other a sandwich, in the casinos up amongst the stars.
I can’t begin to tell you how sad I am that my daughter won’t have an opportunity to know this warm, gentle and generous man I love so much, but I can assure you I will tell her all about him.
For the rest of my life, whenever I think about your father, your friend, your grandfather – my grandpap – I will carry this image in my heart: that of a man sitting on his front porch wearing a ball cap and frayed jean shorts, his white legs and brown chest at odds with one another, watching his family play in his yard with a contented smile on his face.
May he rest in peace.
Today we put together the baby’s jogging stroller. Her swing. Her rock and play sleeper. Her snap and go stroller.
We needed to do it before she came home from the hospital, but we didn’t necessarily need to do it today. Except we did, because today I needed to focus on a life that was just beginning instead of one that’s coming to an end.
My grandfather’s not doing well. According to his nurses, there’s very little time left. He’s been asleep since Friday night (it’s Sunday night as I type this) and he’s not expected to wake-up again for any duration of time.
He really wanted to see her. My daughter. His great-granddaughter. He really, really wanted to see her, even if it was just a photo. He told me he was doing his best to still be here when she arrived.
It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. So, I’m sad for him, I’m sad for me, and I’m sad for the baby girl who will never get to know her great-grandpap.