Friday, April 8, 2016


Last Saturday my Grandpa died.  We laid him to his eternal rest two days ago.  I've been thinking about this post for a good two weeks, about how to summarize a man who meant so much to me.  I've sat down to write it many times but the words never come out right.  My Grandpa lived for (a few days shy of) 90 years and 9 months.  I was only alive for about 1/3 of that time (I learned new things about him even a few weeks ago; I never knew he and Grandma had flown to New York!) and it's hard to put into words everything he meant to me, everything he taught me, and how much I already miss him.

My Grandpa was not extraordinary by many standards.  Other than his time in the army during World War II, he lived in the same small Ohio town his whole life, dying in his home across the street from the house where he was born.  He was a high school graduate, farmer for decades, devoted husband, dedicated father, and loving grandfather and great grandfather.  He had no spectacular accomplishments but loved deeply.  I keep thinking about the words of the priest at my Grandma's funeral:
You know, often times we think we need to do a lot to have a great impact. To have a list of accomplishments, a list of awards or medals that speak of our greatness. But all you have to do is to look around, if the family looks kinda behind and around you, to see the impact that this beautiful woman, Margaret, had on so many. One farm girl brought about all this life. Brought about all this life. And all these smiles.
And that really sums it up.  Sixty-five years of marriage to my Grandma, 6 kids, 23 grandkids, 25 great grands.  All because two people fell in love over 70 years ago.  Even if his reach was only to the 70+ of us in the family, he's still had a pretty great impact on the world (although, after his viewing and funeral I think he affected many more than just the family).  He was possibly the most positive, optimistic, and grateful person I ever met (my "tends to worry" self still has a few things to learn from him).  Even in his dying days he was so grateful for the help of the visiting nurses, for visits from grandkids, and the watch of his children.

Obviously at 90 he had more years behind him than in front of him but we also had a bit of a heads up that death was imminent which gave many of us time for final goodbyes.  I'm extremely grateful he was able to die at home, just like Grandma, in peace, and that we were able to say goodbye.  The last time we saw him was 8 days before he died.  It was Good Friday and Luke and I visited with a few of my sisters and kids.  I'm really glad we got to say goodbye but even more glad Luke and I were able to have a longer visit the week before our last one.  Luke played with all the toys (many of the same ones I had played with as a child, and even some of my Mom's), we ate lunch with Grandpa and my Mom (Luke still tells me how much Great Grandpa likes carrots), and Grandpa came down in the basement while Luke played and we talked about some woodworking projects.  And, of course, there was ice cream.  It was very typical of many other visits Luke and I had made over the years and I'm so thankful for that. 

And that's what I keep coming back to as I've reflected on his life and death. Gratitude.  It's a beautiful thing to get to live to an old age and die peacefully.  My first classmate died in 6th grade, followed by another in high school, more in college, and too many since.  I've heard enough tragic stories of young people dying to know what a gift it is to make it to an old age.  My Grandpa had a long and happy life.  He saw 22 of his grandkids graduate high school (#23 isn't a slacker, she graduates in a few weeks), 13 get married, 1 make religious vows, and 12 of us become parents.  He met 25 great grandkids, 14 more than my Grandma did (that's 14 new babies in 2 1/2 years.  There are A LOT of babies at our family gatherings!).   He got to live a very good and full life.  Not all are so lucky.  It is very sad to have lost him to heaven but I can only be grateful for his decades and decades here on Earth.

As much as it hurts, and it hurts so bad at times, to bury someone so dear to me, I also know what a blessing it is to have known my Grandparents and knowing them well enough, and deep enough, that their absence causes this great of an ache.  My paternal Grandfather died before I was born.  My paternal Grandmother right before I turned two.  I have no memories of her but know I met her many times.  But my maternal Grandparents, I knew them.  I've made hundreds of trips across the state line to visit them in the last 30+ years.   Add it to the long list of things to be grateful for when thinking of Grandma and Grandpa, that we loved them long enough, and that they lived long enough, for so many of us to love them.

I LOVE Grandpa's excitement here
I feel especially grateful that Grandpa was able to see me as a parent, meet Luke, and that the two of them were able to spend time together.  There was a time at the funeral home for all of us to share stories of Grandpa with the group and I couldn't come up with anything on the spot.  But, thinking about it later, what I should have said is how much I loved seeing Grandpa as a Great Grandpa.  The oldest great grand isn't quite 10 which means his Great Grandfathering was really just a small percentage of his life but he sure loved those kids.  My Grandma was a well known BH (baby hog) and, as Grandma/Great Grandma, she could kinda trump most people.  I remember even my Mom remarking after Grandma's death, of how much Grandpa might be the new baby hog, but how maybe he stepped back and let Grandma love more on all those babies (true love).  Even with 30 (well, really maybe a little over 20) years of memories of my Grandpa before Luke, many of my favorite times with him are watching him with Luke.  When looking at the pictures of I have of him since my Grandma's death, almost every single one is him and Luke.
Despite how it looks, the two pictures on the left are from different days, two months apart.  Grandpa and Luke maybe both just wore the same clothes...
We still could have visited more but I am so glad we made more of an effort to see him in the last few years.  Luke got to know Great Grandpa's house, where the toys were, that ice cream followed almost every meal (or before meals), and that Grandpa had cool homemade marble toys in the basement.  Luke witnessed a few of the, likely, thousands of games of Tri-Onimos and Five Crowns that were played around that kitchen table.  He got to go to A&W with Grandpa, something that we did almost every time we spent the night as kids.  He got to know my Grandpa, as much as a toddler can, and for that I am eternally grateful.

On a visit last Christmastime Luke started walking around with a baton found in the toy closet and told me.
"This my walking stick.  I be like Great-Grandpa."   I really couldn't pick a much better man for him to emulate.  If my son can have the faith, love and cheerful attitude of my Grandpa, I will know I did my parenting job right (and that a little bit of Grandpa still lives in me).

My Grandparents retired and moved from the farm over 25 years ago.  Since then Grandpa spent a lot of time doing woodworking.  I counted 8 trucks that we have that Grandpa made including this ride-on truck for Luke:

And one of these little ones (Grandpa told me he didn't like how they looked until he put on the wheels.  Then he liked them).
I LOVE this picture, Grandpa got right down to play with Luke.
He made the nightstand I've used for the last ~25 years (the first thing he ever made me!), I'm typing this at the desk he made me in college, and we have a bookshelf he made.  Grandpa's hobby still surrounds us (suffice it to say, I know much more about his woodworking hobby than I do about his decades as a farmer, something that was evident every time my sister and I lost a round of "The Farming Game" to my cousins who grew up on farms).  Every time we visited I would ask Grandpa what he was working on and he'd show me.  There were a lot of cars, toys and doll beds for great grands.

Last 4th of July we had a big party of Grandpa's 90th birthday.  Almost the entire family was there which is a lot of people.  Even on my last visit with him he was talking about what a wonderful day that was.  And it was, maybe, my favorite family gathering ever (and we've had a lot).  We got to celebrate Grandpa while he was still here.  My cousin's wife had the idea of making a scrapbook where we all made a page (or two or three) about Grandpa and what he meant to us.  There were a lot of pages, a lot of pictures, a lot of memories.  I've gotten teary flipping through it.  Grandpa told my aunt, a few months after the party, that sometimes when he didn't have anything else to do, he would spend hours looking at that book and I just LOVE that.  He got to know how much we all loved and appreciated everything he's taught and done for us.  
My 4 generation picture.  It hangs over my desk.
Saying goodbye is never easy, even when it's expected.  Luke and I have talked many times about how Grandpa is now in heaven with Jesus and Great Grandma.  I imagine he was greeted with a "Well done, good and faithful servant." and an "Oh Bounce!".  I like to imagine Grandpa telling Grandma all about what happened down here over the last 2 1/2 years, all the new great grands, weddings.  (Even though I think Grandma's been watching over us and getting in plenty of cuddles with all these new babies before they are born.).  I know Grandpa missed Grandma (I sure do) and it makes my heart so happy to think of them together again, watching over all of us and smiling.  All because two people fell in love. (I read that it was snowing on their wedding day in early April, 68 years ago.  It snowed again the day Grandpa died, in early April, when he was reunited with Grandma in heaven.  He was buried the day before what would have been their 68th anniversary.)

I already miss him greatly and suspect I will for a long time.  He taught me much about faith, love, family, hard work, and finding joy in the little things.  Grandparents can be very special people and I feel so blessed to have had two fantastic ones. 

We spent the early part of this week saying our goodbyes.  My Grandparents were each one of 9 kids.  My Mom has more than 100 first cousins (before cousins by marriage).  Plus, my Grandpa was very active at his church and a lot of people knew him (small town thing.  At my Grandma's viewings he was so amazed at the number of people who came through.  I asked him if he knew that many people and he said: "No!  I didn't know there were this many people in the world!").  There was 8 hours of viewing over two days and the line never disappeared.  I knew very few people (although my in-laws and 4 of Matt's sisters came which I really appreciated!) which meant I got to spend a lot of time with cousins, my sisters, and chasing kids around.  I know it was long days for my parents, aunts, and uncles, but I really enjoyed it (as much as one can enjoy a funeral viewing).  (I could also sit when I wanted and maybe, maybe, have a beer.  Or two.)   It is not often that all 23 cousins are together.  The last time was at Grandma's viewing and before that it had been a good 8 years.  Adding those 25 kids made it a little crazy (did I mention that 17 of them are Luke's age and under?).  But there would be no better way to celebrate Grandpa's and Grandma's lives than by all being together, laughing, talking, reminiscing.  My cousin said someone remarked how loud (in a good way) it was when they came through and that sums it up.  My Grandpa had a life worth celebrating.  This family that they built is worth celebrating.  I am sure know we all miss him but he lived his good, wonderful, long, spectacular life.  THAT is worth celebrating with laughs, even at a funeral home.  (And, also, ice cream.  Grandpa definitely would have approved of many, including us, sneaking out for an ice cream break.)

Yes, there were tears (apparently I'm known as one of the criers in the family...which I totally haven't done while writing this, not. at. all.) but there was also a lot of joy and laughter over those days.  Grandpa's life gave us a lot to celebrate, a lot to be thankful for and it was a wonderful celebration of his life, his family, his legacy.  I'm very proud to be a part of it.

I know nobody is perfect but I think my Grandpa was a pretty great person and things I've heard from other people since his death only reinforces my belief.  I hope Grandma and Grandpa are rejoicing at being together again and watching over all of us with love.  May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Until we meet again, xoxo.

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