Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Matter of Fact

My grandpa died today.
It's been this long, drawn out thing looming over our heads for months. The cancer had spread throughout his body and into his bones. The doctors couldn't do anything else for him. I wonder how many other families have heard that...
The best decision I ever made was going to see him in January. For weeks before the visit I heard "prepare yourself" though I'm not sure why people say that because how in the hell do you "prepare yourself" to stare death in the face. Sure, it's not my own death right now, but it was the first time I'd ever been in the presence of somebody that knew they were going to die.
The e-mails from my aunts kept taunting me, "He's not good. He's not well. Prepare yourself" SHUT THE FUCK UP! I hate it when people do that. It's all a matter of opinion and low and behold my opinion was greatly different from theirs. From what I had heard, I expected this crotchty, half-corpse to meet us at the door of his home, although I could never imagine anything other than normal old grandpa. Then, there he was, just at I remember - loud, nasaly, Italian and over exaggerated. There were some differences though - his usual olive skin had faded into gray a bit, he tired easily and he looked like he was "creaking and crunching" like it was difficult to walk, sit or stand up. But, then he'd have these conversations with us - laughing, telling us about his girlfriend Tudy and visits with friends. We rode around the neighborhood in his golf cart, ate lunch at the clubhouse, had dinner with him every night and he got to meet his only great-granddaughter for the first and last time. He seemed as happy as one could be. The words sickly or decrepit or sad or out of it never crossed my mind. He was all there and that's how I'll always remember him.
My mom wasn't so lucky though. She was down in Arizona taking care of him, watching him deteriorate until he could no longer speak, but continued to remain stoic. She called me today and left a message on my cellphone - "I just wanted to tell you that grandpa died this morning," she said very matter-of-factly. She's been that way throughout this ordeal - although it's never really seemed like an ordeal in her eyes - just a part of life when you get older. We've had conversations that started, "When grandpa dies..." as if were no big deal and we're just talking about what we did that day...matter of fact. Is this just a coping mechanism? I mean, the woman cries during Lifetime movies, but never when somebody in real life dies. When do we get into this state of matter of fact-ness? Is it just her or will I be this way when my parents start to go? I can't even bear the thought - I don't think I could ever be that way. Although my relationship with my parents and her relationship with her parents is not at all the same. I'm sure that has something to do with it. I'm not angry about it. It was just something that I kept observing and thought was odd.
An inheritance check came in the mail the other day. He had talked about it during our visit, but we weren't sure if was actually going to happen. I'm investing a good portion of it, but grandpa would want me to spend it too. He'd say, "go do something fun with your life," although I'm sure he'd saved a penny here and there because I remember him saying, "There's a million dollars there and that's pretty good for an old, worn out bombadier." Maybe I'll take that Europe trip I've wanted to take my entire life. I'll make sure to visit the hometowns of his parents, my great grandparents in Italy, which I made sure to ask where they were when I was in Tucson. That seems appropriate.
The visit was good and we dreaded the goodbye. My sister handed Remi off to me and I turned away, snatching a scratchy paper napkin off of the counter for the inevitable. This was the last time I was ever going to see him, talk to him, hug him and this time I knew it for certain. He hugged me as I tried to hold it in, then put my face between his hands and pulled me away to look at me and said, "my perky one" as a tear rolled out of my eye. He pulled me back in and squeezed me tight.
We piled into the car for the airport and he stood on the driveway and watched us drive away. I watched him blow kisses until we were almost to the end of his short street, then his head dropped and his expression changed as he let his emotions overcome him while heading back inside the house. Grandpa had expressed his dislike for living alone while we were there, describing it as "haunting." It was hard to bear the fact that someone wasn't there with him when we left. After rounding the corner, my mom stopped the car to let my sister dry heave out the door. The visit was easy, the good-bye was not.
He was a WWII veteran, a world traveler, a story-teller and a nature lover. At almost 88, he lived a full and eventful life. I didn't see him often, but some of my fondest memories involve him - trips to Monterey, Calif. to feed the crazy leg-climbing squirrels and giant pelicans, his 70th surprise birthday party, our wild jaunts in the golf cart terrorizing the old folks neighborhood and exclaiming whenever we saw a "desert jack!" (jackrabbit) and right at the end when he threw orange berries from his neighbors bushes at us just to be a beast. His ornery spirit could always make you smile. I'll miss you GP...

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