My Grandfather, Lieutenant Commander, Navy WWII Pilot, and NYPD Captain, better known as My Hero (to me anyway), passed away suddenly last week. He was 94.
My heart hurts…
It wasn’t my weekend with my kids so I had to go tell them their Great Grandfather had passed. I can hardly write the words now. I don’t know how I got through telling them then.
We’d just spent Mother’s Day with Grandpa. He laughed and joked and ate a lot! Two of my sons played baseball against a rival team on Monday. My Aunt and Uncle drove Grandpa to the game. My Uncle quizzed him on retired Yankee numbers since Jeter had just retired. Grandpa knew every player by number and loved every minute of the games!
Telling my boys wasn’t easy. Grandpa isn’t some distant relative. My family is very close, and we see each other often. Great Grandpa was very much an active part of their lives. I went to see him often on my weekends without the boys and took them whenever I could on weekends we were together. My Mom, aunts, and uncles would sometimes drive Grandpa to see my oldest at college even when I couldn’t go.
My boys often asked to see Grandpa more, but it was hard finding time to get all the boys to all their activities and drive the hour to see Grandpa and back. Even while he was alive (GULP – how hard it is to write that!), I lamented silently (for the most part) that my boys didn’t get to see him more. I was saddened and angered that they have to split time between two families rather than have one family united. A part-time father and an his other woman, even when she “marries” the father, do not multiply a child’s love; they divide love and loyalties. They put children in an unfair position.
It is unfair to my boys that they did not get to see more of this amazing man and the family he gave us. It is unfair that children are forced to go with an absentee parent when they are young and forced to choose between a parent and other family as they get older. It is unfair to my boys that they had to choose between time with dad and time with Great Grandpa.
Divorce is never fair to a child. It always hurts him or her. It’s important to state these truths, but I can’t dwell now on what we didn’t have.
I must carry on finding Joy as Grandpa always showed us!
Grandpa isn’t just some old guy we went to see out of duty or obligation. He
is was my favorite person on earth maybe next to my boys. The Love I have for them is different though and, as hard as it is to admit, tainted by divorce. Grandpa had no restriction on his Love for my boys or for me. He taught us to Love unconditionally. Grandpa is the one who taught me to love God, Family, and Country. He is the one who taught me that material things are nice, but Faith, Family, and Country are all that really matter.
Family is a gift Grandpa gave to all of us. He may bear the title of Great Grandpa, but he is more…he’s just more!
My boys and I stood under a streetlight as I broke the news. We stayed together for a while until, one by one my boys slowly walked away and back into their father’s house until it was just my little guy and me in the street alone.
He quietly cried and cried. I did too. I held him and rocked him until he needed a drink. Then I put him down, hugged him goodbye, and watched him walk, still sobbing, under the garden trellis, and into another world. His silhouette shone against the door as he paused to wave back at me and wipe more tears.
Then he was gone.
And I was alone.
I half expected the boys to come back out, to say they wanted to stay with me, to say their father had told them they should be with me during this difficult time. I sat in my car playing on my phone, pretending to have something important to do, while just waiting for a long time.
Finally, I drove away…
Grandpa was my hero. Shortly after my husband left, I visited my Grandfather. I was five months pregnant and absolutely shaking. My life had crashed around me. I had thought my husband was like my Grandfather. I had thought he was my hero. Maybe part of what went wrong in our marriage is that I worshiped him too much. I thought he could fix things only God can fix and the pressure I put on him was too much. In some ways, I know that’s true. In others I know that people love through much worse than anything I’d ever done to my husband and that I could not take the blame for his inability to love or the choices he made.
This time of year is hard for me. My husband told me he was leaving on Mother’s Day 2009 and moved out a week later. His actions on that day have forever scarred a day that should be most beautiful to mothers everywhere. I can’t imagine what he was thinking that day. I’m done trying. It is very clear, my ex is no Grandpa.
I remember wondering how I could tell Grandpa my husband had abandoned us? Grandma had already passed, and Grandpa was alone. How could I make him understand what was happening and not disappoint him when I didn’t understand what was happening myself and was so disappointed in who I must be?
I told Grandpa it would be okay, that I still loved my husband and that we’d get through this somehow. I told him I hadn’t given up on Marriage, that I’d learned a lot from him and Grandma and how to make things work in difficult times, and that I trusted God.
Grandpa never criticized me or told me what I should or shouldn’t do. He never told me what he thought should happen to my ex or that I would be okay. Grandpa just listened with an indescribable look on his face. He never said a word.
When I was done, he reached out silently and hugged me. When so many others were filling my head with what they thought should happen to my ex or what I should do. Grandpa just listened. To this day, I don’t know what he thought, but I know he gave me what I needed. I didn’t need more advice or anger or anything from him. I needed his quiet Strength and to know that I was worth something. At a time when I had neither strength nor any degree of self-worth, Grandpa gave me both.
Can I say again Grandpa is my hero?
Grandpa is the only Man I ever saw pray the Rosary. He’d sit in his window and pray it after my Grandmother died. Before that, they prayed it together. I don’t think he was the man he was or has left the legacy he has by coincidence.
Grandpa fell in love with Grandma when they were kids, and they loved each other ever since. He taught me that families really can overcome adversity. He and Grandma raised five children in a five floor walk up, 2 bedroom apartment in the Bronx. The stories of the fights they had are almost as epic as the love and laughter they overcame those fights with and passed on to us.
His life was not easy. He lived through the Great Depression, flew rescue missions over Japan in WWII, helped his family recover from a devastating car accident, had to rebuild after his house burned completely to the ground, survived cancer, and multiple injuries.
He lived in Rising Sun, Maryland and had an outhouse for crying out loud.
Knowing the little I know, I should never complain again!
Grandpa’s life was not easy, but he saw the Good in it. He taught by example that we could always see Good if we chose to. I am grateful to be born into this family where every aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, grandchild, and great grandchild follows his example and chooses to see Good. We have God, Grandma, and Grandpa to thank for that, and we will always have each other. Even if time and distance separate us, blood, passion, and “Sl-Attitude” will not.
I know I should be grateful for all the closeness and love my family has, the foundation my Grandfather provided, the examples he and my Grandmother gave us, the sacrifices they made so generations later could have financial stability. I know he is on his way to a better place, and I am truly grateful and glad for that, but I am also incredibly saddened as I sit here alone.
I want my Grandfather back one more day. I want to roll my eyes at his corny jokes and curse the family nose he passed on to so many of us. I want to know my children have his example to learn from and follow.
Grandpa is the man I want my boys to be.
Have I mentioned Grandpa is my hero? Have I mentioned how much I miss him or how grateful I am that he and my Grandmother never divorced although I’m sure they had plenty of “reason” to or how I owe so much to him for showing me life always has Joy if you care to see it and that Love exists only when we choose to love?
Have I mentioned that I will always love him?
I love you Grandpa. My heart hurts tonight, but I know you’re on your way to a better place now. You’re on your way to reconnecting with so many of our departed family. Please tell Nana I’m praying for her too. Best of all, you’re on your way to be with the Trinity, to see the face of God up close and to thank Him for the life we’ve all been Blessed with here on Earth. I believe wholeheartedly in the Communion of Saints and know I will see you again when our time here is up and Jesus calls us home. I know your prayers will become even more powerful now as you pray for us and we pray for you.
I’m crying alone here tonight, but I promise I will see the Joy even in your passing and that we, all of your family, will choose Love, laughter, and Strength just as you have shown us.