Thank you all so very much for your sweet words and support his past week!
When I learned that my grandfather had passed, I was somewhat surprised. He was 2 months away from 103 years old, how could you be surprised, you ask? My grandpa has been a fixture in my life for 33 years. While other grandparents got sick and eventually passed, my grandpa was always bright, strong, and healthy. When he ended up sick and in the hospital for the first time EVER in his 90’s, I was sad but not the slightest bit shocked to learn that he pulled through open heart surgery well and was telling jokes to the nurses day one after surgery. After that, I made sure not to take for granted any of the time we had left together.
I have been down to Florida for at least his last 7 birthdays (and possibly more) documenting everything with photos and creating memories that are still vivid today (ie driving with him home from his birthday brunch the day after his 101st birthday). I made sure to take a trip down with the BOY to introduce him early on and we often visited since, enjoying pancakes and stories by the pool. I made sure that my grandpa knew that I loved him and shared all of the exciting moments of the past years, including my engagement with him.
Although we knew that his health and independence were declining, it was shocking to hear that grandpa’s body was aging and his quality of life impaired last week. The news broke my heart but to hear that he passed quietly, without suffering, after recent visits from family and friends in the community was comforting. And then, it was a quick transition to GO time. Planning for a drive out east, rearranging my work schedule, coordinating phone calls with family, and taking care of the last minute little things before leaving for almost a week.
My mom and brother arrived in New Jersey first and it was a pleasant reunion when my dad, sister in law, the BOY, and I arrived. We stayed with my cousins who have two young kids who were thrilled to see us and we were equally excited to spend time with them. The week progressed with a mix of disbelief and celebrations of life. There were stories to share, laughter amongst family, and hugs and tears. I actually do not know the last time that I was in a room with my brother and all 5 of my cousins and I couldn’t help but appreciate this as the 7 of us, plus spouses, and kids got to know each other better at a family dinner. The energy in the house was electric. The celebration of life with the underlying tone of sadness. At almost 103, there was more appreciation for the lifetime of lessons and legacy that Grandpa Al left us than loss.
I spent time in New Jersey and strolled through Washington Heights, NYC. I bonded with my sister in law over family dynamics and smiled brightly as the BOY engaged in deep conversations gaining the trust of my family in between playing games with the kids. His support during this time left me speechless with an entirely new level of appreciation for the life we are about to start together.
The days went by and at 5am yesterday morning, it was time to return home. We ended up renting a second car to caravan home, reflecting on the week while beginning to plan for back to work, getting opinions about wedding plans and texting pins back and forth with my sister in law in the other car. Once we crossed back into Illinois, we had a stop in the city, drove out to Ohare to return the rented car, then back to my parents to pick up our car before returning to our home and a slightly dazed and mostly annoyed Cooper.
I sat back on the couch to sort through emails and bills and see the adorable face of my grandpa popping up on my blog screen and my throat gets tight as my eyes tear up as the overwhelming reality that I won’t hear him scream Jennifer loudly into the phone when I call hits, no slams into me. And I am still sad…so very sad.
But I am also happy to have had 6 days surrounded by the love and support of family, creating more memories and passing down wisdom to the newest generation of great grandkids. My grandpa would be so happy to know that we were all together!
And so along with the sadness, this is what I will take with me over the next days, weeks, and years!