He's gone. He's really gone. And it hurts.
My grandpa was one of the strongest men I've ever known, and I truly know where my dad gets his strength - no question. And these last 10+ months have been hard. Let's face it, the last two years have been hard when it comes to my grandpa. Two years ago on November 7th, my grandmother passed away tragically. Now, I won't get into that again since I've already discussed it...read more here. My cousin said it beautifully recently at my grandfather's funeral. When Granny passed away, a huge part of Pops died along with her. Who were any of us to blame him? He had just lost the love of his life and soulmate. They had been married almost 60 years! They lived on a farm and took care of cows, chickens, baled hay, and loved it all. Now, remove a huge piece of that - your partner through it all - and what do you have left? Heartache. That's what. Although the shock really hit me, I can't even begin to imagine what my grandfather felt and went through in the short time he lived without her. I tear up every single time I think about it. He witnessed her death. He was reminded of her every single day living in their house, with all of her trinkets and pictures everywhere...
Following the death of my grandmother, he repeatedly told everyone over and over that 'he was going to the wedding on Saturday, but after that, 'he just didn't know.' The wedding. My wedding. Although it would break his heart to experience this occasion without his bride, he knew how much it would mean to me, his granddaughter, and my future husband to attend our wedding. And he did so, without hesitation and without question. My cousin captured this picture beautifully, and I will treasure it forever.
He lived in their house for many months after her passing and loved his dog, Max, to the moon and back. The smile that the dog put on his face will be one that I will never forget. And then, before I knew it, he was admitted to the nursing home. At first, it was only to recover from a fall he had taken a few days prior, but he never did. Before I knew it, the nursing home was his 'home', and that's where I would go to visit him for the next nine months.
My grandfather was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer this year, and the man never smoked a day in his life (that I'm aware of). 19 years ago, he was diagnosed with and beat prostate cancer. This time was much, much different. Through all of the doctors and tests and tears, these past 9 months have been a rollercoaster, to say the least. And I only experienced it as a granddaughter. I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like to go through all of that with a parent or spouse, and just thinking about it absolutely breaks my heart. My dad was so amazing through the ups and downs with his father after losing his mom, and again I am reminded at just how amazing of a man he really is - not only as a father to me and my siblings, but as a spouse, sibling, and son.
Knowing what was going on with Pops, I took advantage of every free weekend that I had. Did it take a toll on our financials? Absolutely. Did it put a strain on my marriage? You betcha! But my amazing husband understood what I was going through - and if he didn't, he supported me and knew that I needed to be at my grandfather's side, visiting him and showing him that I cared and loved him every chance that I could. That made for many, many trips home, all during the summer working overtime and already being stressed out. Needless to say, my anxiety was through the roof! But, I am blessed to be strong in my faith and to have an amazing family that pulls together in difficult times, as well as such great friends!
But with that being said, death really is a rollercoaster! I lost count of just how many times I prepared myself for my grandfather's passing. It's utterly exhausting, both physically and emotionally. But in those moments, I chose not to be selfish. After preparing my mind, heart, and soul to lose him when things were looking bleak, God was not ready for him just yet, and then a few more weeks went by with him seemingly improving. Then, I fell into complacency yet again, into a routine of visiting my grandpa as I had over the years when I'd go home to visit my parents. This happened time and time again, but I refused to allow myself to be selfish and hope for it all to just be over. I wanted the suffering to end for Pops, yes. But was I ready for him to really be gone? Definitely not. I just kept showing up - no matter what was happening, whether it was a good day or not, I would be there as often as I could living two hours away. And I cherished every minute I had with him, even if no words were exchanged. The smile on his face when I'd walk in was more than enough to let me know just how much he appreciated the time and effort I put into being sure I was there for him as much as possible. I knew I couldn't do much to help him, to ease his pain, but if sitting with him for a few hours, talking with him, or playing cards and dominoes with him helped in any way, I am happy to have eased his burden, even if only a small amount. I will live the rest of my days with no regrets in regard to Pops; I saw him as much as possible. I visited every chance I could. I chose him over so many other things that were going on in my life (spending time with my husband, friends, sleep, and other commitments). My response to everyone else in my life was that I was going home that weekend to visit with my parents and grandfather. And they accepted it because they know me. They knew how important it was for me to be there when I could. For that, I am forever grateful!
So, for months and months, that's what I did. I showed up. If he was back at home in the nursing home, I made the trip to visit. If he was here in town at the E.R., I went straight after work to just sit there. And although I couldn't be with him, as only one person was allowed back with him at a time, I showed up for my family. Whether my dad needed someone to talk to, or my aunt needed someone to walk around with to take a break - whatever was needed, I was more than willing to spend my evening in the waiting room with them to be of whatever help I could. And, it was my grandfather, whom I've been close with since before I can remember! I wanted and needed to be there, for myself too. I just hope and pray that I didn't overstay my welcome in those moments; I know that there were so many dark days that my grandfather and his children needed to be together and to make difficult decisions - and sometimes having anyone else there is the last thing they'd want...I just pray that I didn't burden any of those days or decisions in any way, and in my heart, I know I didn't. That's just who I am - I show up. Even if it's just to sit with a loved one or to take care of some chores around the house because they just emotionally aren't up for it - whatever the case may be, I show up. But in all of those moments that I chose to show up for my family, and especially Pops, I don't regret a single one. I am thankful that I was able to be there as much as I was, and those are memories that will last me a lifetime!
Pops lost his battle with cancer on August 7, 2013. I remember that day like it was yesterday, even though it was three months ago. I can't believe he's already been gone that long! Pops was given 2 weeks to live by hospice, and he was determined to beat that timeline. He was so sure that he was going to live longer than what they said he had, and he did. By three hours. It was one more way, after he was gone, that he put a smile on my face. Although he was no longer with us, he was his normal, stubborn self, up until the very end. He lived 2 weeks and three hours from the date he was given only 2 weeks. For that, I am eternally grateful. I needed that joy in those dark moments of grief, and to this day, it makes me smile. He passed away peacefully in his sleep after receiving some pain medication only minutes before. And now, he is no longer suffering. No more tests. No more doctors. No more nurses. No more pain. And knowing those things right there is what makes it easier for me to accept and begin healing from his loss. He is happily in Heaven with his wife, dancing away, pain free! How joyous a thought! Colten and I drove to my hometown that afternoon and spent time with family. The rosary was beautiful, and it was amazing to really see and feel the support of family and friends that made the trip to pay their respects. And to them, I want to say thank you. Again. It truly means the world to me to know that people love on my family and that my grandfather had touched the hearts of so many people during his days on earth. The funeral the next day was an amazing service. I agreed to do one of the readings, and I was nervous! Although I had done it less than two years ago at my grandma's funeral, for some reason the nerves got to me this time. But, I stumbled through it and am so glad that I did it. And then it came time for the grandchildren to say a few words about our cherished grandfather. My cousin had me in tears before it was my turn to speak, and he had pretty much covered everything. But I told myself I would say something and that I wanted to honor Pops as I had with Granny. So, with eyes stinging with tears and my hands shaking, I told everyone in attendance that my love for him was ever so deep, and that no matter what was going on in any of our lives, my grandparents never judged us. They were never disappointed by anything I had ever done and were always happy to see me and hear about what was going on in my life. We laid my grandfather to rest to the sounds of the 21 gun salute and taps being played in the distance. It was the first military funeral I had witnessed, and it was beautiful. He is finally at peace with his love and his Creator.
I am so unbelievably saddened by your loss but am thankful you are no longer suffering. I am proud to be your stubborn granddaughter and to have laughed, loved, and cried right along with you throughout the years. Your love for your family and your faith have been carried on and live in me. Thank you for showing your love and support through anything and everything I did, from sports and school, to my wedding day and the sacredness of marriage that I now share with my husband. I have a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever. I can still hear your laugh, and I know that you are laughing in Heaven alongside your bride and Creator, no longer brokenhearted or in pain. I will miss you every day of my life and look forward to the day I will see you again. I love you.
Always, and forever.
Today, it is painful to drive past his house and know that neither him nor my grandmother will ever be looking out of the kitchen window to see what's going on, to know that I will never sit down to an amazing home cooked meal in their kitchen, by their hands. Today, I miss the joy and laughter that both of them brought to my life. Today, I am having difficulty accepting that I've experienced the first Grandparents Day that I did not have any living grandparents to celebrate with. Today, and every day, my heart hurts. But every day is easier. Time truly does heal, and one day, the raw pain of losing him will be gone, and I will only feel joy and love of remembering him.
This will be the first holiday season without any of my grandparents, and I know it's going to be hard, to say the least. It's going to be tough to be in his house and him not be there. All of the memories of my childhood, visiting that house, spending summers helping him and my grandma on the farm, picking eggs from the chicken coop, watching him put out hay, checking cows...they're endless. I know he is in a much better place now, without pain, but this is going to be one tough holiday season! I'm requesting prayers and comfort for me and my family during this time, as we take life a day at a time without our loved one and try to celebrate the joy of this holiday season. He's gone, but he will never be forgotten!