This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a hiatus, and to be quite honest, I just don’t care. I have been more than okay with writing ONLY when I feel like writing. In the past few months while I’ve been silent, I experienced one of the best days and worst days of my life. Both of which I had been dreaming of and dreading for quite some time. It sparked me to finally post this month long draft when I found out about my best friend’s grandfather passing away this week. I still find it hard to look at pictures and be reminded, but it makes me feel better to write about it.
Joe and I took our second trip to Cabo in August, where he proposed. I’m getting married! I quickly became overwhelmed by trying to find a venue, making a Pinterest board, and inquiring with photographers and florists.
Meanwhile, I had a week long trip to Italy for work. I was my usual self, stressing out over work, wedding planning, and everything else in life (even when it really wasn’t necessary to be stressed out).
A few days after I returned home from Italy, I received a phone call from my Mom about my grandpa. She told me that he wasn’t going to make it through the week. I packed my bags and went home to Pennsylvania.
I had wanted to sit down and write about this for a while, because I felt the need to get my thoughts on paper, but every time I tried, I thought about how I didn’t want to be reminded that he’s gone. If you aren’t into it today, save it for another time. but if you are interested in an enlightening story, you should continue.
Let’s back track for a minute though. I lived with my grandpa (and my Mom) for 13 years, and he continued to be the father figure in my life, even when I moved away for college at age 18. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his 60s, but only in the last 4 to 5 years did he really start to deteriorate. He was in assisted living until last December, until he had enough falls and accidents to put him in a nursing home. My Mom had visited him almost every day during these years. Whenever I was home visiting in Pennsylvania, I would go see him as well.
I knew that Parkinson’s disease ultimately ends with the person being unable to swallow and losing all motor skills. But, my grandpa had been eating like a horse for weeks before he hit a wall. None of us understood and we never will, but he refused medicine, food, and water, and began terminal agitation, a new term that I just learned as he was going through it. We sat with him for days in the nursing home as Hospice made him “comfortable”. God bless Hospice nurses, that’s all I have to say.
It wasn’t real for those few days, and by the time the 3rd day rolled around, something was telling me I had to go. We had a scare that day, which left me feeling nauseous. My Mom and Uncles were out of the room, so I took a few minutes to say my goodbyes to him. I felt like I needed to go back to New Jersey, and I’d return to PA when I got the call.
My Mom drove me half way and Joe met us in the middle to bring me back. All the while I felt torn between staying and going, but I can’t describe the feeling, something stronger than myself told me I should leave. When we got out of the car to meet my Mom, Joe found a twenty dollar bill on the ground. We said our goodbyes and headed home. When I was about 5 minutes from home, my Mom texted me to ask if I was back yet. For some reason, I just knew. I called her when I walked in the door and she said “well, 8:32″. I immediately fell into Joe’s arms and cried. It was sort of real at this point, but not totally. What we did know, was that both my Mom and I didn’t necessarily want to be there when it happened, and both of my Uncles (my Mom’s brothers) did. Well, that’s what happened, and that’s why he waited for us to leave. At least that is what I believe.
The next few days were full of family, food, the viewing, the funeral, all of which distracted us from the reality that is life without him (which is more severe for my Mom than me, since she spent so much time with him). When I say ‘one of the worst days of my life’, I don’t really know what was worse; finding out he wasn’t going to make it through the week, finding out he had passed, seeing him for the first time in the casket, seeing him for the last time in the casket, walking out of the church, or leaving the cemetery. I cried randomly throughout the few days during and after. I realized that you think you understand death, until you experience it. Why did this happen? What caused the downward spiral at the end? Did he hear what I said before I left the nursing home? Can he hear me now when I talk to him? I am sure it’s normal to begin to questioning everything, but that feeling of searching for answers that don’t exist is just awful.
The only things that made me feel better were memories I had with him, looking through old photos, and hearing everyone’s stories at the viewing about what a truly selfless man he was. I can remember him cutting the grass and snow blowing the yards of the neighborhood without even asking. He ran errands and did handy work for anyone that asked. He took care of his family in all aspects, and always just wanted everyone to get along and be happy. Money was not the most important thing to him, but he was always offering some extra cash if we needed it. One of my Mom’s childhood friend’s who came to the wake said she remembered how he always carried around a wad of cash, and would give them money to go buy candy or go shopping. He was always very meticulous with his cash, and would organize it by the letters on the bills.
I had to travel for work shortly after the funeral. It was tough being away from family, Joe, and home. I think it built up a little over that time, because the night that I returned home, I cried, and I asked Joe if his grandmother ever gave him a “sign”. He was very close to his grandmother and lost her about 6 years ago.
He asked me what I was looking for, and I said “I don’t know, I guess a sign that he’s watching over me”. He then pointed out that my grandpa had sent a sign, but none of us noticed. “What did everyone say about your grandfather?”, he asked me. Now, I know that not one person could deny his kindness and generosity. So, “What happened in the parking lot that night?”. I knew it was 8:30 when we made the switch, so I assumed he passed when we were all together. But what I didn’t realize was that the parking lot was absolutely deserted. There were no other cars, and the restaurant had been closed for good, not just for the night. We were the only people around. Where else could the twenty dollar bill have come from?
One last act of kindness. Joe had kept the bill aside, and gave it to me that night. I always wanted my grandpa to walk me down the aisle, but I will take this as a sign of him giving me away to Joe and knowing that he will take care of me.
I know that my grandpa made me a better person in many ways, but it’s unfortunate that it took this to make me sit back and realize what’s really important in life. I never want to take family or friends for granted because you truly never know what can happen. My grandpa’s death was expected but unexpected, if that makes sense.
I need to learn to be present. I am constantly looking forward (and sometimes backwards) instead of enjoying every moment for what it is. The stupid things I worry about every day suddenly didn’t seem to matter anymore, and all I wanted to do was repay the kindness he offered to me, to others. I know it sounds cliche, but feelings are feelings.
Not a day will go by that I won’t remember the impact he made on my life, or the way he used to always joke about everything. He was a simple and happy person who loved and cared for his family more than words could express. Like my Uncle said in his eulogy, all we can do to help his spirit live on is to give our families the love and care that he did.
Rest in peace William F. Leo. I love you and miss you every day!