One Year Later

My unbelievably loved and respected grandfather died on this day, one year ago. This first year is the only time I will mark this date, after this choosing to celebrate only the good days. My grandfather was immeasurably important to me, to all of my family. To say that he was a good man, a dedicated father, an adoring grandfather, great grandfather, a loyal friend -- none of it encompasses how he impacted the people around him. When I need a measuring stick in human kindness,compassion and morality that eclipses religion, it is him that I measure against. What follows is rather long, quite personal, it certainly isn't one of those 'general audience' pieces but it was important to me, at this year mark, to remember.
July 23, 2007 - Diary
Today my daughter poked her eye with the corner of a book and I found out my Grandpa has pancreatic cancer. I am profoundly sad. Surprisingly, I don’t feel sad for me, even though Grandpa has been more a father to me at times than my own father, even though he is the most stable and loving man I’ve ever known until I met my own husband, even though he is an important fixture in our families often shaky stability.

I am sad for my grandparents. Tonight I called and my cousin was there with her mom and she talked to me while she did dishes. My grandparents are scared and it scares me that they, they who have always been strong before us are anxious, unsure and visibly rocked by this news. Again, when my grandpa dies, whenever that is, my world will not change considerably. But my grandmother has shared a bed with this man for nearly sixty years, my whole chest contracts with the thought of losing my husband, I can’t even imagine how directionless and pained my grandmother would feel without hers.

I am scared and sad for the indignities my grandfather will have to endure, and that’s if things are good enough to warrant the indignities of the poisons of cancer treatment. I am scared for him, with him, of the pain, the physical pain and the pain of seeing your family sad and frightened. The fear and uncertainty of trusting doctors to know what you need and do their best and manage your pain and your expectations. I am sad that my grandparents will have to walk that line between optimism and realism. I am sad that he may have to find a way to say goodbye to all of us. I am just sad for them and the uncertain road ahead.

I’m sad for me too because I love this man so much and he is the only man I have ever looked up to and admired, respected, trusted and felt completely loved and accepted by. But I don’t need him anymore, want him yes, but Gene has filled the place in my life that my grandfather held open, waiting for the right person to come and occupy for the long haul.

I am sad for my mom and her siblings because to lose your father is different than your grandfather and to watch your grandmother sad and scared is not jarring in the way it is to see your mother contemplate what’s ahead. I wish for my grandfather whatever it is he needs to make any of this, whatever this turns out to be, as easy as possible. I love him, them and I only wish that knowing that we all care so much will make things easier not harder.

My aunt has found a site, the Caring Bridge that will help my grandparents keep their large family and bevy of friends updated on my grandpa's progress. We have all left messages which my cousin prints up for my grandfather to read. My Grandma told me that these messages mean a lot to him, something to keep his mind off things.

- Caring Bridge
Grandpa & Grandma,
I miss you both so much and would give you a big hug if I were there. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everything fine, but I know I can’t. Nevertheless, you have all of my support and love in the difficult days ahead. I am so proud to be your granddaughter and the courage and commitment you have shown to each other, especially as of late, is yet another opportunity for me to learn from you both. You have always been a huge source of strength and stability for me, I’m certain for many of us. Now, you need to focus inward and take care of each other knowing we’re all ok and will do whatever it is you need us to. I love you both.

What do you say that could ever in a million years make any of this ok?
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 03, 2007 - Caring Bridge

Hi Grandpa and Grandma,
Grandma, happy birthday. Wish I could have been at Mom's to celebrate with you. Even though it was your birthday, I bet you still made the cake. I would give anything for a piece of your poppyseed cake right now. Grandpa, Mom filled me in on your last treatment and I'm glad to know you're doing well. It's nice to get the detailed report from her since every time I call you guys, we're only on the phone five minutes or so before one of the other kids or grandkids or friends calls to talk to you too. As for me, I'm in the home stretch now as far as the pregnancy goes. Every time I think I'm as big as I'll get, I get a little bit bigger. Gene has been generous with nightly back and foot rubs, extra help around the house and with the kids and ice cream runs a couple of times a week. The doctors expect I'll deliver between the 25th of September and October 5th so we'll see, maybe the bebe will share your birthday :) With Mom, Dad's, yours and Gene's dads birthdays all around the same time, she has a pretty good chance of sharing somebody's birthday. Anyway, just wanted to drop you a note and let you know I miss you.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2007 - Caring Bridge

Grandpa & Grandma,
I miss you both so much I cannot even put it into words. I am so big, ungainly, and bored already(I worked my last day for the time being Saturday) that if I were in town, I think I'd be at your house every day eating good food, watching your big tv, chatting with you both and letting grandma overfeed me powder donuts, shrimp salad, pizelles, baked chicken and all the other things I miss. Wow, I guess this email has a food theme, I'm getting hungry just writing it.
Anyhow, I am in my 37th week of pregnancy and could officially "go" any day now. I'm hoping for sooner rather than later because I am so big, you wouldn't believe it. On my 5 foot frame, I look like an egg on legs. The big kids both have said they'll be glad when the baby comes and I have a lap they can sit on again. Gene is taking good care of me even though I am getting more and more anxious to get the show on the road. I'll keep you posted on my progress and keep me in your thoughts for an earlier rather than later birth, maybe sometime around Grandpa's birthday:) Love you both, miss you and wish I was there, albeit selfishly so you could love me up a little. Love, Christy
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2007 - Caring Bridge
Happy Birthday Grandpa,
Wow, 87 years, I can hardly believe it.
You seem so much younger and not just because you’re handsome and still a fierce player on the golf course. You seem so much younger than 87 in part because of the adaptability you have shown through the multiple generations of growth in your family and how well you have handled everything we’ve thrown at you.

You have and continue to be, a model of unconditional love and you and grandma(I mention her because sometimes I see you as two halves of the same person) have served as the foundation and heart of our family. I have learned so many things from you and cherish every day we’ve spent together. Not only have you been a great role model but you are simply nice to be around. I’ve appreciated that without saying much, I always knew what you meant whether it was conveying love or letting me know I had to do something better. I remember occasionally getting into trouble and getting lectures over dinner at your kitchen table from Mom, Grandma and even Linda sometimes, but all you had to do was look up from your plate at me and I knew what you were thinking.

I recall with pride all of the times you’ve said to me, “Chrissy, you’re the one we never worry about, we know you’ll figure it out.” Believe me, there were many times I reminded myself of your words to reassure myself that I could handle all the stumbling blocks and obstacles of adulthood. Your confidence in me was a powerful armor out in the world. I loved that when I told you I had finally found “the one” when I met Gene, all you said was, “Chrissy, if you love him, I love him." And I have loved seeing your relationship with Grandma evolve over the many different stages of your lives. You have never stopped working to treat each other better and I have never met two people more committed and loyal to each other. Beyond the bonds of almost 60 years together it is also so apparent that you two are still in love, a giant accomplishment in any marriage.

I’ve also appreciated your impish sense of humor. You and Grandma definitely taught me that if you can laugh together, it’s awfully hard to stay angry very long and that a sense of humor and perspective can be a real comfort when things are hard or looking dim. Grandpa, I hope it is a really good birthday and know that I love you and you mean the world to me. I hope the next year brings you a wealth of health, happiness and all that you dream of.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 -Caring Bridge
Hi Grandpa,
I wanted to write sooner but with the new baby I'm lucky if I have time for a shower! Thank you so much for giving up Grandma for a few days so she could come out to California with Mom to see the baby and help out. It was so nice to have my family here so soon after the baby's birth and I couldn't wait for Grandma and mom to meet my new girl. Gene and I were so tired after 2 weeks with Izzy up every few hours so Grandma and mom were nice enough to keep the baby with them two of the nights they visited so Gene and I could get a full nights sleep. What a treat that was. I felt positively human again rather than the walking zombie I was beginning to resemble.
Grandma played for hours with the kids and it made me think of all the times Grandma made up games for she and I to play or took the time to teach me how to do things from playing gin to making a pie. Mom and Grandma also picked up where I left off with my yard before I started getting too big to garden. They split up and thinned out a bunch of our plants, bought some colorful new ones and got the yard looking its best. With a little of our year-round California sunshine, it won't take long for it to all fill in again and look positively lush.
Only Grandma and Mom spend big $$ on plane tickets, get on a long plane ride just to sleep on our couch(they liked it better than the air mattress:), cuddle a crying baby in the middle of the night getting only a little sleep and do some heavy duty gardening. While recovering from a Cesarean and getting acclimated to a new baby and third child, it really helped me to have them here, even for a few days so thanks for parting with your favorite girl for a few days.
Oh Grandpa, I wish you'd been out to meet Isabella too but I'll bring her home to Milwaukee as soon as I can. She is such a treat, I can't imagine what we ever did without her. I love you and look forward to seeing you in person. Happy anniversary and have a good turkey day too
Love, Christy

Dec 24, 2007 - Diary
I am sitting on Gene’s lap and crying for the third time today because it’s Christmas Eve and my grandfather has been admitted to the hospital because of complications from either the chemotherapy or the pancreatic cancer it’s supposed to be treating. I am so fucking sad I can’t stand it. Not only is he like a father to me but he is one of only a handful of people who I believe I absolutely know the person he is. Oh man that sentence is so off and I can’t even put words together that make sense and that is the thing I can always do.

It is late and I go out on the front porch of our house because the cool stone on my bare feet and the air on my face feels good. I look around at the lights of my neighbors and this Siamese that I have noticed around the last few weeks finally comes over and gives me the time of day. I crouch down and he walks right over and butts his heart shaped face against my hand. He lets me pick him up and he smells like wood smoke. This is the highlight of my day, a little affection from somebody else’s cat. I have not even paid much attention to my own cats today instead spending most of the day getting ready for company tomorrow. And normally, given my mood, I would be wishing a giant sinkhole would open in the road leading to our house so everyone would have to divert and I’d be rescued from a few hours of vacuous conversation but instead I am grateful for the distraction. I am going to open presents with my children tomorrow, and I am going to make small talk and be happy being around people who make me happy, even when I am not.

January 3, 2008 - Diary
I am really angry right now. Everybody in my family are such goddamn cheerleaders that no is telling me the truth about how bad my Grandfather is. It's as if admitting he is close to death will usher it in on the spot. I get it, I get that to acknowledge it feels like giving up but here I sit two-thousand miles away and I need someone to tell me if I need to come home and no one is telling me the truth. He's okay my mom says, they're being aggressive, the chemo is taking a toll on him. What part of how he's doing is the chemo and how much is the cancer I ask, needing to understand if this is a symptom of the poison running through him or his body shutting down. They don't know she says. Well, whats typical in these case, I ask though I already know, it is grim, I just want to here her say it, confirm what I've already read over and over again unable to fathom how deadly something could be that I've never heard of before. "He's a fighter Christy, you know that, he wants to live, he isn't done yet, we have to keep praying, anything could happen." Maybe this is what every family goes through when faced with losing someone so important. How we all handle this is also complicated by the fact that my grandmother survived stage four ovarian cancer, given only a few months, here she is nursing my ailing grandfather some twenty-five years later. How can you not put some hope in the miraculous when you saw it firsthand? Still, I trust statistics and the numbers on pancreatic are so fucking grim there isn't much room left for hope. My dad is a pessimist, my mom an optimist, I am a pragmatist. So I yell at just about every member of my family until I think I have gotten straight answers. I need to go see him. I want to introduce him to our new baby, I know it could cheer him up, but I am I am nervous about travelling with her. She is only a few weeks old and it doesn't seem right to put her on a plane during the worst of cold and flu season. I try and figure out how to finagle my husband coming with me but the sad truth that there will be a funeral this year hits home and I know I will need him there then and that we cannot afford to do both. So I plan a trip for just the baby and I. I stress over it, I sob in my husband's arms feeling like a ten year old girl in my capacity to safely and calmly get this child on a plane. I don't know if I have the emotional wherewithal to handle a baby on a plane by myself. Looking back I am already having some PPD though I didn't know it yet so I am doing all this in a place of extreme panic and fragility, I am not even a fraction of my normally competent collected self. The bebe was perfect, she cooed and slept and snuggled the whole flight, I got hosts of compliments from passengers about what a pleasure she was to fly with. I, on the other hand was a mess. I had a full blown anxiety attack on the gangway, not sure if I was going to pass out or throw up, I stood frozen while other passengers made their way onto the plane. Finally a Midwest Airlines flight attendant, who I cannot thank enough, saw how disconcerted I was as I struggled to keep it together. I'm not sure if I am going to be sick I told her, I am physically ok, I think I am having a panic attack, my grandfather is very ill I'm going to see him and I've been very nervous about flying on my own with the baby. I remember she looked like Kate from Charlie Angel's and she asked if she could help me with the baby and she told me she'd help me get seated and give me an airsick bag right away so I had it if I needed it. She got me a glass of water and told me everything was going to be ok and just somebody saying it I started to think believe it would be. I took many deep breaths trying to stave off the nausea that I couldn't shake. I tried not to think about my Grandpa too much. Brace yourself Christy, they had all told me, he looks, well,, sick. I hadn't seem him since July shortly before he'd been accidentally diagnosed. He looked healthy then, even robust and tan, having played golf only a few days before.

January 18, 2008 - Diary
Yesterday I said goodbye to my grandfather. He was at the hospital getting some fluids after he had taken a fall the night before, probably because of low blood pressure. I am certain he won’t last six months and I am uncertain if he will last six weeks. I was getting on a plane the next day to go home, and I might not return before his cancer finally takes his life. So, I had to say goodbye as if it was the last time I would ever see him alive because it might be. He cried and apologized for ruining my trip home. I told him, Grandpa, I came to see you so how could anything you do ruin my trip? I told him that I was so happy that he met my newest daughter. I told him I loved him and admired him and how important he was to me. I told him that I knew he knew these things, this was not the first time I had ever uttered the words. I told him that if he wanted to fight, (even though it was an uphill battle filled with pain and indignitites), he should, but if and when he was done fighting, that was okay too. I told him to do whatever he needed to, that it was okay to be selfish in this instance. I told him we would take good care of Grandma. I told him whatever happens, it will be ok that no matter what, he is and will always be a part of my life. I rubbed the scruff on his face and put my hand at his temples, I kissed him and pressed my face against his. I held his hand and said the words, this might be the last time we see each other and he said I know. We both cried. I think this is the most intimate and honest conversation I have ever had in my life and the most vulnerable I have ever seen a person. I said I hope I see you in March but if I don’t, it’s ok. I went and got the baby, his latest great grandchild and brought her in, the mood lightened a little. He was too sore from the fall to hold her but he held her hand and she smiled at him, he kissed her head and cried a little more. I looked him in the eyes and I said I love you and then I walked from the room. I didn't turn around I couldn’t. My aunt, cousin and Grandma were in a nearby hall alcove. They saw me and all started to cry, my aunt came over and gave me a hug and I cried harder and she held me. Grandma said he’s a good man isn’t he, he loves you all so much. My mom came back from having talked with one of the nurses and as usual, was a cheerleader, reminding everyone to hope for the best, removing herself from that moment. I just wanted to be in that moment, allow myself the weight of the sadness of saying goodbye. I think it changed things a little for everyone. They saw a preview of what they could be doing any day now. I did it today because I am two thousand miles away and I wanted to look him in the eye and be truthful about what might be.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2008 - Caring Bridge
Dear Family and Friends,
We are very sad to tell you that Sunday evening,
after a seven month battle with cancer,
the angels came and guided Hank home to heaven.
Hank's passing was very peaceful.
Please continue to keep all of us in your prayers.

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Anonymous said... February 24, 2009 at 10:55 AM  

My God . . . this is . . . I'm speechless . . .

Unknown said... February 24, 2009 at 11:09 AM  

A great and loving tribute to a good man.

derfina said... February 24, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

You did him proud.

Anonymous said... February 24, 2009 at 11:21 AM  

Hank, thanks for keeping my Chrissy safe and giving her the support and love she deserved. For that I will always cherish your memory and consider you a dear friend.

Anonymous said... February 24, 2009 at 6:40 PM  

He sounds like he was exceptionally amazing.

Anonymous said... February 24, 2009 at 9:46 PM  

Wow, Chris. Thanks for sharing this with us. Unbelievable. I wish I could be more erudite, but you used all the good words in that post.

Anonymous said... February 25, 2009 at 2:15 PM  

This post makes me want to weep openly (but I am reading this at work, so not a great idea). It is so sad to lose someone who has had such an impact on you and your life, but I agree, you have to remember the happy times and what he taught and gave you and pass some of those characteristics on to your kids and grandkids (when that happens) so you can continue his legacy of having an impact on peoples lives.
Great post.

Anonymous said... February 25, 2009 at 3:10 PM  

thanks, he was a wonderful person and I was so lucky to have him for so long.

Thank you.I really wanted to go back and look at my diary from that time to remind myself how quickly things change. It was a really sad time then but he is in the hearts of his whole family.

somber daddy-
It's all on you now buddy:)

evil o-
he was great and hilarious, he probably would have gotten a kick that his post was sandwiched next to one about douches.

some people just inspire gratitude, he was a really good man. I'm a huge cynic and look up to and admire very few people, he was one of them.

Dr. OC-
Thanks, he was really important and so frequently as a parent and a partner, I try to channel some of his sound judgement. He had a really good life and truthfully, if I could push a button and have the life that he did knowing I would die at 87 I'd push it in a heartbeat. He packed a lot into the 87 years and we should all be so lucky. Still, I miss him, just knowing he's there.

Rassles said... February 25, 2009 at 7:46 PM  

I'm insanely jealous of your relationship with your grandfather. It's gorgeous.

Gwen said... February 26, 2009 at 7:22 PM  

I'm crying tears right now after reading this. Where to begin? Your grandpa was such a handsome man - and he obviously had a beautiful and tremendous soul. Your severe pain at losing him is a testament to how special and wonderful man he really was. I'm so, so sorry for your loss. Those pictures have him and bebe just break my heart, but at the same time I'm sure they are photos that you, and she, will cherish in the years to come. I remember that hope twilight, the time between hope and hopelessness. It's tough when some members of the family aren't in a place where they can accept the inevitable. I think in a way it can be harder on the person who's dying for people to cling to unrealistic hopes. I think of you, dealing with a newborn, PPD, and then the sickness and passing of your beloved grandfather - it just breaks my heart. Those letters you wrote to him were truly beautiful, and I'm sure they meant so much to your grandpa as he faced the end of his life. He knew how much you loved him, how much he effected your life for the better. That is the greatest thing we can acheive in this life, if you ask me.

Just wanted to say... said... February 27, 2009 at 7:12 PM  

How grand Miss Isabel could meet Hank.

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