It’s been more than a month since Grampy passed. The house feels so empty without him…and I can’t seem to write anything else while this is here in my draft folder. Caleb talks about him every single day.
About 10 1/2 years ago, Eric and I moved in together…into a two family home owned and occupied by his grandfather. I really wasn’t sure how I felt about Eric’s grandfather living downstairs. I’m not a big people person. I’m a little bit…OK, maybe a lot…anxious and I value my privacy. I had visions of his grandfather, who insisted on calling me Matilda, wandering in and out as he pleased. Also, he wasn’t excited that I had two dogs…if he didn’t like dogs. He was not going to be my kind of people.
We managed to settle into a comfortable routine, however. We had our lives and he had his. We lived upstairs from him but could go days without seeing him, we were all busy. He was there but not there too much, I hope he felt the same about us. We tried to be useful and respectful, it had been his home for a long time and we didn’t want to invade it.
We continued this way up until a couple years ago then, gradually, Grampy needed more and more help. We’d clean his car off after a storm and we took over getting the trash out, landscaping (except for mowing…the lawn guy kept that chore!) and any maintenance projects Eric felt comfortable tackling. It was a subtle shift and we said over and over again how glad we were to be here to do these things for him.
In the past year, however, Grampy grew to depend on Eric, in particular, more and more. He took over driving Grampy to his appointments, grocery shopping and eventually…after a near miss with the gas stove…the cooking. People began telling him how lucky he was to have us. Mostly he agreed, although losing your independence isn’t easy and there were times he resented the way things would go. We tried very hard to respect his wishes but we drew some hard lines on safety issues which, as his strength declined, became more frequent. Losing his license was particularly hard for him. I think until that moment he assumed he would regain what he’d lost. I still remember the hurt look on his face when he told me that the state had revoked his license. All he wanted was to be able to drive to church and to the grocery store, he really didn’t understand why that would be a problem.
Since May, we’ve been primarily responsible for him. He had outside services coming in but those just allowed us to cope with the extra responsibilities. It didn’t really relieve us of any of them. We were still tied to the house, we didn’t leave him alone for longer than a few hours at a time between meals. There were times we wanted to do things that we couldn’t because Grampy needed the care. We never resented Grampy, though. We felt honored to be able to help him, to be able to pay him back for the support he’d given his family over the years. Plus, he just called out to something very maternal/paternal in us…he needed us and we needed to do for him.
People have a lot of different opinions of Grampy…we all had our own experiences with him…but I think I was the luckiest of all. I had nothing but images of him as a kindly old man, hardly bigger than an elf. Any time I described him it was as “this little, old Portuguese man…he’s SO cute!” Any temper he had when he was younger, and I’ve heard he had one, was largely gone. He always had a smile for me and he dearly loved Caleb. I don’t remember when it happened but at some point over the years Grampy began calling me “Meliss” instead of “Matilda” and, it turned out, I kind of missed it.
He also tolerated my dogs right up until we brought our new puppy, Tucker, home. Then Grampy decided he was a dog person after all. He just loved Tucker. As anyone who has met him knows, Tucker is not exactly falling over himself to make friends but he loved Grampy and would sneak down the stairs to visit as often as he could. He still sneaks down the stairs regularly. It turns out, Grampy truly was my kind of people.
I loved hearing his stories about growing up in East Cambridge, about his wife who I’d never had a chance to meet and his military experience. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he told me he was a Marine and fought in the Pacific during WW II. He had the most devilish look on his face when he told me that he was a “bad boy” back then and was sent to the Marines from the Navy as a result. I wish I had asked him what he did. During the war he was a medic…just think for a second about the things he had to have seen when he was barely out of his teens. Then he brought his Purple Heart home, got married, bought a house, cared for his mother, raised a daughter and worked until retirement age for the US Postal Service.
These past few weeks have been incredibly hard on us but no matter how hard it got we never forgot that we were blessed to be able to care for him the way a war hero and family man deserved. We were blessed to love and be loved by him in life and we were blessed to be able to bear witness to his passing.
We know he was tired and long past ready to see his Helen again. At one point, last Monday night, when he was restless and waking off and on, I bent over him so he could see he wasn’t alone. His gaze flickered away from my face to a point over my shoulder and the smallest smile passed over his face. I can’t know for sure who or what he was seeing, but I have my suspicions and that’s what makes it a little more bearable to let him go…knowing that someone who loved him so completely was waiting.
We miss you more than we thought possible. Caleb has been wandering around your apartment talking to you, “Easy Grampy! Slowly…” I hope you can see the love he had for you in his need to be like you, even if that means using your walker. I’ll be sure to turn on a few Bruins games for him and tell him his Grampy used to play hockey, and won more than one fight against the big kids on the ice.
Godspeed, Grampy. We love you.
PS – Eric found the begonia identification tags you kept…we’ll do our very best to find the right ones for you and Helen in the spring.