Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tears of Sadness, Tears of Joy

Last week I was happy and excited making all kinds of plans for our upcoming wedding. It was maybe an hour before leaving work on Friday (my last day before 3 weeks of vacation) that I got one of those dreaded phone calls. Apparently my grandfather had suffered a heart attack while driving. I was able to visit with him in the hospital on Saturday even though he was unconscious and then he passed away early Sunday morning one week before he was to attend my wedding. We had the funeral yesterday on Long Island where he was laid to rest next to my grandmother who passed away 8 years prior.

I'm having all these conflicting feelings and emotions now. I wake up every morning crying after thinking of some memory of him which is now followed by thoughts of watching him being buried then onto how I won't be able to follow him down the processional aisle or dance with him at the reception. Then I get out of bed and am inundated with calls and emails and check off lists and errands all day long. It does take my mind off things and I'm able to laugh at times and even feel like myself but I know I'm still grieving inside.

My sister read a beautiful speech she had written about my grandpa yesterday. I would have loved to say some words also but was too emotional at the time. I was always better at writing than speaking so here is my own personal tribute to my grandfather:

Since my grandpa lived on Long Island we used to go to the beach often when I was a child. I remember my older sister was always the risk taker and would swim out far on her own. She and my mom always tried to drag me along with them but I was too timid and preferred to stand still at the water's edge watching my feet be buried in the sand as the tide came in and out.

One time in particular sticks out in my mind. My grandpa tried to get me to come out into the waves and I reluctantly agreed as he could be very charming and persuasive. Sure enough a wave came and knocked my 6-year-old self over. After rolling backwards underwater and coming up for air spurting salt water out of my mouth and rubbing my irritated eyes my grandpa asked me if I knew how to brace myself. I had no idea what he was talking about.

He went on to show me that when a wave came instead of facing it head on which inevitably knocked me over the key was to stand sideways with your legs hip length apart and hold out your arms for balance. If you could dig your feet down into the wet sand that was even better. I remember that I didn't really believe him at the time but he was older and supposedly wiser so I tried it. (Secretly I thought the only reason he wasn't getting knocked down was because he was much bigger than me.) Just as I had played at the waters' edge passively watching my feet being buried in the sand this time I purposely dug my feet in. My motions were a bit exaggerated as I kept my legs wider than was probably necessary and stood with my arms straight out as if I were preparing for lift-off.

The next wave came towards me and it appeared bigger and more ominous than ever. I wanted to run back to the safety of the shore line but my grandpa was standing next to me doing the same thing except he was standing there with purpose and anticipation. I took my cue from him and waited terrified as the wave approached. To me it looked like a giant brown monster with its mouth foaming at the top (Remember this was Jones Beach on the south shore of Long Island not the Cayman Islands.) I involuntarily squeezed my eyes shut and dreaded the worst. The water started receding around me as the tide drew it in and I heard the rumbling coming closer and closer until finally it was upon me. I held my breath, dug my feet deep in the sand, and moments later found myself still standing next to my grandpa who was beaming proudly at me.

I was reminded of this image upon waking up this morning. Looking back at it from an adult perspective it's obvious that he was teaching me more than how to combat an oncoming wave. He was showing me that I could face any problem life brought my way as long as I prepared and had someone else watching out for me. There was nothing to be afraid of and any danger whether physical like a wave in the ocean or more figurative it was better to anticipate what was coming and look forward to the challenge rather than run away like a coward towards obvious safety.

This goes along with my grandfather's philosophy on life. His mother died when he was just 4 years old. His father remarried and from what I've heard he wasn't treated very well by his new stepmother and half-siblings. With no resources from which to draw from he found it within himself to overcome any challenge life threw at him. He told me once that at the age of 16 he needed to know how to drive in order to apply for a job that would bring in some much needed income. This was back in 1937. Since his father was either too preoccupied or unwilling to show him he went ahead and taught himself. He took on that delivery job and earned enough money to be more independent.

I don't know all the details but he eventually went on to own an office supply company and did very well for himself. He often made deliveries all around the tri-state area. He served in the military during World War II. He never liked to talk about it much but he told me once that he had helped liberate one of the concentration camps in Germany. He earned military honors which was evident at the funeral when his second wife was presented with an American flag.

My grandpa loved to drive. He owned several large Cadillacs and always drove my grandma anywhere she needed to go. Just the week before his death he had driven from his summer home in Florida all the way back to New Jersey stopping once in Virginia to visit my aunt along the way. At the time of his heart attack he was right where he loved to the driver's seat in control of what was going on and serving as a protective guide to those he loved.

My grandpa was 86 when he died. He had lived a long life. He was married to my grandma for 52 years, had raised 2 daughters who went on to have 4 grandchildren and even has a great-granddaughter although he only "met" her yesterday at the cemetery plot. Everyone was dressed in black and very solemn while Ainsley was radiant in a white sweater and pants with pink flowers on them and ribbons in her hair. All the out-of-town relatives who had not met her yet remarked on how much she resembled my mother. Her middle name Isabelle is in memory of my grandma, Irma.

Although it was very difficult for me to handle my grandpa's sudden passing I know that he didn't suffer much and would have hated to have a long drawn out illness where others would have had to be his caretakers. When his time came he faced it head on and without fear. I know both him and my grandma will be there in spirit on my wedding day. I had wanted to use their wedding bands during the ceremony but they are unable to be located on such short notice so I'm going to use a gold ring from my grandma that has her maiden name initials on it: IK. I will try my hardest to shed most of my tears now so that the only tears shed that day will be tears of joy.

With great love and respect you will be missed by everyone who's life you touched with your wisdom, charm, and fortitude.

Irving Friedman March 5th 1922-May 28th 2008.


Sarah said...

What a touching tribute to your grandfather. I wish I was around to give you a hug and offer some in person comfort. It sounds like you have some great memories of the lessons he taught and the times you got to spend together. And I'm sure he's watching over you and impressed with your strength and beauty.

If you need anything at all.... I'm somewhere out here for you!


Jennu said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your grandfather. He sounds like he was a great man.

We lost my grandmother suddenly almost 13 years ago, right after a family reunion, before everyone had flown back home. It was comforting to have everyone together and to know that she had seen everyone one last time.

The older, good memories stay and eventually the bad memories of the last hospital visit and funeral fade enough that you can think of the good times without thinking of the end too.

NH Knitting Mama said...

What a wonderful tribute, thanks for sharing your memories and thoughts on this remarkable man.

Of course he will be there on your wedding day - and this occasion will give everyone an opportunity to hug and enjoy each other. Your grandfather has passed away, but each death brings new life, and in this case it is the new life of the love that you and your fiance will bond with marriage.

I feel for you...

Dame Wendy said...

I can just see you both at the beach, hear the water. He sounds like he was a really cool guy and this is lovely.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jen, I am very sorry about the loss of your grandfather. Your tribute to him is wonderful. Thank you for allowing us to get to know him; his struggles and achievements are quite inspirational.
This must be a very difficult time for you and Julian. So, if you need anything (I really mean this), send me an email and I will send you back my cell #. My office is close to your neighborhood. This won't be any trouble at all.
Camila P.

Monique said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's lovely and very touching to hear some of your good memories of your grandfather and to get to know him a bit. He really sounds like a wonderful person.