Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Tribute

My grandfather died in June.

I sat here for about 20 minutes trying to think of some clever and pretty way to segue into that, cushion the blow for you a little bit, but there really isn't one. And anyways, that's not what my grandfather was like. Straight to the point, sometimes harshly so, but always polite, always honest. I like to think that I have a little bit of that in me.

There wasn't any one particular cause of death. He got pneumonia from a complication with a surgery at Christmastime and never really recovered. It's harder to bounce back from something like that at 90 years old. He lived on his own up until then, completely independent and doin' his thang. But after the surgery and the pneumonia, that was no longer an option and he spent the last 6 months of his life he was in a nursing home. He hated it. He was confused most of the time and asked to go home constantly. I regret not being there when he passed away, but the rest of my family was there and they all said that he was peaceful. He was ready.

What a cool dude.

About ten years ago, my grandmother passed away. She had Parkinson's Disease (a disease so horrifying and debilitating that I would not wish it on my worst enemy) and eventually required more care than my grandfather could give her, so she spent the last year of her life in a nursing home. My grandfather got up every morning, ate breakfast and went to the nursing home. He sat with my grandmother all day and kept her company. As her disease progressed and robbed her of her speech, he sat there in silence with her and held her hand. Every single day.
My grandparents on their wedding day.

The last time I saw my grandfather was in May, almost a month to the day before he died. He was fairly lucid that day, and was so excited that I was there. He put his hands on my face and said, "Domenica! Look at you!" And then he hummed a little song. Before I left I told him I would be back in July and he squeezed both of my hands in his. "July," he said with a smile. "We'll set off some fireworks then."

Somewhere deep inside me, although I desperately did not want to believe it, I knew that I would not see him in July. I knew that although there would be fireworks, he would not be there to watch them with me. I turned back to wave goodbye to him before I left his room. With a startle I realized that there was no one else there with him. He was alone. And all I could think of was my grandmother so many years earlier. He was there to hold her hand, right til the end, but who was there to hold his? That walk, from his room to the elevator, felt like the longest 10 yards of my life.
Poppa in uniform

I got the phone call the day after my birthday. June 16th. My mom called me at work and told me, voice trembling, that the priest had just left Poppa's bedside. That it would not be long. I probably should have gone home, but what would I have done there? Made myself sick worrying and feeling guilty that I was in Boston. So I stayed at work to keep myself busy. Later, on my way home, I spoke with my dad and he told me that Poppa was gone.

Now I know where I get my good looks and style from!

I went home immediately, of course. We went through boxes of old photos (which is where all of these amazing pictures came from!) and shared our stories, our memories. I put together three boards worth of photos. I did it by myself. It was quiet time that I spent alone with him, at least that's how it felt, and it allowed me to wrap my head around what had happened. His funeral mass was beautiful, and later, at the cemetery, he had a full military honor. As they opened his flag the sun came out from behind a cloud and lit the scene. It was one of the most beautiful and moving things I've ever seen in my life.

My grandfather was cremated, according to his wishes, and laid to rest directly above my grandmother's casket. Now we can all smile and laugh when we say that Poppa will be on top of Nanny for all of eternity, just like they would have wanted it.

When it was over, there were no more tears. I felt, in all honesty, a sense of relief. A sense of peace. My grandfather was a very religious man. He went to church every single day for (almost) his entire life. And while I might struggle sometimes with religion, I do believe in God. And as we left the cemetery I knew that he was at peace. He is in heaven. He is with my grandmother, with his parents and his brothers. He is with God.

So now, now that the sad times are over, I can look back at these old photos of Cosmo, my grandfather, and hold my memories of him close to my heart. I remember the way he laughed with no sound coming out. He loved coffee, we joked that we should put his ashes in a Folgers can, and used to eat his cereal in a bowl of coffee rather than milk. I remember him sitting at the end of my parent's dining table, a fork full of spaghetti in one hand and a huge chunk of bread in the other. How big his hands were, like bear paws. How he made me soup every single day for lunch because that's all I would eat at age four.

I think the phrase "Still waters run deep" was created about men like my Poppa. He was not an outwardly showy man, but the depth of his passion and love for his wife, his family, for life, was unmistakeable. I have never seen someone who loved so completely or so profoundly. He never needed to say it or flash it around, because you always knew it was there. It radiated out from him in waves. I have struggled with this, being able to verbalize and demonstrate my feelings. It's not until recently that I've realized you don't always have to. I'm so proud that I get that from him.
My grandparents again

Dancing to "Sexy Back" at my cousin's wedding last summer

Working the bar at my family's restaurant, The Oaks Inn, 1950's

I know this post has been very long and, in some parts, very sad. But I wanted to share it. My grandfather was an amazing man. Intelligent and funny and brave. He gave every part of himself for the people he loved. I hope that I can have a life half as full and rich as his. What an amazing example he has set for all of us.

Just the two of us, circa 1987

Ti voglio bene, Poppa. Rest in peace.

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