This weekend, we lost my husband’s grandfather. We spent Saturday grieving and then watched our beloved Phillies lose the NL Championship to the city we live in. Papa wouldn’t have cared. Though he lived in the Philadelphia area for the past thirty years, he never bought into their sports teams. He loved all things New England, his childhood home.
Chris cared though. He went into the game longing for a happy distraction from his loss. What we got out of it was a night of street filled whooping, reminding us on a day when it was hard to be far from family, just how far we are.
Papa went quickly and painlessly, which adds a little relief, I guess. It’s always hard to lose someone you love. And we all loved him. He was the quintessential grumpy old man, but it was all part of his charm. I like to think he and I had a special relationship. Chris was his oldest grandchild, and I was his first granddaughter-in-law. When we met over seven years ago, he immediately struck me as my type. Look, I love “flirting” with old men, and I love when I can sense who they once were in their younger years. Papa had spunk and I imagined that he would have been my friend if we’d been in history class together.
Instead, he shared his best whiskey with me and we clinked our glasses. He let me call him “Stuey” despite his never taking kindly to nicknames. And he smiled (in his grumpy way) at my jokes. We were friends.
Saturday during August’s naptime as Chris sat with me on the couch, we talked about our two years in Philadelphia before buying a house and having August. Our apartment offered only coin operated washing machines. And Chris’ grandparents offered their washer and dryer for free. So we seemed to spend a lot of time over there, laundry baskets in hand, grabbing dinner with Papa and Grama.
There are some things you can only learn about a couple when you’re with them, alone, without the rest of the family. We learned about their sweetness, their silly story of breaking the (ahem) bed at the inn on their honeymoon, the small ways they knew how to care for each other, the small ways they drove each other crazy. We saw the side of Papa that simply wanted us to enjoy the things he enjoyed: golf, his homemade foccacia bread, the country club’s calamari, New England clam chowder, cheddar cheese, the Canadian Brass, good whiskey.
Saturday night, after I reminded August to pray for his grandma and great-grandma, because they were sad, we lay next to each other in his bed. “Tell me a story,” he said.
“What kind of story do you want me to tell?” I asked.
“About T Rex and how he’s sad.”
So I made up a story about T Rex who was sad because he wasn’t picked for the baseball team, how his mommy told him that even though it was hard to be smaller than the other dinosaurs at school, that “small” wasn’t what was true about him. What was true was how much Jesus loved him.
August said: “I want to snuggle,” and threw his left arm around my neck. There will be days when I’ll show August pictures of his baby self with Papa and tell him how Papa was the only person who was ever allow to call him “Gus” or “Gussy.” And maybe someday, when August lets someone else call him Gus (maybe a college roommate, a girl he has a crush on in history class?), he’ll think about Papa, his great-grandfather with the gruff voice.
So, in Papa’s honor, we will find an airplane to carry us across what often feels like too large a country, and we’ll tell each other how we loved him. We’ll eat, hopefully, some good cheddar cheese, some calamari, and some well-made rolls. And we’ll miss him. Because we live on earth, and sometimes, missing is what we do.