Superheroes are invincible. No matter what they always find a way to pull through. They make complicated tasks look easy. They make the world a better place just by being there.
Thursday night my family said goodbye to our Superhero. Pop passed away at the age of 96.
Now, before you get on about telling me how lucky I am. I know. Before you tell me he lived a good life, I know. Before you tell me, “at least he’s at peace.” I know that too. I recognize fully that I am 42 years old and I am saying goodbye to my GRANDFATHER. I get how epic it is that he got to know and love his great-grandchildren. I understand all of it. I am acutely aware of young, tragic stories that pepper this world. And, my heart breaks for each of them. But, please don’t think for a moment it will make enduring this loss even the tiniest bit easier.
For every moment of my 42 years there has been Pop. There has been the ability to call him, to chat with him, to follow him around, to hear his stories, to receive his hugs, his humor, and his love. There was Pop to read to me as a young child. There was Pop to teach me about the basics of a car, and oil changes when I went to college. There was Pop to dance with me at my wedding. There was Pop to take his 80-year-old body to my house every day and place my wood trim, piece by piece. There has always been Pop. And now there isn’t.
There was Pop and Grandma living upstairs during the years when Mom had to work a lot. There was Pop to drive me everywhere. There was Pop to record important events. There was Pop who NEVER said,”No,” and NEVER made you feel like you were bothering him. There was Pop who played in his garden, growing lima beans, string beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. There was Pop who built his own deck, and sided his own house. There was Pop who made everything look easy. There was Pop who made rocking horses for grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There was Pop who picked up Meghan from the school bus until about 4 years ago. I could sit here forever and the list would just extend. There has always been Pop. And now there isn’t.
I’ve been pretty silent on this blog for a few weeks. Not because Cowden’s up and left us alone. But, rather because there were other things that needed attention more. For a little while.
I got the call on January 13th that he was at the hospital. He had fallen. They were testing. He was discharged a few days later, although he was only home a few days. Before the rehab could start, he was taken to a different hospital. Strokes were occurring. There was an attempt at rehab there, and then a move to the telemetry floor, and finally a move to a local nursing home to try some rehab there. The strokes had taken away the thing he prided himself on, his mobility. The right leg wasn’t interested in coming around, despite efforts from several good therapists over many weeks.
Pop was many things to many people, but he was undeniably stubborn. That tenacity undoubtedly is what had carried him through the months preceding the series of strokes. He had Grandma, and he was set on taking care of his bride of 70 years, at all costs. He knew we were losing her to alzheimer’s. He was aware in so many ways. Yet, he was unrelenting in his forceful desire to care for her at home, “as long as God gives me breath.” He took only help from my Mom, and in the very short time preceding his hospitalization there was an aide for a few hours each day. But he, cooked, cleaned up, did laundry, shopped. And they lived on the SECOND floor of their home.
He modeled “in sickness and in health,” and “for better or for worse,” in ways that people do not even comprehend anymore. He took his vows and his promises so seriously. I learned what it meant to be married watching them through the years. They modeled love and respect, and he never ever walked away without kissing her goodbye.
That’s why he pushed so hard. Just as he had for all of us through the years, he was propelled by love of God and love of family. He drove his own car, albeit short distances. He handled the bills, the paperwork, and navigated Email and the internet. In the weeks before he passed we watched our 96-year-old Pop go from behaving like he was 70, to being 96. And it was not easy to watch over 25 years catch up with him in those weeks. It was not easy to watch the frustration, the desire to move, and the pounds slipping away as even eating became a challenge.
Grandma now resides in the nursing home Pop passed away in. And she is incredibly well cared for. I do think he would approve. But, her memories are leaving her. And maybe at this point, maybe that’s just better. Because to process the loss of Pop is incomprehensible to those of us who have a tight grasp on a lifetime of memories. Maybe that’s one of the blessings I can find here. Because I know when it’s time, they will be together. And I know the time they will spend apart will equate to a small fraction of the life they spent together.
When Pop first was hospitalized I was quite upset, and I apologized to a friend who had lost her mother at a young age. She spoke to me so kindly, I will never forget. “It’s hard for you because you’ve never lived life without him.” So gracious when she could have chosen to go in so many other directions.
Those are the words that give me comfort. Those are the words that tell me it’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to feel like I’ve got a 600 pound boulder on my chest, suffocating me. Those are the words that tell me that 42 years is a long time to have someone in your life and then lose them.
Pop was sharp. He was up on all of us, and all of our lives. He knew specifics, and questioned and followed along. Meghan always said she was in awe of how he defied his calendar age. She, like the rest of us, was enamored. And as he was at the second hospital having a scan, and he educated the lab technician on Cowden’s Syndrome, I had to laugh in spite of myself. He was always learning, and he wanted to make sure others were too.
I walked through their house yesterday, as I have done so many times before, but this time I stopped and looked at the Bible, held together by tape from constant use. I looked at the devotional set to January 12th, the day before he fell, and I smiled. He was, above all things, devoted to God.
His memorial service will take place next Saturday, at the church I grew up in, at the church he helped build and maintain for so many years. I have some time to get my thoughts together before I speak that day. Pray that I may find a way to honor my grandfather, where words just don’t seem significant enough.
Right now we look for the promises of Spring, and new life. We look forward to my sister’s wedding. We press on, not because we are not broken, but because there is no choice.
Our hearts are torn, because there is never ever enough time. That’s what I tried to get at on my Facebook page.
“I am convinced there is never enough time with those who love us so deeply, and those we love beyond measure or words. We are so devastated at the loss of Pop, who was the anchor of our family through every storm, the wind to our sails, and the bridge under our feet. He was so much to all of us, and through our different relationships he somehow made us all feel like we were incredibly important. He lived through deeds, not words. His actions spoke volumes of his character, and were so telling of who he was. He lived his life in service to God and his country, while loving his family immensely. Rest easy and celebrate with the angels Pop. We will miss you every day. Until we meet again…”