The Calm Before the Storm
It's Sunday afternoon and the wind is starting to blow. Hurricane/Post-Tropical/SuperStorm Sandy is headed North and it's going to be ugly. We just don't know how ugly. Because we're only expecting to feel the outer bands of the storm's strength, I'm not worried, necessarily, just anxious. The last time a large wind storm blew through, we lost power for four days. I'm "prepared," (batteries, flashlights, non-perishables, bottled water, basement camp set up, etc.), but are you ever really ready?
Add to the encroaching storm and all of it's unknowns: Halloween costumes to prepare, school parties to bake for and attend, out-of-town guests to ready the house for (if we have power the day they are to arrive, that is), and a baby who is becoming increasingly cough-ier/snottier/not-sleeping-er by the day to worry about and I am just Done.
"I just have this feeling that it's going to be a tough week," I tell Sam. "I want to fast forward to next week."
We ride out the storm with relative ease. School is cancelled for two days so, while the wind howls outside the window and debris litters the neighborhood, we hunker down in our warm, safe home and play. Halloween costumes are readied, school treats are baked, the guest room is cleaned, a visit to the pediatrician is scheduled for my coughing baby girl. The total cost of the storm for us? Twelve hours without power and one sleepless night. Not bad at all, we realize, once the lights come back on and we start to read stories online about the devastation our friends and family up North are experiencing.
I check in on Facebook with my cousins in New Jersey...It's a mess up there. Most are without power, but all are relatively fine. And then I read about a levee break in Bergen County, where my Grandpop lives. It's a few towns over from his but, not being very familiar with the area, I start to worry. I ask if anyone has heard from him. I call my Dad. "Uncle Mike just talked to him," my Dad assures, "he's pissed that he can't get on the Internet because he doesn't have power, but he's fine. I'm going to call him now and check in on him."
A few hours pass and things here return to relative normal. We invite friends to come over and play and we get excited about tomorrow night's Trick-or-Treat festivities. The phone rings and I'm not surprised to see my parents' home telephone number on the display. The minute my Mom starts to speak, however, I know it's not good.
"Sarah, Grandpop died."
The next few hours bring some clarity. Grandpop was fine. Power was returning to his community in waves and, although his was still out, my uncle who lives nearby had his restored. He called Grandpop and convinced him to pack a bag and stay with them for a few days, until things settled a bit. "I'll be over to pick you up in twenty minutes," my uncle said. When he got to his house, Grandpop was lying, unresponsive, on the couch. The paramedics said it was fast...peaceful.
Grandpop was 84. He is survived by his five sons, 24 grandchildren, 13 great-grandkids, and scores of people whose lives he touched. His, along with that of my Grandma, was a good life, an American Dream sort of life in which a young, penniless couple marry for love and stay together forever through devotion and hard work. They are successful in their careers and in the family that they create and watch grow. They are lucky, and they know it. They sit back and marvel over what they've built, and they're happy.
Between all the goings on (because, despite my Grandpop's death, life does go on...Halloween, school parties, doctor visits, packing, traveling to and preparing to stay for a few days in a place where power was spotty and gas was scarce, remembering....grieving....), I feel like my feet don't touch the ground...I am, as is often the case in these situations, in a fog.
After school on Thursday, we pack the car and dinner for the road and set out on our journey to New Jersey. The boys know what we're doing and where we're going, but I'm not sure they quite grasp the loss. Evan builds a new vocabulary over the next few days: visitation, funeral, casket, incense, priest...As our destination nears, the anxiety starts to build in my chest again...I realize that I'm not just grieving my own loss, but I'm mourning the loss of my grandfather on behalf of my Dad. What must it feel like to lose both of your parents? To know that, in your family tree, you're at the top...that there's no one to look up to for the guidance, support, unconditional love that Grandpop could always be counted on to give. I'm afraid to see my Dad for the first time in person since hearing the news.
We arrive at my Grandparents' house at about 11pm. I'm carrying a baby in one arm and overnight bags in the other. The boys are fumbling behind me, groggy and bleary-eyed from being awoken. As I start up the stairs that I've climbed countless times for nearly 33 years, I feel too tall. Too big....like a giant, or....a grown up. I look to the top of the stairs and see, at the door to the kitchen, not my Grandpop, but my Dad.
And it hits me....I'm no longer the Granddaughter. I'm the Mom. My kids? They're the grandchildren. A transition has occurred. A generational shift.
Reflection and Remembrance
The next two days are difficult, as is always the case. I see my Dad and his four brothers weakened by the loss of their Dad. My cousins and their spouses who loved my Grandpop as their own are grieving and trying to figure out how to "teach" this impossible thing--death--to their kids.
But, punctuating the sadness, there is levity. My Grandpop was a character. He cracked us up in life, as he rocked a Members Only jacket in his 80s, and cursed the bad drivers on the road. We remember, we share stories, we find comfort in the fact that it really feels like he chose his time to go....as I know my Grandma did before him. And we look around the room and realize that he had it all...that this, his family, was all that he ever wanted. Family is everything.
I see my cousins, who I ran around with as kids, now as adults...my brothers and cousins who acted as pallbearers, Men. My uncles are grandfathers and my cousins are parents. My kids and their....cousins-once-removed?....they're running around together, playing hide-and-seek and stealing chips and cookies from the kitchen table. It's like deja vu....and it's a glimpse into the future all at once. And my Grandparents' legacy? It's alive and well.
Death is never easy. I'm going to miss my Grandpop. I'm sad for my Dad's loss. But....my Grandpop is at peace, and his passing was peaceful. He had a long, fulfilling, and successful life. I believe that he chose his time and that he was ready. I believe that his love, devotion, generosity, and sense of humor will live on in all who knew him. Joseph Keenan, you will be sorely missed.