There is a Jewish phrase that is used when someone passes away that I was reminded of today. In Hebrew it is zichrono livracha but it translates to “may his/her memory be a blessing.” While my grandfather was a practicing Catholic and probably has never heard this in his life, as soon as I heard it, I knew that it was exactly the right thing for today.
My grandfather passed away this afternoon, surrounded by his family. He is no longer in pain and after 12 years apart, he has finally been reunited with his wife of 50 years. I hope they’re already playing Mario Golf.
When I was 15, I moved into my grandparents house while my mom and I waited for our new house to be built. I was a disgruntled teenager who did not want to live with her grandparents and wasn’t always pleasant to be around, to say the very least. Every day as soon as I walked in the door from school, my grandma would shoot questions at me like a machine gun. How was your day? Did you learn anything? Did you see your friends? What’re you doing this weekend? Do you want a snack? At the time I wanted to scream, but I know in hindsight that it was just her way of showing her love. She was genuinely interested in all the answers, and all too often I responded mostly with eye rolls.
But my grandpa was different. I’d finish my homework and he’d walk into the den, sit down in the chair next to me and ask me if I wanted to play a video game. No other questions, no obligations. And then we would play. The conversations were always easy and quiet and mostly revolved around just how terrible I was at Mario Golf and how if I could just be more patient, maybe I’d hit the ball straight. We never did find out whether or not that was true. Patience is clearly a virtue I did not inherit from him. But he did teach me the value of quiet, of a slower pace, and in that way, his memory is already a blessing to me.
I don’t want to paint him as a dull person because that couldn’t be further from the truth. At my sister’s wedding, he somehow got ahold of the microphone and offered up all his remaining granddaughters for any takers. I should probably add that he wasn’t sober, but it was a wedding, virtually none of us were. One year for Christmas in our gift exchange he left 2 of the 3 spots for gift suggestions blank and put “a hooker” in the remaining one. This was especially troubling because there was a $50 limit on gifts and he was like 80 at the time. He always had a good supply of jokes and had a great way of diffusing tough situations with them, even if not always intentionally. As much as he valued silence, his easy laugh and great sense of humor is another memory that will always be a blessing to me. I’d like to think that all of us who knew him inherited a bit of that.
Possibly the greatest thing I have taken from my time with my grandpa was his ability to accept life as it was handed to him. He was dealt a lot of rough hands in his 88 years: colon cancer, diabetes, the premature and sudden death of his wife, tongue cancer and then a recurrence of tongue cancer. And while I know that these things made him mad and sad and frustrated, he never seemed to let that stop him. He grieved, but then he pushed forward. He didn’t fight life, he didn’t try to control the uncontrollable. He just lived the best life he could, given whatever the circumstances were. I don’t come by this ability naturally, in fact, very few of my family members seem to, but I hope that we have enough of these memories to help us all get through these tough times.
This past Thanksgiving, our whole family, minus one of my uncles, made it home for a family dinner. I noticed that while my cousins and several aunts and uncles and I were embroiled in a rowdy conversation (about someone’s ex-boyfriend who was overly feminine), that my grandpa was sitting quietly across the room. I asked my mom if we should get him a chair so he could sit with us and she told me that she had asked him, but he said he was good there. He told her that he was just so happy to see everyone together. He understood and taught us all how important family is and I know that we have enough of those memories to bless our lives forever.
As I go to bed tonight, my heart is heavy with this loss. I was tremendously blessed to have him for 31 years and I am grateful that he is no longer suffering, but there will never be enough time. My greatest sadnesses are that my sons will not get to eat pancakes with him on Sunday mornings, climb trees or play baseball in his backyard while he barbecues. Some of the happiest moments in my childhood and adulthood took place in his presence and I know that I am a better person and a better parent for having him in my life. We will never stop missing him, but I will work each day to allow his memory to be a blessing in my life and in the lives of those I love.
And I think he really would’ve liked that.