Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Saying Goodbye

My grandpa died last Thursday.

He's been suffering from congenital heart failure and a miriad of other old-age things for the last three or four months, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I had the realization that his time with us in this life was limited.  

He was 87 years old, and he lived an incredibly adventurous life, filled with travel and laughter and faith, as well as service to others. It was a good life.  He left his mark.  But still, I'd be full of it if I didn't say that his passing felt way too soon.  He was just this incredible presence of a person and I can't believe he's not here anymore.  The last three days of celebrating his life and mourning our loss as a family have been almost dreamlike, none of it seems real.  

This is, of course, Gus and Louie's first time dealing with the death of someone close to them.  New parenting territory, that's for sure, but I think we provided the boys with enough grace, time, and the right information so that they were able to process my grandpa's death in an age appropriate way.  Who knows though, I mean I'm not even quite sure how to process all of this.  Death is scary, and we don't know what happens after we leave this life.  I have faith that there's a heaven, that God is real, but when life throws something like this at you, when death is suddenly such a tangible thing... I just... well we don't really know, do we?

Heaven is a very comforting thing to believe in, and I am glad we can give that to our kids.  We told the boys that grandpa's spirit went to heaven.  That his body is still here, but he isn't, he's in a better place and he's not sick there.  Gus asked me if an angel came to get him and I told him that I hope so.  I hope grandpa had someone wonderful to guide the way to heaven.  Both boys really wanted to see his body.  Like, we walked into the visitation on Sunday night and the first thing they said was, "I want to go see grandpa."

So that was surreal.  And sad.  I'm so glad both boys got to see and talk to him in the hospital on Tuesday because yeah.  His body.  Well it definitely didn't quite look like him.

Louie is a bit all over the place, and at three years old I can't imagine he'll remember any of this, and I really doubt he fully understands. He acted out quite a bit actually, and was pretty much insane all weekend long.  So there are three of them now, (WE HAVE THREE KIDS, WHAT?!) and Dan spent a lot of time managing the boys so I could visit with family and make all the small talk and be there for everyone else, as well as have a chance to grieve, myself.  But on Monday, right before the funeral was to start, after a morning of trying to control a three year old who was just flat out nuts, not listening, running away, rolling on the floor, Dan laid it all out for me.  "He needs you.  You need to just hand over the baby to someone and deal with Louie.  You are the only one he wants."  He was right, of course.  He may not have been able to explain how he was feeling, or even understand it himself, but he needed his mom.  I held him through most of the service, rubbed his back when he got antsy, held his hand.  And he made it through.  He did great actually.  Sometimes you just need your mom and you don't even know why, and that was exactly what Louie was going through.  

Gus is old enough to have a lot of questions.  There have been a lot of moments with him over the last week where it was very clear that he's processing this all on his own time, something's going on in that cute little noggin.  What he has wanted is information.  The truth.  And lots and lots of reassurance that this isn't going to happen to any of us anytime soon.

"How old was grandpa again?  He was 87?  Louie, grandpa was 87 year old!  That's really old.  And he was sick.  I'm not old, and you're not old, mom's 33 and that's a long way from 87.  We're not going to die.  We're healthy, and we're not old."

Last week in the car he said to me, "Mom, Jesus died, and then he rose again.  I wish Grandpa Winkelman could rise from the dead."  I told him that was a special Jesus thing (Ha!) and he said, "Yeah, I know.  But I wish he could."

Yesterday we buried my grandpa at the little cemetery near the family cabin, after a very emotional and exhausting few days with the visitation and the funeral.  Really, aside from the reason we were all together, it was a good few days.  I spent a lot of time with my brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins, catching up, drinking beer, and of course telling stories about my grandpa and reminiscing about the past.  It felt good to be together.  My grandpa loved his family, was so proud of everyone and loved having us all together, and I know if he's looking down on us somewhere he appreciated that his death brought us all a little closer.  That this family isn't going to stop being family without him.

Last night in the bath Gus looked at Dan and said something about Grandpa Winkelman.  About how he's really gone.  Dan told him that yeah, Great-Grandpa isn't here anymore and no, he's not coming back.  You're not going to be able to sit on his knee anymore, he's not going to tease you with silly songs ever again.  And then Gus got that face.  He looked up at him with tears in his eyes, the corners of his mouth turned down.

I'm sure there will be more moments like this.  And more moments for me as well.  Like the first holiday without him.  Father's day.  Or Gus's birthday in September.

He will be so missed.    


Lisa said...

I've been thinking about you a lot these last several days, reminded by saying goodbye to my own grandpa. But I hadn't even thought about how something like this affects little children. I honestly teared up reading the story about Gus in the bath. Gosh, death is so hard.

I have fond memories of your grandpa, most recently as he was asking me about Carter at Graham's party, and more distantly sitting by him for Grandparents day lunch. I know he'll be missed. I'm glad your whole family could unite and spend some lovely time together in his honor.


A. said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's such a hard thing in and of itself, let alone having to explain that to children. It sounds like you're all handling it with grace.

Berbs33 said...

Totally cried reading this. Death is not easy but trying to help kids through the loss makes it so much more difficult. We lost my grandma 18 months ago and Colton still occasionally cries at night when he thinks about her and misses her. Thinking of you and the kids as you continue on with your lives without such a great guy as an everyday part of your family. Love you friend, sending prayers for peace and comfort in the coming weeks and months.

Aunt Jeanne said...

Thanks for saying what you did with such love and understanding.

Sara McCarty said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my grandpa last year and it's still so hard for me. Grandpas are just such incredible people. Sinding you so much love and prayers.