Sunday, June 19, 2011


Today is Father's Day. Yesterday, we lost my grandpa. This Wednesday would have been his 84th birthday.

His obituary says that he was born in 1927, served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, married my grandmother in 1952, had seven kids and worked at the same place for over 30 years before retiring in 1989.

All of this is true.

But standard obits (true confession: I'm an obituary reader) leave out all the good stuff.

Like he was a good son and brother and fiercely loyal friend over decades.

His Navy stint? Came after he dropped out of high school to enlist at barely 17. He went to the Pacific theater of World War II and returned home nine months after V-J day, re-enrolled in high school and finished.

He lived for over twenty years in the house next door to his in-laws. And that house held seven kids, two adults in three bedrooms and one bathroom.

The obit leaves out the fact that he worked very hard as a welder and in the maintenance department at the same foundry that his father worked at before him. And that he took a big black lunch box with him to work every day, packed by my grandmother.

The paper doesn't mention that he became a grandfather at the young age of 44 but he already had a head of curly gray hair. And that his first grandchild was me.

Casual newspaper readers won't learn that he was a strict father but a push-over grandfather.

They won't know that he liked to tease little girls with a glimmer of fun in his eyes. Or that he made preschoolers giggle for decades by the mere (and admittedly strange) act of popping out his dentures unexpectedly.

Will the people who attend his funeral know that he made dozens of children smile by accepting their smooches and then convulsing into a full body shake and exclaiming, "Oooh, THAT was good!"? Or that his eyes sparkled when he did that?

Will they remember which spot at the kitchen table was his? Will they recall the kind of cigarettes he smoked (back before he wised up and quit)? Or what his ashtray looked like?

Will they remember his pickup truck? His RV? His bountiful tomato garden? His big, rough hands that welded, woodworked, fixed cars and snuggled babies? Or the beef jerky and summer sausage that he liked to make? I'm terrified that I will forget.

What else does the obituary miss?

The phrase "survived by his wife" doesn't begin to convey the sixty years that my grandparents spent by each other's sides. Caring for each other and their children and their siblings and their parents. My grandpa wasn't a perfect man. Like most of us, he could be a pain in the backside on occasion (aren't we all?). But he was, I think, I hope, a good husband. I know he was a good father and grandfather. A good man.

Sure the obituary mentions my grandfather's children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and their spouses. But it doesn't explain the intense value that those fifty or so people place on family - because that's what he taught us by living his life as he did.

Family above all else. Family first and always.

I am so very lucky to have had my grandfather in my life for 39 and a half years. That he was around as I grew up, when I graduated and when I married. I am so happy that my children knew him (and that one shares his name). And I will forever hold in my heart the knowledge that he loved me, he liked me and was proud of who I became. The obituary doesn't say that either.

I love you, Grandpa. I miss you already. I am so happy you suffer and struggle no longer but the void you left is enormous and impossible to fill. My heart is broken.