One of my absolute favorite people, Grandpop, passed away on January 1, 2015.
He was in the hospital over Christmas where I was fortunate enough to see him, make him laugh and even give him an impromptu fashion show. Grandmom loves buying me clothes, but Grandpop liked it when I showed offthe clothes. It gave him an excuse to say things like ‘That’s my girl!’ or ‘Looking good, babe.’ Admittedly, he would also say those things to his favorite waitresses at the diner but it always came with a bit more sincerity when said to me.
I’m not exaggerating when I say Grandpop was my biggest fan. And I his. This was partially because I was Grandpop’s drinking buddy.
He loved it when I shared a beer or Bloody Mary with him but I never ever saw him drunk, even in his days of sipping Old Grand-Dad with my Uncle Cas. I was his personal bartender at family functions. ‘Get us some more Old Grand-Dad! Just a little water. You know what you’re doing.’ He always trusted me with his drinks be them alcoholic or caffeinated. I would prepare my grandparent’s morning coffee for them as a child and at family get-togethers. ‘Carolyn, get me some coffee!’ he’d demand after dinner. I’d sometimes be annoyed that it became expected but he would always be grateful despite my eye roll.
When I started drinking coffee, Grandpop made fun of all the milk and sugar I would bury deep in my cup. ‘One day you’ll drink black coffee.’ he warned me. I’m down to just a splash of cream. I’m almost there.
As a child, before the conclusion of a Daisy meeting, we would all hold hands in a circle and follow the tradition of squeezing the hand of the person to the right and making a wish. My wish always went to the health and long life of my grandparents. When we celebrated Grandpop’s 90th birthday, I gave myself a mental pat on the back.
Six months after his death, our family was told that Grandpop would be honored and laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery. My Grandpop, a Navy veteran, was very proud of his time during World War II. He and Grandmom would go to monthly Navy luncheons, he’d wear his flag pins on every suit, and he loved it when I visited Washington DC and show him pictures of the various memorials. Truly an honor for Grandpop.
The morning of the ceremony, after spending a sleepless night at a Motel 6 somewhere in Virginia, I walked through the entrance to Arlington Cemetery. I pushed through the tourists and class trips and was reminded of my one and only visit there in 6th grade. I’m pretty sure I took a picture of a gravestone that had ‘Dick’ engraved on it. Some things never change.
I met my family in a dimly-lit waiting room and we talked of DC traffic and stomach pains. Distraction, distraction. A woman came in and had my grandmom confirm some things, sign some things, and looked into her eyes as she gave her her condolences. We were going to drive to the ceremony site, Grandpop leading the way in this woman’s vehicle.
“If one of you wants to place the remains in the vehicle, you can, otherwise, I’d be honored to.” the woman said.
I heard Grandmom whisper something to my uncle and I knew it was coming. Grandmom asked me to carry Grandpop’s remains to the car. I felt dizzy as I said yes. When a doctor springs a blood sample up on me at a routine doctor appointment, I’ll confidently say, ‘No problem!’ and then turn white once I smell the alcohol on my arm. But I suck it up and I do it and I don’t pass out. I wasn’t so sure this time. This was going to be extremely difficult for me.
The woman explained to me that her car would be outside waiting and how I would place the remains on the seat. I listened closely and silently, a scared student. With one exhale I could start crying and I wanted to be strong. She handed him to me and had me follow her through the building, my family waiting behind. We walked past other families and I wondered if they saw my fear and sadness and I wondered if they soon would be making the same walk. We got to the car and she opened the backseat for me and told me where to place them.
Whenever I would pick up Grandpop for a ride, he’d climb in my front seat and I’d buckle him before departing his driveway. I buckled him up so many times and I wanted so badly to buckle him up this one last time. She closed the door and the wave of sadness took me under. My mom found me on the sidewalk and with one look we both broke out into tears.
The ceremony was intimate yet overwhelming. ‘Is this all for us?’ I exclaimed as we neared. Soldiers greeted us in all directions and on the opposite side of our tent a group of Navy members stood holding the infamous rifles I was not prepared to hear.
The weird part about a death are the selfish thoughts that creep in your head. ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be such a mess.’ ‘I can’t handle it.’ ‘I hate funerals.’ All statements I thought in the weeks leading up to Grandpop’s ceremony. I cried a lot of tears after Grandpop’s death. I was not looking forward to revisiting that flood. But when the ceremony started and I looked to my right at Grandmom, a woman saying goodbye again to her husband of over multiple decades, a woman like me who tries so hard to suck it up, make a quick joke and save her emotions for a closed door, I took her hand in mine, no longer thinking selfishly, gave a little squeeze and made a wish.