I saw my grandmother today – probably for the last time.
I grew up knowing three of my grandparents: Grandma and Tata (mom’s side) and Mommer (dad’s side). My grandfather on my dad’s side passed away when I was very young, so I have no memory of him to speak of.
Mommer was a grand southern lady. She passed away when I was in my early twenties. She was a strong woman and was there for me during the rough times of my parents splitting up during my teens. She was also the source of the most extravagant Christmas gifts I can remember from my childhood.
Among other things, she got me that epic Matchbox Voltron one year. It was, as I stated, epic.
My Polish grandparents went by Grandma and Tata. Tata is a Polish for “father” and myself, my aunts, and cousins all referred to him that way. He was a stern but caring man. My memories of him are split between his often oddball sense of humor and his leather belt when I invariably did something wrong.
He passed away less than ten years ago.
When I dwell on the memories of Grandma, my last remaining grandparent, I have nothing of impressions of love. Mommer was stern, understanding, and southern. Tata was strict, caring, and very Polish.
Grandma, though, was nothing but a being of pure love and caring. I have no memories of her ever being angry. Never mad. Never truly upset. She was just… love. The first time she met Shannon, her first thoughts were that she (Shannon) needed to eat more because she was so thin and immediately started making pierogi and kielbasa. This was authentic stuff – not frozen in the local grocery store. Shannon, being polite, ate it to make Grandma happy even though it wasn’t the type of food she’d normally eat.
Later that night (we were spending the night in their spare room in New Jersey) Shannon snuck into the guest bathroom and, as quietly as she could, threw up the dinner. Her body wasn’t accustomed to pure, honest to God, authentic GREASY kielbasa. She was crying, and I asked her if she was okay.
She told me that she wasn’t crying being she was sick. She was crying because she didn’t want my grandmother to know that she threw up the dinner she had made for her because she was so genuinely excited to make it for us.
That was the impression Grandma gave: love. She wanted you to know you were loved and loved showing it.
I keep transitioning between present and past tense with her because I got a message from my Aunt Donna yesterday that Grandma’s health has taken a dramatic turn for the worse and they are moving her to hospice. I immediately stopped the world and made arrangements to drive down today to see her.
With my mom in tow, I drove south about a hundred miles and saw Grandma in the hospital. She was sleeping soundly, but her breathing was labored and strained. According to my aunt, she went to sleep after some overwhelming health struggles (complicated by a recent stroke) yesterday afternoon and she hasn’t woken up since.
The doctor’s have all agreed that with her failing health, lungs, and other issues she will very, very likely not wake up.
So today I said goodbye to Grandma: my grandparent who survived prison camps in World War II, came to America, and raised five daughters. She was an amazing woman and I told her I loved her and wished her a peaceful rest. I’m proud that I decided to live my life by certain guidelines years ago, and one of the most import was to make sure I tell my older family members how much I love them when I see them. Thus, with peace of mind, I can remember that the last thing I said to my Grandma when she was still speaking were the words “I love you”.
From time to time, Shannon and I would randomly drop in on Grandma at her nursing home in South Florida. One time, less than a year ago, I event took a “selfie” with her for fun. It’s a photo of what is now an even more impactful memory.
I’m not sure how much longer she’s for this world; A day? A week? Who knows. In any case, I’m glad I took the time today to say my goodbyes while she is still with us.
Worst Year Ever, but who cares? Also: Thank Yous galore.
I remember when I was a teenager and I would act full of angst and suffering – I grew up when grunge rock was cool – and I’d get upset about things that seemed (at least to me at the time) like the world was ending. My dad would, from time to time, look at me and ask a very simple question. My most distinct memory of that question was when I got in my first fender bender. A senior citizen ran a red light and smashed into the front right quarter panel of my 1985 Dodge 600 red convertible. It wasn’t my fault, she got a ticket, and no one got hurt. All I kept thinking, though, was how upset my parents were going to be about the car. My dad, though, just asked the same question he always did:
“Is anyone bleeding or did anyone die?”
“No,” I’d respond.
“Then don’t worry. It can be fixed.”
Since then, I’ve tossed that line around in almost every crisis in my life. My wife has heard it on many occasions when things look grim for one reason or another. It’s a simple viewpoint to have: any and everything has a solution unless mortality is in play. I dealt with the exception last year when my father, the conveyer of said wisdom, took his own life. After I got the call from a neighbor about his passing, my mind went into crisis mode – which meant the voice in my head asked the question:
“Is anyone bleeding or did anyone die?”
For the first time in my life, the answer was yes – and the man who had bestowed upon me that mindset in life was no longer around to help answer “what do I do?” when the answer isn’t a no. That was less than a year ago.
November 18, 2013.
Since then, I’ve been doing my best to pick up the pieces and get life back to what is supposed to be considered “normal”. The first few months of the year are still a blur. As summer came along, I began to feel better. Sure, things were challenging, but I’d handled the worst thing I could handle this year, right? Smooth sailing… I just had to make it to November 19, 2014 so I could hit the proverbial reset button and enter a new year of awesome.
I was wrong.
On Saturday, October 4th, at around 10 PM I pulled into my garage after a long drive back from Jacksonville. I had been out of town for a couple of days working on WasabiCon, and I was ready to get some much needed sleep. I grabbed the mail from the mailbox: a catalog, a letter from AT&T trying to sell me service, and blank white envelope addressed to my legal name and my wife’s. When I opened it, I was stunned – and my life changed forever. I went inside and started digging through months of mail (mostly about my father’s home foreclosing in Tampa) that had arrived while I had been out of town working.
I will write a long and more detailed blog post about this, but the short version is this: the homeowner’s association in my neighborhood had foreclosed on my house because I had stopped paying them due to a number of issues. All my bills and mortgage were paid and current, but (it seems) in the state of Florida, a HOA has the power to take your house from you if you don’t pay their fees. I was dumbfounded.
I spent the next couple of days sorting through the mess and talking to a local attorney, but, it seemed, the house was lost. Some holding company in South Florida had bought the lien and was looking to take possession. (Again, I’ll share details in a later blog post.) After running some numbers, though, there are some theories that this may be a “blessing in disguise” – but we won’t know for some time.
My immediate concern was the impending threat of homelessness. Serious, honest to God, homelessness. Then I remembered the question:
“Is anyone bleeding or did anyone die?”
Nope. So this could be fixed somehow. I realized immediately, though, that this was something that couldn’t be fixed alone. I needed help, and my friends and family came through amazingly. The directive was simple: get the house packed up, moved to a storage unit, and find a new place to live. Folks started showing up at the house and packing commenced immediately. I rented a moving truck and large storage unit. Some of our stuff went to temporary homes with friends since (1.) it was stuff they could use or (2.) it was stuff that didn’t need to live in a storage unit such as art, signed prints, etc.
In total, about 20 people drove long distances, lifted heavy objects, packed boxes, and help console myself and my wife during the second hardest ordeal of our lives. They will each be hearing from me personally in the coming weeks, but for now I just need to say a heartfelt and intensely sincere
You were there for Shannon and I when we truly needed it and we are both forever grateful.
So now, twelve days later, life is as close to normal as it’s going to get for a while. Following my passion of striving to always make lemonade from lemons, I secured a new apartment for Shannon and I and signed a lease for a year. In doing so, I also – at least temporarily – fulfilled a lifelong dream: we live by the beach. Not “near” the beach; BY the beach. For example, check out this photo:
I took that this morning from a public beach access. I timed the walk from my front door to that point: 5 minutes and 10 seconds.
Our new location has effectively eliminated Shannon’s commute to her office. It’s a three minute drive or a fifteen minute bike ride for her now.
So we’re 11 months into “the worst year ever” – but who cares? No one’s bleeding and no one’s dead. I have my life, my wife, and the ever amazing Karma the Dog. In addition, I have the best non-DNA family a man can ask for.
Situations can suck, but that can’t stop life from being amazing.