By Acadia Otlowski
Unlike so many people, I was lucky enough to go 20 years of my life without having to truly grieve.
That all changed a few weeks ago with one phone call. I woke up on Tuesday morning at about 11 a.m. to my phone ringing.
My heart dropped.
For months now, my 80- something-year-old grandfather had gotten progressively sicker. They attributed it to this infection or that infection, but they failed to see the root of all of these lesser infections.
It was cancer.
My mother knew weeks in advance, even telling me that he must have cancer; that’s the only thing that could be causing this man, who just months ago was still driving to visit my grandmother, to be going downhill so quickly.
So it wasn’t really a surprise when we got the diagnosis a couple weeks ago, although it didn’t make it any less frustrating.
He was full of cancer, at least that’s how my mother phrased it to me. They said he only had three months to live, but he didn’t even make it two weeks.
Now I’m confronted with an empty place in my life.
My grandfather had a heart of gold. For years, I would wake up in the morning and just somehow know that grandpa was coming that day.
He came every week, showering us with little present of stuffed animals and sweets. These changed a little over time, but were a constant for the majority of my life. He was a man of his time, showing little affection outwardly, instead giving little presents to win our affection. He would slide us our treats with a sly little smile, like we had our own little secret.
I spent many hours in his house, which has long been passed on to another family, playing on the floor with whatever box of toys I could dig up from my mother’s childhood. We watched the same old movies together; he always remembered what each of his grandkids liked.
The man who showered us with affection was called “stone face” by the men who worked for him, but his family saw a very different side of him.
I can safely say, and I’m sure that all 14 of my other cousins will agree with me, that our grandpa was the one who told us our first dirty joke. We may not have been the targets of the joke, but he didn’t care if we heard. I think half the fun for him was the shocked gasp of a parent or his wife. Then he’d smirk like a schoolboy as he was chided. It never stopped him though. I don’t know where he got them from, as he didn’t use the internet. But I guarantee if someone has a really witty dirty joke, my grandpa already told me the punchline.
And even though when asked what was up, he would tell you “same shit, different day,” my grandfather lived his life voraciously. He would drive across the state and beyond its borders, just to see what was what.
It was only when my grandmother was too far gone from Alzheimer’s that he stopped taking road trips. He was crushed when he had to put her in a nursing home; the man had tried to hold her mind together with the sheer strength of his will.
Even when his “partner-in-crime” couldn’t remember who he was, he kept visiting until he was too sick to get out of bed.
I last saw my grandpa about a month ago, in his bed at the nursing home. I remember being shocked at how frail this man whose fullness dominated my childhood had become. As much as I regret not seeing him closer to when he died, I still carry more memories of that smile, that contagious chuckle, more than the shadow of a man laying in that bed.
At his service last week, I felt as though it was wrong. It was far too serious for the man who taught me how to laugh. He wouldn’t want us to cry, though we all have. This can teach us a valuable lesson.
Grief is something we all avoid, but it is something we as humans have to experience. Maybe, instead of channeling that negative emotion into tears, we can celebrate the life of the person we have lost. We can share stories about the one who passed and laugh with those around us, rather than focusing on what we have lost.