I’m not very good at expressing how I feel sometimes…I find that written words are much more of a comfort to me and that its easier for me. I hope this does my feelings and my Grandpa justice.
How do you say goodbye to someone who has always been there? Two weeks ago I gave my Grandpa, Pete Spanel, one last kiss goodbye. Yesterday I watched as my relatives splashed holy water on his casket. Despite the freezing cold and the shivers running through my body, all I could do was stare at my Grandpa’s final resting place. This plot in the ground will be where I’ll visit him for the rest of my life, not the house I spent many days and especially Sunday nights at or where he’s lived the last two years in a nursing home. That piece of land is where I’ll leave flowers preferably a bunch of marigolds in a mason Ball jar. It’s hard to believe that someone who has been there for the last eighteen and a half years can physically disappear from your life in a matter of seconds. One of the stages of grief is pain and guilt, it just hurts…There’s a lump in my throat and sorrow in my heart.I’ve found myself wishing I had more time. “More.” I wish I could have been there more, done more, helped more…I think that’s something we all feel. Desperation for more. The need to do better. I do regret not being there more for my Grandpa. There’s a void in all of our lives now. I guess all we can do is fill it with memories.
I’m fortunate enough to have an abundance of great memories surrounding my Grandpa. I’ve always been proud of the way I was raised. I have a wonderful family and I was so lucky to spend time with my grandparents growing up. Even when I thought I was getting too old to grow up, I went back to my second home. There was one summer a few years ago that I made it my goal to spend at least one day a week with my Gramma and Grandpa. I suppose I could have spent the day by the pool with friends or other summery activities but I was with my friends. I was proud of telling people I was busy because I was visiting those two wonderful people. It was a great summer, I wish I would have spent more summers spending it the same way. I would help out around the house, I always made sure to do the dishes and I better mention that I use to take great naps on their worn in couch in their living room. Many of my naps were interrupted by my Grandpa tinkering about. Really, he was tinkering just loud enough to wake me up from my nap to get me to help him run the vacuum or rearrange his medical books. Some days he even had me blindly reaching around under the couch to find a missing book, he would always pull out a flashlight that he kept near by to help in the search. I still don’t know what’s worse…reaching around blindly or using a flashlight. The couch may have been comfortable but there was some definite dust bunny action going on down there. I think one of my Grandpa’s unofficial mottos was that ‘there is always work to be done.’ He definitely took that one to heart when I was around.
There wasn’t a quality in my Grandpa that I didn’t like. He was so many things that I hope to be. Smart, funny, inventive, stubborn, determined, sharp, and he just had a commanding presence. I may have dragged my feet sometimes but I secretly enjoyed it when he had little tasks for me to do around the house. It made me feel important to him. For a long time, every Sunday evening my family would go over for spaghetti dinner. At some point I got promoted to news duty. If dinner wasn’t running late, I would get a holler from Grandpa and I would be in charge of putting the news on. It was a very serious job, Grandpa enjoyed his television times especially when it came to the news. Because of his strong Italian roots, I try to claim as much Italian in me as possible. The highest compliment he ever paid me was when he once told me I looked like his mother so naturally every time I saw him after that I tried to look the same as when he complimented me. There were other little things you pick up along the way. Grandpa enjoyed extra butter on his bread. He would be disappointed if on one of my visits I had neglected to get him donuts which he did not like sharing. Though he would share just about anything, my favorite when he would bring in a sketchy looking peach from the tree out back and offer it to me. It depended on how brave I was feeling that day if I would accept or not. I usually took it anyways. He was that special. Checking over the plants in the backyard and how he would pick a few cherry tomatoes to share with us. Now that I come to realize it, Grandpa was really just looking out for us. He liked to share all the healthy food, probably less for him to eat too. He had all sorts of medical books which he would thumb through just for the heck of it or if you weren’t feeling good he would give you free medical advice. He treated his dogs like royalty, Sunday night’s were spaghetti dinners for Duke too. Grandpa loved a good hamburger sometimes it was even his breakfast. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to Frankie Laine because of that man. He had a soft spot for Catherine Zeta Jones. He collected boxes like it was nobody’s business. You knew you were special if he trusted you enough to help water his plants. A wrapped present was no challenge for him, he could guess what gift was inside. He loved wearing his flannel shirts and suspenders. I even stole a few of his shirts to wear.
A fedora finished off his overall look. He liked having a bottle of Jim Bean on hand (you never know when you might need to put a splash of it in your coffee). His favorite grocery store was Cubs because he always got a good deal of fruits and vegetables marked down. He loved a good deal. The first time he told me in Italian to shut up, I almost cried but eventually I realized it was just a sign of affection. Everything was put on hold if there was a missing collection of one of Grandpa’s two collections of encyclopedias. Some days he would pull out the ‘d’ encyclopedia and we would look at the illustrations of the dogs. He stashed flashlights all over the house. He had a variety of random glasses found in the house that he would use to read with and he always looked adorable while doing so. Even if the glasses were huge and belonged to my Great Gramma. I learned to appreciate the Andy Griffith show and John Wayne movies because of him. He always wiped his mouth before giving you a smooch, a witnessed him pick up a dirty sock from off the ground to wipe off his mouth and then he proceeded to give me a kiss goodbye. He greatly appreciated a Bufferin, Phillips Milk of Magnesia, Mylanta, and Vicks Vapor Rub. And they all had better be the original kind. You could never go wrong with some Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin (Dino). We would always joke about getting a demotion or promotion especially when I was doing the dishes. He cracked up one time when he said I got a promotion after coming in the living room with dish gloves on and I told him it felt much more like a demotion. He would insist on using the most ancient vacuum cleaner ever that usually made the house dirtier rather than cleaner. He called everyone babe which he once told me came in handy when he couldn’t remember your name. He’s one of the few people in the world that will ever get to call me babe. He always made sure I had a blanket covering me when I was napping so whenever he napped I made sure he had one of his favorite blankets on him. He fancied himself a wine maker. I could go on for forever…
There was this one time I will never forget when his health was declining and the Alzheimer’s was setting in…he was having a bad day. You could tell he was scared and felt like the house was full of strangers, and that day he still recognized me probably because I look so much like my mother. He told me to never let someone else tell you what the hell to do. He stuck with me that day, he fiddled around in the kitchen while I did the dishes and directing all of his questions to me. I knew it was getting worse but I was so glad that he felt like he could trust me. In the last few years there was nothing better in the world than having him recognize you and know you by name.
Since I was the smallest and we had to squeeze into my mom’s wagon, I would be stuck in the middle seat in the front in between my mom and Grandpa. I remember always whining about it. I wish I would have treasured those small moments more. I am so thankful that I have these memories and stories of him to comfort me. To help my family and me cherish and remember him. I hope he knew how special he was to so many people. I hope he knew how much we all loved him. I hope he knew that it would be okay. I hope he knows how much he is missed.
There has been a few moments where the pain and the grief has taken my breath away but someone told me that now all I can do is go now and make him proud. So when it feels like it’s too much to bare we all must remember to carry on, take some courage, and make him proud.