Time to Say Good-bye…

Pic - Grandpa and Jack

Grandpa and me… as a youngin’ and when I was in my twenties…
On the Farm of Eden

The year was 1975 and my brother and I had to leave my grandparents’ farm early that summer. Our summer vacation with them had been cut short by two months, due to my grandfather’s unexpected illness. Not only was I saying good bye to my darling grandparents, but I was also saying good bye to the boy I liked across the farm, Harald, who lived across the street. With bags packed and sitting in the back seat of Melvin’s car, we were waiting to go home. Harald heard that I was heading home earlier than expected, so he came over to say his final good bye, as we secretly held hands through the back window. Melvin drove to come and get Steve and me and bring us back home to Chicago. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car not wanting to leave. I couldn’t stop crying, as I had a profound feeling that this would be the last time that I would ever have the opportunity to be on the farm; I’d never see the farm in the same light again and my safe haven would soon be no more. The farm that protected me for so many summers will no longer be my saving grace. Sadly, every one of my instincts was correct. The summer of 1975 was the last time I saw my grandparents on my farm of Eden.

As the car backed out of the driveway, I saw my grandparents slowly fading away, appearing smaller and smaller through the rear window, as we pulled out onto the road, heading east, back to Chicago. With one last wave good bye they were gone. I remember being silent all the way home. My brother and I sat in the backseat together just starring out the window. I was going back home to filth and things that weren’t clean. I was going back to hearing Melvin and mom fighting and seeing the beatings again. I was going back to watching Melvin drink everyday without putting food on our table. I was going back to being sexually abused. But, I knew for the time that my brother was in the car with me, Melvin wouldn’t touch me. For the next few hours, I felt safe, as Melvin wouldn’t be pulling over to a rest stop or off the side of the road to make me do disgusting things to him. Little did I realize that at the time, my brother was probably thinking the exact same thing.

My life was so beautiful and rich while living with my grandparents on that little farm in Stoughton. I never once ached for anything. I was always provided for. My grandparents made sure that Steve and I were happy young children, experiencing life through a child’s eyes. Even though living on a farm way out in the country, we did manage to go places once grandpa came home from work. Knowing that we had a special evening planned, Steve and I would sit at the end of the driveway, watching and waiting patiently for grandpa’s big red pickup truck to come rolling down the road. Moments later, grandpa pulls into the driveway and slowly comes to a stop, where Steve and I would hop on to the back of grandpa’s truck. Holding on tight, he would give us a ride all the way up to the house. Knowing what ritual lies ahead; Steve and I took my grandfather’s lunch bucket to see what surprises he had left behind for us. One day, it may have been an uneaten apple, the next the other half of a Twinkie. My most favorite surprise that my grandfather had ever left for me was an authentic railroad spike that he found lying on the ground one day, close to where he was roofing a building. To this day, over forty years later, I still have my railroad spike. It rest proudly on my art shelf and have used it quite frequently from everything to a paperweight, opening up cans of paint to even an occasional hammer, pounding nails into the wall.

After taking our surprise from grandpa’s lunchbox, he would head to the bathroom where he would wash up. Afterward, he and granny would tell us that we’re all going for a little ride into town, where we would hit up the local A&W Root Beer stand, where we would enjoy a hamburger and fries or possibly an ice cream cone for dessert. One of my favorite things to do was take long rides through the country. The roads were filled with many hills and waves that only left grandpa wanting to drive faster. As grandpa climbed up the hilly road, slowly creeping to the top, as if he was in charge of a roller coaster ride, he would begin his decent down to the bottom of the hill with quickness. Grandpa stepped on the accelerator making our bodies appear weightless, leaving Steve and I curled up together as a ball in the back seat of the car, while our bellies danced on the ceiling. I would sneak a peek at granny, as she had front row action while on this wild carnival ride. She would have one hand on the ceiling and the other would be grabbing the dashboard for dear life, while at the same time screaming at grandpa to slow down because he was going to make us kids sick! As we slowly came to the end of our carnival ride, it was apparent that from now on, we would have to leave granny at home!

One of my favorite times during Friday summer evenings, was when lying on the cool grass in the front lawn, you could hear the local stock car races at the nearby Madison International Speedway race track. You listened as they each made their laps around the track, gunning their motors with each passing turn. During the day, Steve and I would watch one by one as the cars were being hauled to the track, each one twisted and bowed, being forcibly designed into their own unique shape from weekly racing. As each drove by, honking and waving at us on the lawn, Steve and I would yell out to granny, reporting on which stock car just drove by, “Car number 53 just drove by!” “Granny, number 17 just passed!” One Friday evening, my grandparents surprised us and we actually attended the car races. It was exciting to watch and be there, having a hotdog and listening to the revving of the motors. The cars were so loud that you couldn’t even hear the person next to you talk. No surprise that we could hear them from our yard miles down the road. The next day, on Saturday mornings, once the races were over, grandpa, Steve and I would take a ride back to the race track. Grandpa would bring his metal detector in hopes to find a treasure of loose change from people pulling out their keys from their pockets and having their change fall. Being too dark to pick it up, they would just leave it. Every so often, we would find a quarter here or a dime there, which he’d give to us kids. After our treasure hunt, grandpa would take us for a ride on the track. Jumping into the back of grandpa’s pickup truck, Steve and I would hold on for dear life, while grandpa made his way around the track, going faster and faster with each turn. The way that the truck was tilted on the race track, I felt as if we were going to fall out of the back of the truck. With the wind against our faces and our bellies rolling with tickles at every lap, it felt great riding in the back of the truck. There was a sense of freedom, having my long hair fly in the wind behind me and hearing the buzzing of the wind singing in my ears. I was so happy and I wanted that moment to last forever. This was a time that I had no cares, no worries; I just lived within the moment. This was just one of the special memories that I shared with my grandfather.

Steve and I would try and re-create that feeling of flying around the race track with our old rusty red wagon that we had on the farm. Grandpa found this wagon at the local dump that someone previously threw away. Grandpa brought it home and cleaned it up. It seemed as if grandpa was bringing home more junk from the dump than what he was throwing in. Taking turns, Steve and I would sit inside the wagon and steer with the handle, while the other pushed frantically behind, trying to get up enough speed to make the wagon go fast. I can still hear the tires crunching on the gravel as we would pretend that we were driving our own stock car race, running laps up and down the driveway.

Grandpa always made sure our days were always filled with excitement and adventure. We had the purest life while living with my grandparents. We never once asked for more and I never remember having a bad day; that was, until the day my grandparents came home from the doctor’s office, after my grandfather had a medical checkup. I was standing on the porch playing with my kitchen set, pretending to cook dinner, when my grandfather walked in with a look of uneasiness on his face and going directly to his bedroom, closing the door behind. My grandmother, who walked not too far after, had tears rolling down her face. I was starting to get scared and I asked granny what was the matter and why was she crying. She had asked me to step aside and that she couldn’t talk at the moment, her voice breaking as if she was trying to soften her sobs. She could barely contain her emotions. Immediately, I sensed that something was horribly wrong and knew that my world on the farm as I knew it would suddenly be changed and things will never be the same again. It was later that evening I found out that my grandfather, who I cherished dearly from the deepest sector of my heart, was diagnosed with colon cancer and the prognosis didn’t look promising. That was the very last summer that Steve and I ever stayed on their farm. It became a reality that there will be no more wagon rides to the neighbors across the road or steeling sweet corn from the fields. There will be no more trips around the local racetrack on Saturday mornings or any more daily surprises in grandpa’s lunch box. However, what my heart ached over the most was that this chapter of my life has ended and that there will never be any more future pages written in my book of memories.

My grandparents continued to live on the farm as long as they could. With grandpa still being able to drive and, for the most part, move around, he was still able to get to his doctor’s appointments, go into town for groceries, or run other various errands. Grandpa used a cane to help steady him as he walked. Grandpa was no longer able to work and had left the Durfee Roofing Company that he was employed with for some many years. Grandpa stayed home and granny took care of him. Grandpa was still able to work in the garden somewhat, although the garden wasn’t as large as years before. He was no longer able to build dollhouses or barns but did enjoy wood working and would do some whittling from time to time just to keep his hands busy. However, grandpa’s health started to decline and it was now their turn to leave the farm, to sell their home, and move closer to Madison to be closer to grandpa’s doctors. It was getting more difficult for grandpa to drive and, with granny never learning how, it made the decision all that much more easier to move. At this point, Grandpa was in and out of the hospital having different procedures or testing done. This, too, made it more convenient for them to be closer to Madison. With all these considerations, they put the farm up for sale and eventually moved into an assisted living building in Madison located on Sawyer Terrace. There, they were able to take shuttle buses to and from the hospital or grocery stores. There was twenty-four hour medical care within the building if they needed it. It gave both my grandparents a sense of comfort, security and freedom knowing that they can still attempt to live a normal life in spite of my grandfather being sick. I know their hearts were broken on that final day when they moved from that precious farm in Stoughton. There were a lot of memories created in that home over the years and, indeed, if the winds could whisper their final thoughts, they would share that there was an overwhelming profusion of happiness, laughter and love that will remain within the spirits of that land forever.

Years have now passed and, by this time in my life, I was a young adult in my twenties. Grandpa’s cancer had progressed over the years, taking over his body, resulting in more doctor visits, several more hospital procedures and, regrettably, his very own colostomy bag. Making trips on my own or with friends or family, I would visit my grandparents as often as I could. When I wasn’t able to travel to Madison, I made sure that I was in constant contact with them, especially my grandfather. I would either call or send grandpa special things through the mail, letters, toys, pictures in hopes they all kept his spirits high. I would send grandpa jokes or cartoons that I would come across that I found to be funny thinking it would give him a good laugh, as laughing heals. I bought him two small stuffed banana toys that looked like small people. They had arms and legs that would wiggle when you shook them. They came with clips so that you could hook them onto things. When grandpa was admitted to the hospital for a procedure, he would always bring these banana toys with him, clipping them to his I.V. line or hospital gown. I was told that his nurses got a kick out of them, which also gave grandpa an opportunity to flirt with the nursing staff.

Over the next few months, Grandpa was in and out of the hospitals and I knew his health wasn’t at its best. My heart ached at the thought of losing the man that meant so much to me, a father figure, and my hero. Granny would always send me updates on grandpa’s condition. Sadly, it wasn’t looking very well, as the cancer was taking over, it was winning. Grandma would tell me that his blood count would be very low, as well as his blood pressure. He was always dizzy and could hardly sleep or walk any more, even with the support of a walker. Grandpa had lost a vast amount of weight and he was below 130 pounds. For a man that was over six feet tall, it left him looking very frail. Grandpa was all skin and bones and granny said she could put her two fingers around his arm where his muscles use to be. That was hard to hear because grandpa was always a man of solid body and strength. Granny shared that Grandpa was also crying a lot, wishing and longing for the days of long ago, when we use to be on the farm spending special time together. As you see, it wasn’t only my heart that held such warm memories for the farm and the magic it held. Grandpa felt it, too. Granny said that this is all grandpa spoke about. He missed us all so very much and longed for his memories to become a reality, even commenting that he would pay $10,000 to be back on the farm with me and Steve.

The last card I sent grandpa was an enormous one. It was approximately 2 feet by 2 feet. It was the kind of card that you knew you were going to go broke just in the postage alone. It was an extra large card, leaving me to write many notes on the inside. Appropriately enough, the card was titled, “Thanks for the Memories. I wrote at the top of the card “Remember When… ” and then shared with him all the wonderful memories he had given me throughout my life while living with him and granny on the farm.

Remember when… I use to stand on the top of your roofing boots and you would dance me all around the room?

Remember when… we would go grocery shopping every Friday and then come home and watch Kung Fu together?

Remember when… you taught me how to ride a bike and took my training wheels off?

There were so many special memories written on this card that I was sure it would put a smile in his face and a tear of joy in his eye. I signed off on the card by writing, “Remember that… I love you and you both are my FAVORITE granny and grandpa. I love you very much! Love, Jackie.”

Thanks for the Memories...

Thanks for the Memories…

After finishing his card, I sealed the bottom with bright red lipstick kisses that were made from my own lips. Grandma shared with me that grandpa absolutely loved and adored the card! It made him so very happy and he would read it over and over again, every single day, always kissing my lips where I left them imprinted at the bottom of the card. Grandpa would cry and reminisce about the good old days with me and Steve, recollecting every memory I wrote about. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he too, knew in his heart that every one of these moments were one of God’s special blessings. It wasn’t until after grandpa passed that I learned how important this card meant to him.
Months later, while visiting with granny, she asked me to go to the closet and pull a frame that was tucked all the way in the back. Upon doing so, this is when I realized that grandpa had taken the time to frame my thanks for the memory card. Using an old pizza box for the backing, he then made a wooden frame for my card, which he proudly hung on his wall for him to enjoy.

The last letter that I received from granny regarding grandpa’s health was in 1984. His health was deteriorating and rapidly. Grandma shared with me that grandpa wasn’t able to write any longer. Being unable to use his hands, granny wrote on grandpa’s behalf, telling her exactly what he wanted to say to me. He thanked me for the package of candy and pictures that I sent him and that he truly got a kick out of receiving them. He wished that I lived closer so that we could talk face-to-face, just one more time, before it’s too late, before he went away “for always.” Grandpa told me that he wished he could turn back the clock and we were all at the farm in Stoughton once again, but that can’t be either, he said. Grandpa went onto say that he hopes I will always remember “what was.” He took the pen and paper from granny and, in his own hand, forced a scribbled signature, I-Heart-U.

Pic - I love you

Granny finished my letter by saying that I was on my grandfather’s mind day in and day out, even dreaming about me, calling for me one night during his sleep. My grandfather and I were so very close. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of him, wishing him good health or sending him special letters and thoughts through the mail.

Grandpa was a kind and gentle soul and I loved it when he would express himself through his eyes. Recalling back to certain memories, one would see his eyes smile as if saying, great job, I’m proud of you, I love you! Sometimes, you would see his eyes laugh with amazement, feeling proud, as he remembered taking off my training wheels, teaching me how to ride a two-wheel bike for the first time. Neither grandpa nor I would ever have the opportunity again to go back to the farm to relive these wonderful moments that we had once created. Therefore, I decided to bring these sweet memories to him. I sent every card and letter that I could find and filled them with all our precious memories, writing each one down with sweet reminiscences and mailing them to grandpa one after another, day after day. Sometimes, my letters would have sticks of gum or candy attached to them or a silly cartoon I found in the paper. Granny told me that grandpa really looked forward to the mail coming, as almost every day there was something there from me. My letters touched grandpa’s heart, making his tears of sorrow become tears of happiness. But, most importantly, it took his pain away, it helped him forget his cancer, even if it was for a few moments. It helped him transport his way back to the farm, where he once again was able to pick a garden tomato from the vine or dance one last Polka in the breezeway.

Granny confessed that I was the only grandchild out of many to keep in faithful touch with my grandfather during his sickness and battle with colon cancer, either by visiting, calling or sending him special care packages. Granny said that there were some family members who didn’t even bother at all. Upon hearing this, I was rather disappointed. I felt sad and I could only imagine how this made grandpa feel. How could someone not be in touch with their own family member at this horrifying and painful time of his life? Grandpa was always there for his grandchildren. It was now our turn to be there for him.
It was a week before Easter and I had decided to call my grandparents to say hello and to see how they were doing. I wanted to let them know that I had yet another surprise coming in the mail for grandpa. It was something simple; a handmade glittered heart with the words I love you on it. I was waiting for the glitter to dry before placing it in the mail. Sadly, it was never mailed.

I sensed in granny’s voice that things weren’t going well with grandpa. Granny was in a state of sadness and that’s when I heard the tears surfacing in her voice. Granny shared that grandpa is now totally bedridden and is deteriorating more and more every day. He’s on a lot of pain medication which makes him “loopy” and sometimes he doesn’t realize where he’s at. My own heart began to sank, as I suddenly realized that my beloved grandfather was dying and, most likely, his journey in this world will be ending soon. I don’t think anyone can prepare themselves for death, regardless of how much of a warning you may have. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind at once and neither one of them comforted me. I told granny that I wanted to come up and visit with her and see grandpa, perhaps, for the last time. The following weekend was Easter Sunday and I thought it would be special to spend the day with them both. Granny didn’t think that was such a good idea, as she knew that grandpa didn’t look like himself, wasn’t acting like himself and, surely, wasn’t the same grandpa that I remember seeing just months before. I understood her concerns and told her I’ll plan visiting another time. I asked to speak with grandpa so that I could cheer him up and make him laugh. Granny warned me that he may not know who I was so be prepared and, sadly, she was right. I called his name, “Grandpa, it’s me Jack; how are you?” Listening to me, grandpa stumbled for his words. He began to call me Fi-Fi May, a nickname that he use to call my mother when she was a little girl. “Fi-Fi May! Fi-Fi May! I miss you! Where are you Fi-Fi May?” As tears began to roll down my cheek, it became apparent that grandpa didn’t know who I was. I continued talking with him as if I was his Fi-Fi May. It was then that I realized Grandpa’s heart, mind and soul were no longer living in our world; he was now living within his own recollection of precious memories from the past when mom was a little girl. I said my good-bye’s and told him that I loved him oh so very much and he shared that he loved me, too. My own heart ached, as I knew that would be the last time I would ever hear my grandfather’s voice and the words I love you whispered in my ear. Moments later, granny took back the phone, only to confirm what she had shared with me just moments before, “Your dear grandpa isn’t doing well and he is slowly leaving us.”

Grandma asked their parish priest, Fr. Tom Dietrich, to come to the house and administered my grandfather his last rights; a sacrament given to someone who is near death. Having God in their hearts and attending church, they both knew that this was a necessary step in order to assist my grandfather in his preparation for death, to have absolution for his sins, to have relief from suffering and guide him for when he left our world.

Fr. Dietrich arrived at my grandfather’s beside and spent some personal time with my grandfather, praying for him, along with praying with him. Fr. Dietrich noticed how much pain my grandfather was in. Father leaning in close enough to where my grandfather could hear, Father said, “Raymond, let yourself go, go home to the Lord and set yourself free.” Grandpa with his noble response said to Fr. Dietrich, “If I could make it just one more week, until Easter Sunday, I will let myself go then. Surely, Fr. Dietrich admired my grandfather’s beliefs and understood why he wanted to try and hold on for another week until Easter arrived. God rose from the dead on the third day, resurrecting on Easter. This day is known as Resurrection Day and I felt that grandpa knew the significance of this very important day. In Grandpa’s heart, he felt that if he could make it just one more week, until Easter Sunday, he believed that when he finally did let himself go” home,” God would be right there by his side, holding his hand guiding him all the way to heaven, as grandpa crossed over.

It was Easter Sunday and I was with my boyfriend, Bill, at his parents’ house. I was invited over to share Easter dinner and to spend the day with them. Later that evening, after dinner, Bill and I were sitting in his bedroom, listening to music, and just hanging out with one another. Bill’s bedroom door faced the dining room area, exposing the dinner table and chairs, along with the sideboard. The dining room then led into the kitchen, which was just around the corner from Bill’s room to the right. So, from where I was sitting, which was on the other bed in Bill’s room, I could see directly into the dining room. As I was thumbing through a magazine, I noticed out of the corner of my left eye something traveling through the dining room. It was similar to a white mist that was floating through the middle of the room, gracefully, slowly passing from one room to the other. I turned my head and managed to catch the last glimpse of it as it traveled from the dining room and disappeared into the kitchen. At the time, I didn’t think too much about it, but I asked Bill if he saw what I just did. But, from where he was sitting on his bed and the position that he was in, he couldn’t see out into the dining room. It was about fifteen minutes after seeing the mist that I received a phone call from Sophie, the woman who I lived with at the time. Sophie knew that I was having dinner at Bill’s house and knew that I would be there. Picking up the phone in the kitchen, I heard Sophie’s voice on the other end. Sophie relayed me that my granny was trying to reach me. It was Sophie’s hesitant and quaking voice that I knew it wasn’t good news. Granny called to let me know that grandpa passed away only moments before. Sophie asked if I would be okay, as I heard the concern in her voice. My lips were saying yes, but my mind and heart were saying, NEVER! Hanging up the phone, I placed my face in my hands and I started to cry uncontrollably, hard, where my sobs took my breath away. Bill immediately came running from his bedroom and into the kitchen, as he knew what devastating news I had just received. Bill took over, clutching me, pressing me tight against his shirtless chest. Bill continued to press me against him, comforting me, as I cried, feeling the softness from the hair on his chest against my wet cheeks. It was Bill’s chest and hug that I remember most from that moment, as we both stood there in each others’ arms. I have never been so close to a family member before, like I was with my grandfather. Our grandfather-granddaughter relationship had a true connection, where our hearts were bonded by a special love, with respect and admiration. The horrible disease of cancer had finally taken over and won and the man that I cherished so dearly had finally left this world… my world… and my life forever.

As I tried to gain my composure and adjust to the new reality within my mind, my thoughts took me back to the moments before that life altering phone call, when I was sitting on Bill’s bed, watching that strange white mist travel by me; almost as if someone was trying to say their last good-byes. Suddenly, all my thoughts stopped, as I took a second glance out into the dining room. It was at that moment that I realized what had just happened. Without a doubt, I knew in my heart that the white mist that I saw just minutes before, was my grandfather’s spirit as he passed from one world to the next; taking a brief detour to be with me one last time, to say his final farewells and to make sure that I would be all right and be taken care of in this world without him.
Grandpa, being a true man of his word, did exactly what he told Fr. Dietrich he’d do. Grandpa had let himself go home to be with God, resurrecting together and passing away on April 22, 1984, Easter Sunday.

Knowing that my mother didn’t have a phone at home, it was up to me to deliver the news to her that her father had just passed away. This was the last thing that I wanted to do and knew that it was going to be very hard. I also knew that mom was never the type to express her emotions, therefore, not sure how she would take the news. Would she burst into tears or would she quietly say nothing. As Bill drove me over to my mother’s apartment and, as we got closer and closer, my heart began to beat faster and faster. I didn’t want to do this, but there was nobody else – only me. I stepped through the door and saw mom sitting in her chair, with my brothers, Steve and Jeff on the couch watching TV. As I entered the room, each one of them could see on my face that something was wrong. All I said to them was… “I received a call from granny tonight…” and they knew immediately what I was about to share with them. This is when I told them that grandpa had passed away earlier that evening. Looking at mom, her head was hanging low, surely lost in her own thoughts. As predicted, mom showed no emotions whatsoever. I didn’t see her get upset; I didn’t see her lips quiver or her eyes swell with tears; unlike myself who was distraught and inconsolable and could barely stop the tears from flowing. Mom accepted the news like one would accept an egg falling and cracking onto the floor; you didn’t want it to happen, but it did, so let’s clean it up and move on. Perhaps, mom grieved in her own way, privately and by herself. My brother, Jeff, was saddened to hear the news. Jeff rarely spent summers on the farm with my grandparents nor wrote granny and grandpa letters. Jeff wasn’t as close to my grandparents or had that close bond relationship like Steve and I did, but I’m sure Jeff loved them dearly just the same. I stared into Steve’s face and could tell that he was quite shaken by the passing of his grandfather. All the color disappeared from his face, abruptly turning white as if he just saw a ghost himself. The look on his face was absolute disbelief. I left my mom and my brothers, letting them know that I will keep them informed of all the funeral arrangements. By the time I ended up in my own bed late that evening, I was emotionally exhausted, crying every moment I woke during the night. My heart ached for my mother and brothers, for my grandmother who would have to bury her husband after thirty-four years of marriage, and my heart ached for myself. Going to grandpa’s funeral was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life. I never witnesses or experienced anyone else’s death before.

The days leading up to grandpa’s funeral, the weather had been gloomy. The sun didn’t shine for days, as if the angels above were crying their own tears of grief. As spring weather can often do, the days were filled with constant rain. As we drove to Wisconsin to attend the funeral and, as we got closer to the funeral home, the sun decided to make an appearance, showering the day with the most beautiful rays of sunshine that beamed through white puffy clouds and blue skies. The sun had started to warm the air, allowing us to breathe in the freshness of the day. It was almost as if grandpa had a final say in the weather that day and, being a roofer, you couldn’t work if it was raining out. Therefore, I felt it was his special way of lifting the day’s spirits, along with our hearts.

As I entered the funeral home, I could instantly sense the sadness around me. Not only was it my grandfather’s service, but there were other wakes going on as well. I could sense the demeanor within the rooms; quite, reserved, formal, as if one is trying to be on their very best behavior. Just off the main hallway, I see my grandfather’s name on the wall plaque, Raymond Johnson, designating which room was his for the afternoon. Seeing grandpa’s name displayed made the moment so final and it made me wonder how many other names have been on that plaque before him… hundreds, I’m sure. Making my way into the room, there was a guest registry book to my left, resting upon the podium. As I held the pen in my hand, I took pride in writing my full name… Jackie Rae Lambert. I wanted everyone to know that it was me who shared my grandfather’s name and that I was specifically named after him; for him.

Granny waits for me to finish signing the guest book and then offers me a reassuring, “hello honey,” as I walked toward her. Granny knew that my heart was as shattered as hers. She takes my hand in hers. I can feel the plumpness of her fingers, as she walked me up to see grandpa lying in his casket. It took everything I had not to burst out into tears at that very moment. I didn’t want to share my feelings with people I didn’t know. I wanted to show everyone that I was strong. Thinking back, perhaps, that was my mom’s belief, too. I bit down on the inside of my lip to make it stop, as I felt my lower lip quivering uncontrollably. I knew that if I started crying, it would be so hard for me to stop. Granny showed me all the beautiful flowers that people sent to the funeral home, even Durfee Roofing Company, where grandpa worked for so many years. Then, granny was telling me how much weight grandpa lost, showing me how shallow his belly was, as she pressed her hand against his stomach. She kept telling me, “Feel, feel his stomach, Jackie. He lost so much weight. He’s not the grandpa with the big muscles that you use to know.” Placing my hand on his stomach and then his chest, I could feel the stiffness and hollowness of his body. I felt the concaveness, as if there was nothing left inside of him, no guts, no blood, no spirit.

I watched granny kiss grandpa’s face and pet his head, as if he was a baby kitten lying in her lap taking an afternoon catnap. Over and over, her hand swept across his hair, making me think that she was going to rub his head bald! But, it was granny’s way of keeping her connection between the both of them, even if it was just for a little while longer, as within hours, he would be placed away in his eternal crypt forever.

While at grandpa’s service, I had more than one person come up to tell me that my grandfather thought the world of me, always expressing how he felt about me, showing others my letters and cards or what I had made for him. In a quiet moment with grandpa’s sister, Sarah, she shared with me that my grandfather absolutely adored me and that I was the light of his life. Hearing such special words meant so much to me. They made my heart sing, yet at the same time, made my heart ache and weep.
The pain of losing someone in death remains in you and will always remain for the rest of your lives. I have always believed that losing a loved one in death is, and will be, the most excruciating pain that God will ever give us to endure. Your heart literally aches for the person that you have lost, as if it has truly been broken in half. My first painful moment of death was with my loving grandfather. To this day, over twenty five years later, my heart still misses him so much and cries as if I had just lost him yesterday. My grandfather was a man of honesty and faith and the day he passed was like someone stealing a part of my heart away forever, leaving an empty hole. The hurt that the heart holds onto can be so overwhelming at times. It makes you wonder how it can retain so much pain and sadness; almost to the point where you think your heart is going to shatter from grief. But, God helps us through such times, blessing us with memories, giving us the strength to continue on and moving forward.

I was so devastated by my grandfather’s death, that the pain was just too unbearable. All I did was hurt and cry. As I walked to work, I’d cry, watching a child playing ball with his father or seeing two elderly sweethearts sitting together on a bench holding hands. I’d cry in the shower when I knew nobody would hear me or with my face in my pillow late at night. One night, a couple weeks after grandpa’s passing, I remember sitting on my bed, watching the ten o’clock news. My heart ached so much for the man who graced me with so many wonderful memories that I remember crying and shedding so many tears that I didn’t think I had any more left inside me. Tired of hurting so much, tired of being worn out from crying, I decided to ask for a sign. I didn’t care if it was from my grandfather, God or the neighbor next door! I just needed to have a sign to let me know that grandpa was okay, that he made it to heaven, that he was happy, healthy and cancer free. These thoughts no sooner left my mind and into the air when all of a sudden I heard grandpa’s name being announced over the TV… “Raymond Johnson…” I immediately looked up at the television and sat there wondering if I really heard what I thought I just did. Grandpa’s name was being mentioned out of thin air, coming directly from the TV’s speakers. I looked around my room as if I was going to find an answer as to what just happened, but I knew I heard his name loud and clear and I knew it was the sign that I just asked for moments before. My grandfather sent me a message that, yes, he was delivered safely and directly to God’s arms and that he was just fine. It was then that a peacefulness came over me; as if hushing me, soothing me, letting me know that my broken heart, in time, would mend and heal.

Blessed with Memories

We would wait for him by the end of the drive, so as to receive our nightly ride.
Slowly driving up Grandpa comes to a stop,
on the back of his blue roofing truck so we did hop.
We rode to the end by the barn he did park;
we jumped off to greet him, along with the dogs as they barked.
As Grandpa walked to the house, we followed behind,
searching his lunch pail with only little to find.
Grandpa washing in the sink after a long hard day,
while Granny’s in the kitchen, cooking in her own special way.
As we sat at the table with heads bowing low,
we prayed our grace and offered our bestow.
“Bless our family and the friends that we have,
may their happiness and health eternally last.
But most of all, bless the love that we share,
and thank you my Lord for the memories we care.”
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
1/7/1988

Footsteps to the Stairs of Rest

Lying in my Grandma’s room, I can feel the soft country air on my body,
as the breeze dances with the window drape.
Not being able to make that final descent into night’s slumber,
I wait for grandpa to walk his footsteps up the stairs of rest, to his room of sleep.
I can see his reflection in the mirror, as he turns down his bed of comfort
and winds his time to begin another day.
He footsteps to the lamp and, with a switch, everything is stilled with darkness.
I now wait for the footsteps to echo as Grandma comes up the stairs of rest.
Jackie (Lambert) Morin
1/9/1988

Spending time on the farm was my own perfect piece of heaven. It was as if the farm allowed me to step into another world, where I no longer feared that someone was going to come and hurt me during the night. I didn’t worry that my building was going to catch on fire or that Melvin was going to start beating my mother again. I was a happy child while living with my grandparents. This time in my life also helped shape me to be the person that I am today. It taught me how to love, laugh, respect but, more importantly, how to be a child without fear. As I step into this other world once more, I lay in my bed starring out the window at the deep dark sky. I watch as the stars dance among themselves, winking at me ever so slightly. Smelling the fresh country breeze coming through the window, I feel it sweep softly across my face. I fall peacefully into night’s slumber, where I have sweet dreams and look forward to the next summer day’s adventures. Yes, grandpa, I will always remember “what was.”

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