Goodbye to Grandpa

Lone hot rod. © Cheese Curds and Kimchi

OK. I promised a post to catch you all up, but that would be a freaking novel. So, I'm breaking this up into pieces.

First, I told you a bit about The Man's father, Grandpa. I have written about him HERE and HERE. It was about 4 1/2 years ago when he was first diagnosed with dementia and the progress of his disease was swift.

The Man's mother was amazing through this whole process. Grandpa had always taken care of the bills, autos, driving, etc. As he lost his ability to do those things, Grandma took on the added responsibilities, in addition to caring for him.

One of the most impressive things she did, at least in my view, was learning to drive. She could drive, of course, but she learned to drive Grandpa-style. He had a passion for traveling and could drive 10 hours or more a day without fatigue. They traveled all over the country in their motorhome for years. He took care of everything car-related in their household. Up to the point of his illness, I don't believe Grandma had even filled her gas tank before.

When it became apparent that Grandpa should no longer drive, Grandma picked up where he left off. She learned to drive in inclement weather. She navigated mountain passes. She drove all over Washington and Oregon to keep up with visiting family. And for two summers she made the 2,000 mile drive between Washington to Wisconsin so we could continue our annual summer visit tradition. He loved being on the road and she wanted him to enjoy that as long as he could. Her dedication to him and ability to tackle new things (keep in mind, she's 70-something...) was awe inspiring.


We found out the day before Thanksgiving that Grandpa wasn't doing well. He'd been living in a memory care facility for the past 11 months. His disease had progressed to a point that it was impossible to care for him at home anymore, although Grandma continued to spend her days with him at his new home.

The Man headed to Washington right away, and I followed with LM four days later. We ended up staying there for two weeks.

December 3 was Grandpa's last day with us. He died the day before his 75th birthday. His final days were spent surrounded by family, all sharing stories about our years together. I know he would have loved that. Perhaps that's why he took his time leaving. He always did love a good party.

For me, one of the hardest moments was bringing LM into Grandpa's room. Grandpa was unconscious by then, and LM was a bit confused why this man was laying down and not talking. It was the first time that the two had met. The Man held LM near Grandpa, and LM reached out to pat his hand. I wish Grandpa could have seen what a great father his son is. He would be so proud.

When Grandpa was ready to let go, he went gently and quietly.

We are doing OK. Although we all saw this day ahead of us for months, it still catches you by surprise. It's the finality that shocks your heart. The knowing that you won't see him again, hear his laughter again. Acknowledging our loss is what makes this so difficult. But knowing that he is at last at peace, no longer tormented as the memory of who he was and his family faded from his mind.

It's also difficult not to be able to share the greatest joy in our life with him. I never really thought about how much it means to share your child with others. But watching your parents create a relationship with your child changes and deepens your relationship with them. I wonder what LM and Grandpa's relationship would have been like? 

In the days since his passing we were busy planning for his memorial service. Grandpa was a well known person and beloved teacher in our small home town--we surmised that the small church he attended may not have enough room to hold all the attendees of the service. We were right. Nearly 400 people crowded the high school gymnasium for his memorial service. It's the only building in town big enough, and it's also a place where Grandpa spent countless hours cheering on students for the past 20 years. He was a high school sports supporter to the core and continued to attend every basketball and football game, and a fair amount of wrestling matches, long after his children had already graduated from high school.

The service was lovely. Both of his sons spoke, and we had a sharing time where people came and told stories about him. A difficult proposition when you are feeling the sharp pangs of loss, but it was a wonderful tribute. He was a very funny man, and it was interesting that the stories his sons and others shared were filled with lots of humor.

He would have liked that.

Catching up: family time

Part II on the catch up posts. Been trying to get this stuff down before I forget, but not enough hours in the day lately!

These past few weeks have been exhausting and tough. But there were also unexpected wonderful highlights. The biggest change for me has been my new understanding of our family and being able to see them in a new light.

(A little background: The Man and I are from the same small hometown. Both of our parents still live there. We moved away in 1994 and since then, haven't stayed more than a week at a time. This visit, although for sad reasons, granted us two solid weeks of family time. It's made it all the more apparent that we need to find a way to see them more often. It's also left me feeling terribly homesick.)

This was Little Man's first time meeting most of our family. We hadn't made the cross-country trek yet (couldn't bear to travel again!) so he'd only met a handful of folks (my parents and The Man's mother/brother/family) who had come out to Milwaukee. He had yet to meet the rest of the huge clan and he did it with his usual unabashed style. He is rarely shy and if he is, it only lasts a few minutes before his curiosity gets the better of him.

He jumped into things very quickly. He's a coper, that's for sure!

He seemed to recognize and be immediately comfortable with my parents. (We iChat every weekend--guess that really helps!) He especially loved hanging out with my dad, AKA his Papa. (Could it be because Papa lets him get away with everything???) Grandma tried to steal as many kisses as possible, which he didn't mind.

LM also LOVED spending time with his cousin. She's actually his second-cousin, I think (what do you call your niece's kid?) and she's only 5-months older than him. They are a lot alike. Both super high energy and love to run. It was so fun to watch the two of the together! I think they wore grooves in the flooring from the kajillion circles they made around the living room.

Lots of my family came to my parents to see LM over the course of the two weeks. And on The Man's side, tons of family were coming into town for Grandpa's final days, so there were many people to meet at the other Grandma's house too.

So many great memories from these past few weeks: the overwhelming happiness I'd feel to see LM sitting contentedly on my dad's lap; the joy on LM's face as he jumped into the melee of cousins doing sprints around the house; watching the adult cousins patiently follow him through his tours of the nursing home (and give us a much-needed break!); watching great-grandpa perch on the edge of a chair so he could play some game LM made up with the coasters (to which we never really understood the rules); seeing LM pat the hand of Grandpa during his final days; I could go on and on. He loved the cacophony of family at The Man's home too, and had a blast with his teen cousins who doted on him.

I learned the pride a mama feels as she shares her children with the world, and especially with family. I'd never really felt that before. I loved sharing the joy that is Little Man. His smile lights up a space, or as his great-grandmother says "he has a smile that could melt snow." I felt such a feeling of happiness to see the excitement of our family as they got to know him.

I can't stop thinking about this since we've been home. I saw sides of my family members that I hadn't seen before---maybe because I was seeing them through LM's perspective. But I believe that seeing how people treat your child gives you more insight to who they are.

Mostly though, I realized that LM's relationships with each person in our family are unique. And to watch those relationships grow is one of the gifts of parenthood. We wouldn't have been able to watch that happen if we weren't home for such a long period of time.

As much as LM belongs to our family (theoretically speaking---I don't mean it like we own him or anything), I begin to understand that they also belong to to him. They will help him learn and grow and experience life in ways that we can't. Each person he spends time with adds more to his understanding/love of our large family, but also contributes to who we are as an immediate family.

That realization makes me start to acknowledge something--being so far away from our family is going to be even more difficult now that we are a threesome.

So, even though our time home was sad, I left there feeling full. Knowing that Little Man was loved. By so many. Truly loved. And welcomed. And that means everything to me.


Finally finalizing!

I've been bad. Yes. Very bad.

There's so much to tell you all about. I just haven't had a minute to do it.

But I will soon. Promise.

Today, all you need to know is that we are finally finalizing! We are so very thrilled and excited and joyous. Words can't begin to explain how I feel about this. About being officially belonging to such a wonderful and fantastic little boy.

But I can't do it now. Because I still have hours to go before court and I'm already crying.

Will share all the details soon!


Friday Flotsam 12.2.2011


He tears down the hallway, dodging an unused walker parked against the wall. He turns the corner and the room echos with the "clop clop clop" sound of his shoes slapping against the tile. He lets out a squeak of joy, the smile spread wide across his face as he approaches their table.

He stops fast and shoots his hand up above his head, giving his signature wave. He looks from person to person, as if he's greeting each one personally.

Slowly, the gray heads lift. They turn away from their lunch trays filled with soft food, and look for the source of the commotion.

Their eyes widen. They reach out their knarled hands to him. Some begin to coo at him. And then smiles spread over their faces too.

It's a magical moment to see the very old respond to the very young.


We've spent the past several days at a home for memory impaired people where The Man's father has lived for the past year. He was diagnosed four years ago with severe dementia, likely Alzheimer's, and now this vibrant, loving, and joyful man is at the final days of his life.

The Man flew out on Friday. Little Man and I joined him on Tuesday. (I won't go into the details on our travels other to to say it involved cancelled flights, an exhausted toddler, and a fair share of screaming. But we made it.) The return to our hometown has been difficult for the obvious reasons.

But it has also been joyous.

It's the first time that our extended family have met Little Man. And the first time for him to meet his Grandpa on daddy's side. While we are with Grandpa at the nursing facility, The Man's family gets to spend time with our Korean tornado. And when we go home, my side of the family is enjoying him. (For those of you that didn't know, The Man and I are both from the same small town.)  He has met his cousins (there are 4 other 1-year-olds in our family!) and they've had rollicking good times. Little Man has been beaming from ear-to-ear.

There's also been joy as I've seen our son's outgoing personality bring smiles to the other residents who live at Grandpa's nursing facility. He's quite a social butterfly and he loves to run through the dining area at lunchtime, waving, smiling, and occasionally, handing toys to people. I admit that I would love him to be a bit more reserved with strangers and clingy (I know that's my attachment issue and not his) but I also admire his confidence and am proud of it.

I'm learning more about how Little Man and I work together as mother and child. Sometimes in their excitement the residents approach Little Man a little too forcefully (several women have attempted to pick him up or take him from my arms). He isn't an outwardly expressive child and he wouldn't cry or throw a fit if they were to pick him up. But I know his signs of stress---they are subtle. Signs that I have learned in these past 6-months. I step in to shield him from their embrace or politely refuse to let them hold him. He seems to relax more, knowing that I am there to keep him safe.

And there's also been joy in some of his milestones this week. He also started signing to us---he uses the word 'please' often. Occasionally he'll do 'more'. We knew he could do them, but he's just stubborn and refused. So it's really great that he's finally chosen to communicate!

And he's started calling me Mama. Not sure if it was his stubborn nature or he just didn't know what to call me, but he hasn't called me that in all the months he's been home. These past few days he's started saying it! When he's crying. Or happy. Or wants something. He doesn't say it alot yet, but I wasn't prepared for how deeply this would touch me each time I hear it.
This is such a bittersweet time at home for us. We experience these joys as we wait for such a sorrowful moment. Grandpa hasn't passed yet, but we know it's a matter of time. Until then, we stay with him, surrounding him with love.

I suppose an upside to death is that it helps the living remember the fragility of our lives. Today I am reminded not to hold on too tightly to the fears in life. To enjoy the small successes.

And to take time to marvel at the brilliance of a small child at the beginning of their life, reaching out to those at the end of theirs.


To play: How to make bathtub puffy paint

To decorate for the holidays: Ditto

To keep them entertained: 25 indoor activities to keep your toddler occupied this winter

To splunk: Make a cave

To remember: Savor it anyway

To be Superfly: Give little shoes the superhero treatment

To eat! Tofu Jeon