You don’t get to 50 without saying goodbye to a few family members and some close friends along the way.
I don’t know if my Grandfather’s passing affected me so much because it was unexpected, or the fact that my life changed after his death.
It was already a summer of change. My parents had been discussing a potential move from parochial school to public, due to the rising costs of tuition for six children. There were no discounts for the large families the Roman Catholic Church highly encouraged, and my Dad, working two jobs could not keep up with all of the expenses.
Although my brothers were eager to leave the strict nuns and enter junior high at the local public school, I was heartbroken to leave a place where I had thrived. My parents were also concerned about the changing neighborhood which no longer felt safe after the riots of 1968 in the District, a mere stone’s throw from our neighborhood. They had long conversations after dinner, often debating whether to leave the area completely, or to simply hang on.
In the midst of these discussions summertime arrived, and our usual July 4th celebration was upon us. In years past we had hosted big cookouts, but this year only my paternal grandparents were celebrating with us. Our neighbor down the hill had recently added a small above ground pool. She invited us over for a swim.
While my Grandmother and Pop-Pop sat on lawn chairs on the hill, we showed off our swim strokes, hand stands and cannonballs. Frequent calls of, “hey, Pop-Pop watch this” were followed with claps and a thumbs-up from my Grandfather.
Later, we enjoyed our dinner eaten outdoors on the picnic table. Then Pop-Pop heard the Good Humor Man ringing his bell, and took us out front to get some ice cream. If there was anything my Grandfather loved more than Dutch Master cigars, it was ice cream.
We sat on the hill licking our treats as the sky darkened and the fireworks began. Sleepy from all the sun and swimming we kissed our Grandparents goodbye and waved as they drove off in the dark.
That was the last time I saw my Pop-Pop. Two weeks later he suffered a massive stroke and died. He was 65 years old.
His death completely rocked my world. It was the first time I had been to a wake, and a funeral. It was the first time I saw my Dad cry. It was the first time I understood that people we love die. His death had a watershed effect on our lives. Changes were happening all around me, whether I liked it or not.
I spent a couple of weeks at my Grandmother’s apartment. The family decided she should not stay alone. By the time I was back at home, decisions were made. I learned a second lesson: life is a series of transitions.
We did change schools that fall, and moved away the following summer. My Dad injured on the job, was forced to change careers, and my Mom re-entered the workplace after many years of staying home to take care of us. We moved to Florida soon afterwards, and left our extended family back in Maryland.
Pop-Pop’s death changed me as well. No longer a child, I realized that life was fragile, time was finite here on Earth, and change was inevitable. Transition time began the summer of my tenth year, when my world changed.
I still miss my Pop-Pop, especially in the summertime when the ice cream man rolls into the neighborhood.