February 02, 2015

Goodbye Is Such a Painful Word

There are many things that I am not an expert on, one of them being how to be the "perfect grandfather."

Luckily though someone gave my grandfather, Pop, the manual sometime before I was born. I know I can't possibly say he was the best grandfather in the world because I don't know every grandfather in the world... but I'm going to say it anyway: Pop was the best grandfather that ever grandfathered a granddaughter.

When we were younger, on the somewhat rare occasions when we got to spend the night at Nana and Pop's, I knew Pop as the brusher of the hair after Nana gave us a bath and the bringer of the Dunkin' Donuts in the morning. He never let my brother, Nathan, get away with any funny business but always had a soft spot for my sister, Sam, and me. (Or maybe we just never got into anything funny like Nathan did.)

When we got older, I knew Pop as an avid reader of the obscure Catholic high school varsity basketball box scores, who always thought I didn't shoot enough. I knew him as the (somewhat critical) watcher of the Ravens, who would sometimes call my Dad at halftime just to say, "They suck, don't they?" He was the first to pour you another glass of wine and the first to reach for the Polish sausage on Christmas Eve.

I knew Pop as the only person who called me "Cole." Every time I saw him, every single time, he'd tell me at least once, "Cole, you know that I'd do anything for you." I did know, and I would have known even if he didn't tell me. I knew that if I ever asked for anything, it wouldn't even cross his mind to hesitate.

After Pop was diagnosed with colon cancer, I started visiting him more frequently. And the thing I began to realize over those six or so months is that as well as I knew Pop as a grandfather, I didn't come close to knowing the whole Pop. It was during those visits that it really hit me that the world wasn't only losing the best grandfather ever.

It was losing one of the best fathers ever. The father who loved his children so fiercely that anyone who bothered them, like the public school kids who picked on my elementary school father on the way home from school one day, got a personal visit from Pop later that evening and a few cordial words of warning.

It was losing one of the best husbands ever. The one who took on two or three jobs at a time so that my grandmother, Nana, could stay home with their kids. The one who ate macaroni and cheese seven times a week so they could save money for baby formula. The one who married Nana 58 years ago and hasn't stopped loving her since.

It was losing one of the best friends ever. When I visited Pop for the last time a week ago, I stayed for about an hour and a half. The phone, very literally, rang every 5-10 minutes I was there. Anyone who ever knew Pop was calling to see how he was because anyone who ever knew Pop loved him.

The last few months of Pop's life made me feel like one of the of the seven blind mice trying to figure out what the elephant was. I was just a little green mouse, thinking that Pop existed simply to be the most loving grandfather that I never deserved, when really there was so much more to Pop.

It wasn't until recently that I saw the whole elephant and, damn, it's one elephant the world will sorely miss.