Looking through some pictures today, I stumbled upon a picture of my opa (German for grandpa). He passed away right before I started my freshman year of high school due to stomach cancer. Its so strange how one day someone is so engraved in your every day living that you start to take for granted their presence, then they get sick and before you know it they’re gone forever… Years have passed and none of us have forgotten. The youngins (as he would have called them) either were too young to remember who he was, or were born after his passing. But for those of us who were very much there emotionally and physically, it is something that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Have you ever watched someone slowly loose themselves in a fight against their own body? If you have you know exactly what I’m talking about; if you haven’t, then you probably will never understand until it happens to you. People try to bring up the “bright side” of the way he passed by pointing out that we got to say our goodbyes and that he has lived a happy, full life. As true as both those statements are it doesn’t take the sting away from watching the life drain our of him little by little each day.
I was in middle school when I had the most fun camping trip I had ever and would continue to have. It was us four (mom, dad, my brother and I) which wasn’t out of the usual, but what WAS out of the usual was the fact that my opa and oma decided to tag along in their trailer. My oma never went camping and still doesn’t to this day, so getting her out there with us was a big deal. We spent the camping trip fishing, making camp fires and roasting marshmallows… but my favorite part of the whole trip was when my opa and oma told me the story of how they met. It was a beautiful story full of everything you would need to make a movie: action, suspense, humor, romance… it had it all. They sat side by side as they went back and fourth in narrating, interrupting each other every now and again to add in some detail. I specifically remember they held hands the entire time. I think it was that night that I decided I was going to find a love just like theirs. They were in love back then- and 40 years later they were still together with 2 kids and 4 grandchildren. It was the perfect love story. I was completely emerged in it. However, everything isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. There was a reason they tagged along with us on the trip. They had an announcement for us, more specifically Reece and I considering my parents already knew. My opa looked at us right in the eye and said he was sick. He said that he was going to start having to take a lot of medicine that was going to make him really tired so that he wasn’t going to be able to do anything for a long time. “Don’t worry about me kids, you have nothing to worry about, I’ll be fine” he said. At the time, I was 11 or 12 and Reece was 6 or 7. As you can imagine, we thought he meant that he had a flu or something. We were worried but not to the extent that we should have been. But what can I say, we were kids. We didn’t know how cruel the world could be.
Well, opa was defintely not fine. Shortly after that he stayed in the hospital. We visited quite frequently. He showed me the button on his bed that he nicknamed the “happy” button that would take all his pain away (looking back at it now I see that it was heavy pain mediations). Nothing seemed wrong with him during that time; he flirted with the nurses and laughed his booming laugh that echoed through the hallways… He looked happy and healthy. But of course, time tells a different story. He got worse and worse. The more time went on the more we found him fast asleep in his hospital bed for hours when we came to visit. His body get thinner and thinner. The best word to describe him was “frail.” It got to the point where the medicine was doing more harm than good, and it was time to let him live out the rest of his days in the comfort of his own home. For a very long time, my oma was his house nurse. He took up a permanent position on the couch, wrapped up in blankets. Some days were better than others. One day he would just stare at the wall in front of him like an empty shell of a man. Other days he would be up for talking and act somewhat normal. It was so hard to watch him lose his vibrant personality and watch him turn into the person I never thought he would be. By the very end of his life, he wasn’t even himself anymore. The cancer had completely taken over him. The thought alone could send me to tears.
I was woken up one morning by my mom. That never happened, it was ALWAYS my dad to wake me up if for some reason I needed to be woken up. I opened my eyes and there my mom was, face red, in tears, sitting on the edge of my bed. My stomach sank. I knew what had happened. “Honey, opa passed away last night.” Thats all she had to say. I turned my face into my pillow and screamed. The world closed in around me and all I could think of is that I would never hear his laugh again or lay on the couch with him under his special blanket… or hug his big beer belly again. We all knew this day was going to come. It was no surprise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it hurt any less. I waited until my mom left the room and then ran to my window and looked up at the sky. I just remember hoping with everything that I had that there is a heaven.
My opa was as good as they come. I know everyone says that about the deceased that they love, but I really do mean that about my opa. He served our military for 15 years. He made a life for himself and took care of my oma better than anyone else could have. He made everyone around him feel special and loved. I don’t think he had a single enemy in his life; in fact, I don’t thick that anyone who knew him knew him by anything less than a friend. By being alive, my opa made the world a better place, and no one can deny that. His funeral was huge. So many people showed up to pay respects to him that day. There were people who came from all across the country just to wish him farewell. Half of the people there I didn’t even recognize. I can’t explain to you what the funeral was, nor do I want to. That day was so intimate that i can’t even think about it without crying. But there is one moment that I relive every single time I think about that day…
Im sitting in the second row, facing the table where his yearn was placed. There are three decorated military men on each side of the table- all 6 of them were his friends, but one in particular was his best friend. As they lifted the box with the yearn into the ground the men lifted their hands to their foreheads, saluting him… and his best friend is breaking down. His jaw is shaking, tears are running down his face like rivers, and you could tell his knees were weak. This was the same man that escorted my opas body to the morgue right after he passed because he said my opa deserved to be looked after. The man that wouldn’t leave my omas side unless she asked him to. The man that was the best friend a man could ever ask to my opa. And as my opa entered the ground, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Thats the image I have of the worst day of my life.