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Saying Goodbye

My wedding day, shortly after my grandparents celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary

“I’m glad you’re here, Aimee. It’s almost time. I hear Grandma calling for me.”

It was August 11th, the day after my Grandfather would have celebrated his 69th wedding anniversary with my Grandma. They never got the chance. She passed away on New Year’s Day.

I left my Grandfather’s home in tears, trying to come to grips that the end was near. I called my Dad and e-mailed my brother and sister in Afghanistan. The next week was a flurry of activity.  I canceled my trip to San Francisco for a blogging conference. My father arrived from the East Coast and my sister flew in from Afghanistan for a few days so she could say goodbye. My brother, sadly, was unable to get emergency leave from the Army – something we are all still upset about. However, he wrote our Grandpa a beautiful and touching letter which we read to him. My uncle, cousins and other family members also stopped by to be with Grandpa during his final days. He was surrounded by love and the comfort of family. To die any other way is tragic, I thought to myself. This is the way it’s supposed to be. My Grandpa knew we were all there for him. He could hear our words and feel our soft touches and gentle kisses. He managed to give his great-grandson one last high-five and give him a kiss. My father caressed his forehead to soothe him, just like my grandfather did to help calm all of us when we were children. He told us he was a little scared, but ready to go. He had been preparing himself since Grandma died. She was waiting for him.

On their wedding day, 1941.

My Grandpa died on Monday, August 23rd. He was almost 91 years old.

This isn’t supposed to be a sad story and it certainly isn’t tragic. My grandparents had a good long life together and a great love story. Although I feel sad and miss them terribly, I celebrate my grandparents. They were very much a part of my upbringing and helped shape me into the person I am today. My grandparents helped instill core values into all of their grandchildren and taught us that being a good person is the most important thing in life – be loyal and loving to your spouse and family, work hard, use your potential, give back to others, and never lie, cheat, or steal to get ahead. And, perhaps most importantly, fill your home with love and laughter.

I had heard about couples in very long relationships where one would pass away shortly after the other, but I never imagined that it would happen to my grandparents. Perhaps it’s because I never imagined my life without them. But, now, here I am. Living without them. If only I could hear my Grandma laugh one more time or listen to my Grandpa talk about his beloved Dodgers (the man was a human encyclopedia of all things baseball). If only we could talk one more time about how to make the perfect Challah french toast or Matzoh Ball Soup (still working on that one). I’m glad that in the last year, I started to talk more with them about our family history and record some of our conversations on video and audio. I heard stories that I had never heard before and I feel grateful that they shared so much with me. I live with no regrets, except that I didn’t go to just one more baseball game with my Grandpa.

Life goes on and mine will, too. But I’ll miss them everyday that I keep living it.

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Mental Monday: My Grandparents’ Guide To Love

My grandmother is dying and it is not known how much longer she will be here with us. It could be days, weeks, or even hours. Up until last night, my family was very confused about what was going on since she seemed perfectly fine a matter of days ago.  But the onset of her illness came on very quickly and unexpectedly. My grandfather knew it was bad before any of us could wrap our heads around it. He told us that she was dying before we received any type of confirmation from medical doctors.

No one knows you better than yourself, unless you’ve been married for as long as my grandparents.

Theirs is a love story that spans 70 years. She is 88 years old and he just turned 90. They lived together for nearly 68 years, up until a matter of days ago. They were rarely apart. Now she lies in a hospice bed, exhausted and weak from the dying process. My grandfather visits her, holds her hand, kisses it softly and tells her he loves her. He calls her “sweetheart”, a term of endearment I’ve never heard him call her before. He is very gentle with her, even when she asks him to go away. He won’t go away. He never has and he never will.

Their marriage is far from perfect, and some have even questioned how they managed to stay together so long…including me. I would see them fight. I would see my grandmother in tears or my grandfather’s frustration and anger. But I also saw a very fierce love. It is the type of love that only comes from years of practice. They didn’t always get along, but they always loved each other and respected one another.  They love sharing stories with one another and bring up many fond memories of the past. They often talk about how they met, share stories of raising their two boys, leaving New York for California, and all their travels and adventures. They love talking about their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In essence, they constantly remind each other of all the things that brought them together and kept them together over the seven decades of their life together.

Too many couples forget about the good things that brought them together in the first place. They ignore the things that are essentially the glue to their relationship and the roots to their foundation.  It takes years to cultivate a truly deep connection and commitment. It takes work and practice. Far too many people throw in the towel when it become too challenging. If you ask my grandparents, they would tell you that it’s the challenging stuff that really makes you love and respect your partner. When it’s too easy, it’s simply boring.

A few months ago, I asked my grandmother how she managed to stay married for so long. What was her secret? She replied, my feet get too cold at night and I like having grandpa in bed to keep them warm. I laughed when she said that and found it very endearing at the time. It’s only just recently that I have come to the realization that there was actually a deeper meaning to her humorous quip. The best kind of love, the deepest kind of love, is when your partner is simply there for you when you need him or her the most. The challenges, the joys, the tears, the laughter, the warm days and the cold nights – these things are meant to be shared with those who love us. And the best love is the love that endures through all of it.

My grandparents’ love story is not over. It will always endure, even when they pass away. It is a story that is meant to be remembered and passed down to the generations. In a time when marriage seems to be as disposable as the paper used to sign a prenup agreement, theirs is the kind of  love story that is truly valuable.

I should only hope to be that fortunate.

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