Tuesday, February 11, 2014


my grandpa just died.

i mean, not just just. but. quite recently.

it was not unexpected.

but that doesn't make it any less sad.

this isn't my first rodeo. death is not a foreign concept to me. i've done the tragic, sudden-death, freak-accident, gone-before-their-time thing. i've also done the not-exactly-expected, but not-exactly-shocking, either, thing. in any event. it always happened quickly. there was no "saying goodbye." and in my mind, i always thought it would be nice to be able to say goodbye.

i didn't really think about the reality of being able to say goodbye, though. that somebody has to be slowly dying. that you know they're going to die but you don't know when. that you are basically waiting for them to die. that they are waiting to die. that dying really isn't all that enjoyable of an experience, and dragging it out over an extended period of time is not necessarily ideal.

i'm still glad i got to say goodbye. but i'm just saying. it didn't go down like it does in the movies, or at least, the movie in my mind.

another thing i didn't realize: even when you know it's just around the corner, even when you're waiting for the call, even though you're actually hoping it happens sooner than later, it hurts. it really hurts. no matter which way you cut it, death is a sucker punch to the gut. it takes the wind out of you. it's like an emotional brain freeze. it sucks.

he was my step-dad's dad. i didn't call him "grandpa," but he was mine. some people have said things along the lines of, oh, i know he was "just" your step-grandfather, but i'm sure it still hurts. thank you, captain obvious. for me, "step" is just semantic. i love words. but sometimes, a lot of the time, they don't really mean anything. or rather, they mean what you want them to mean. you know?

step-gramps and step-grams met my sister and me before they met their own grandchildren. i was 7 and she was 3. if you keep up with this blog, you may remember that on my mom's first date with step-dad, they went naked hot-tubbing with step-grams and step-gramps. i think she fell in love with them as much as she did with step-dad. "the stepdadders" were and are a kick-ass crew. i have never met anyone quite like them. we won the modern-family lotto, for sure.

i keep starting sentences and stopping them. i feel like there is nothing i could write that would adequately sum up this man and his legacy. he was a teacher. he was a spy. he was afraid of heights. he loved happy hour. he introduced me to crinkle cut salt and pepper kettle chips. along with his wife and three sons, and learning on the fly, he built a cabin in lake tahoe that three generations have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy for years and years to come.

i started this post days ago and left it open on my computer. i had written "he was a" ... and never finished my thought. DM was using my computer and filled in the blank with "a-freaking-mazing." it's sweet. and true. DM loves their family, their dynamic, their 'french-word-for-that-certain-something.' he wishes he was a stepdadder. i'm glad he isn't though, because that would have made for a very strange situation. but the stepdadders, they are the genuine article. they actually consist mainly of step-grams' family. step-gramps was a "non-blood," as they're so lovingly called. an interloper. but he was the perfect complement. he was such a good man. a great man. one of the best men.

when i saw him last weekend, physically, he was a shell of the man he once was. but he still knew what was up. my brother and uncle and grams and i were sitting on the bed, going through old photos. we came upon a few photos of a pet parakeet that they'd had 40-some-odd years ago. apparently it had just been hanging out in the backyard and they brought it inside and there it stayed, sometimes perched on their german shepherd's back. we all thought step-gramps was sleeping, but suddenly, he hoarsely whispered something. "what was that?" we asked. "e." ... "a."... "nevermore." step-grams barked out a laugh. that was the parakeet's name! after edgar allen poe. he was still sharp as a tack ;)

when i was getting ready to leave at the end of the weekend, i wondered if i should just say goodbye, or say goodbye. i knew this was the last time i would see him. i flew up precisely because i wanted to see him again before he left this world. we had plans to come up in March, to celebrate Colby's 2nd birthday, because we knew he wasn't going to be around too much longer. but my brother, who has been staying with and helping take care of step-gramps for months, said he didn't think he would last even that long. so basically, i was there to say goodbye. but i wasn't sure if i was willing, or able, to make it a "thing."

a girlfriend of mine said she had read some literature that people in this sort of limbo state often pass in their sleep after saying goodbye to their family. she had watched a documentary about it. of course, then she added, "i also cried for like three days after watching that documentary, so maybe the concept is not totally ideal." ha. thanks for the helpful insight, friend ;)

i still didn't know what i was going to do as i walked into his room. i sat down next to him and held his hand. he opened his eyes and looked up at me. i said, "hey." after a few seconds he said, "how 'bout them niners?" i laughed out loud. i don't know if he noticed or not, but i was wearing a 49ers sweatshirt. it was superbowl sunday. we had asked him the day before if he might be interested in watching the game. he hadn't been out of bed in almost a week at this point so it was a long shot. also, he doesn't even like football. or, didn't. which just made it that much funnier. i talked with him a little bit. he asked about DM, my sister, my dad, and the kids. each and every word took so much effort. it meant so much to me that he would expend what precious little breath he had left asking about the well-being of my family. he told me he really appreciated that i came all the way up to see him. i said of course. he was closing his eyes after every sentence so i knew i needed to wrap it up. i said, "well, we'll all be up here next month for Colby's birthday, but......... if you're not around..... i'll catch you on the flip side, okay?" (that's the best i could do.) he mumbled something. i couldn't understand, so i asked him to repeat it. he said, "cold hands." i smiled and said, "yep. it's cold outside. california's finally getting some rain." (of course i felt it was an opportune time to talk about the weather.) then he whispered, "cold hands. warm heart." it's funny, because it's not even something i would ever picture him saying. but it pierced my soul. and my eyeballs. which promptly started leaking. i managed to get out the words "love you." but he had already closed his eyes.

it's weird. i'm weird. i don't think i've told anyone that story, not word-for-word. and yet i'm putting it out there on the world wide web for a million seven other people to see ;) just thinking about telling it, out loud, makes me so exhausted. and i feel simultaneously embarrassed and protective about sharing such a personal moment. but it also makes me feel better to write it down, like i don't have to hold on so tight. i can let go of it now. so. there you go.

this weekend i was looking at photo albums with the kids. i pointed out a picture of us with the step-grands in tahoe last summer and said, "step-gramps is in heaven now." DM looked at me quizzically and said, "heaven? really? wow. i would not have called that one in a million years." and i guess that's fair. i'm a notorious scrooge when it comes to organized religion and the bible and "god-with-a-capital-G." but, though i may not buy in to angels and harps and pearly gates, per se, "heaven" is shorthand for what i believe. step-gramps is reunited, somewhere, with his son, with my mom, with all of the friends and loved ones who went before him. heaven is a naked hot tub party in the sky. margaritas are mandatory.
"Melvin Rumplethorpe"
(Amazing art by my little bro)


  1. I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing.

    My last words to my dad were "I'm proud of you", his response was "I'm proud of you too". The goodbye was made less goodbye-ish due to him undergoing a pretty risky procedure that might have cured him, which gave it a sort of freedom to not be a "thing".

    I cherish the fact that I got that moment with him, feel spoiled rotten by it at times, but yeah, it's a double edged sword. He was sick for two years. I would trade the goodbye and the slow release for our family for him to have been in less pain, regardless of how much it helped us.

    Thank you for reminding me that regardless of how shitty death can be, there's always beauty in there somewhere. I'm so sorry for your loss, but am strangely happy for you that your grandpa created and gave you something so beautiful.

  2. Thank YOU for sharing, Michael. I loved hearing your story and your thoughts. I'm sorry for your loss as well. I'm strangely happy for me too, to have known him and to be able to carry a piece of him with me ;) I only wish I were "evolved" enough to feel just the beauty and not the pain! Or maybe we need both edges of the sword.