Just a quick side note before I begin, I was going to take pictures of the snow today, but didn't have a chance. I woke up around 1130, and promptly marched outside in full snow gear to shovel my neighbor's driveway with my brother -- which happened to take 4 hours. I'll try to take some within the next few days though.
And on to the main topic. Poppy was what I affectionately knew my grandfather as. I remember hearing the story of how it came about, how they were trying to get my elder sister to say grandpa, and yet she refused and instead said poppy. And thus, Poppy it was.
I never knew my father's parents. They both died before I was even born. We have a very small extended family -- an aunt and uncle who live in Las Vegas whom I have met, but don't ever remember meeting. 3 cousins who are all grown up; some have been married and divorced and remarried, and one even has kids that are close to my age. My mom's two parents, which has now dwindled to one, and 2 more uncles, and an aunt who is married to one of them. Thus concludes the current family tree.
Out of the two grandparents I had, I was definitely closer to my grandfather. He was everything I could have possibly asked for. Warm, loving, generous, caring. The usual grandparent characteristics. Although my grandmother was sort of the opposite. While she was nice to us, I never felt warmed by her presence, and instead there was a void in my heart where a grandmotherly figure should be. But my grandfather was always open for anything I ever needed.
Poppy contracted Alzheimer's disease within the year before he died. For those who don't know, Alzheimer's attacks your brain, basically unteaching it all the things it has learned. Eventually, people don't know how to function anymore, and their internal systems no longer know how to function either, eventually shutting down, killing the person. Needless to say it was scary to think about this happening to my grandfather; it was like he had suddenly stumbled upon an hourglass that was constantly reminding him that his time was limited. It scared my mom most of all, she was going to lose her father, and soon.
As the time passed, I struggled to comprehend what was happening before me. I was in 3rd grade when it started, and could barely understand what the disease even was. I distinctly remember one time when they came to visit, and we all got in the car to go somewhere, and we hadn't even turned off my street yet, and he asked again where we were going, after someone had just told him at the house. Sitting behind him in the backseat of the van, it didn't matter I was only in 4th grade. I died inside, not understanding why this had to happen to him, the one grandparent out of 2 that I had that I actually felt I could be open and honest with, and really have in times of need.
As the holidays passed, we witnessed his functions deteriorate, to where it was difficult for him to eat, and he was having trouble remembering how to tie his shoes or brush his teeth. We all dreaded the day when he would forget how to speak.
I'm not sure to day whether this is fortunate or unfortunate, but that day never came. He had a stroke about a month before his birthday. My mom took off for New York immediately, not knowing if she would be traveling back home and still have a father alive. About a week later, he had a second stroke, and went unconscious. After awhile, the decision was made to take him off life support. It wasn't looking good at all, and it was his wish that if he was ever being kept alive as a vegetable, that we just let natural causes return him to his father.
He was really an inspiring person. He absolutely loved sailing. He demanded excellence, or at least the best effort you could put forward, but showered you in love too. He was a devout Catholic, waking up between 4 and 5am every morning 7 days a week so that he could go to church before he went to work. The priest at his funeral had nothing but praise to speak of him. He worked hard at General Electric, and was a brilliant man, accepted as a Fellow into the IEEE.
One summer I took a sailing camp and loved it. The following year, I took a few more weeks of it again, at the Manasquan Reservoir. I got my sailing permit and was finally able to sail on the reservoir by myself, in one of the bright blue little Picos. It always is a heavenly experience, and I have always loved it, even though I rarely get to do it. And I swear, that each time, I feel him with me, as he smiles down upon me from the heavens. The wind in my face softly whispers that he's there, gazing upon the sail and making sure it's not luffing, holding a steady hand on the rudder and keeping the jib and main sheets tight in his hand. When I'm sailing, I know he's there. And I know that we share that love, and everytime that makes us closer.
At his burial in a mausoleum, little fourth grade me played Taps for his service in the Navy during WWII. If you didn't already know, he was the person who inspired me to join the military. Although instead of working on ships, I'd prefer to jump out of planes instead. It was an honor to do, and I'll never forget that experience, though I haven't picked up trumpet since freshman year of high school.
Basically, he was an amazing man, who really had an influence on my life, despite the short time that he was a part of it. It's been almost ten years since he passed, but come every holiday season his lack of presence is always a solemn reminder that he is no longer with us. Although we all know he is in a better place, he is dearly missed. I can only aspire to be half as good a grandfather to my grandchildren as he was to me. Poppy, I miss you.