I was lucky enough to know personally one of the greatest love stories this world has ever seen. My grandparents were remarkable, happy, loving people whose number one priority was their family. They were a blessing to whoever knew them and we all knew that.
My grandma became ill around 2005, I want to say. Years and years of smoking had finally caught up to her and her lungs weren’t happy. I remember spending countless hours at the hospital but never being allowed to see her. I was very young and my mom wanted to protect my sister and I from seeing our grandmother in such a bad state.
One night, the snow was flurrying outside and I was bored with playing make over games on the hospital computers so I asked to see her. My mom hesitantly agreed and led my sister and I to my grandma’s room, not letting us pass the doorway. There she was. I’ll never forget seeing her hooked up to all the machines, looking almost nothing like the woman I had known my whole life. I turned to my mom, thanked her and went back to the waiting room.
I remember a few days later my mom told me grandma had opened her eyes, something she hadn’t done in weeks. My mom and her siblings had propped my grandma up to look out at the snow falling and called to her to open her eyes. When she peeked open, it was a small glimmer of hope that all of this would be temporary and she would recover.
Obviously having to quit smoking cold turkey while she stayed in the hospital, my grandpa vowed to quit if she made it out and he would pray to God that if my grandma recovered he would never let her lift a finger again. He didn’t leave her side and I remember seeing the pain in his eyes. He was terrified that he would have to continue living with out his one true love and as a seven or eight year old, that was one thing I did understand through all of that.
Let me back up a little bit and tell those of you who don’t know how this story began. My grandpa was the definition of a “greaser” and he never grew out of it. In pictures, he always had his hair slicked back, a pack of cigarettes rolled in the sleeve of his white t-shirt and had one lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I like to call him the original bad ass because that’s exactly what he was. He started smoking when he was six years old and had his first tattoo by 12, which if I’m correct was the classic “MOM” with a heart around it.
My grandma was a sweet, pretty, petite cheerleader who won homecoming queen in high school. Her and my grandpa met on a blind date and the rest is history. They were married by 18 and had my mom by 19. They got busy and also had my aunt and two uncles. They all squeezed in a small house with one bathroom and life was never extraordinarily easy but they had each other and that was most important.
Fast forward to when my mom and aunt and uncles started to get married and have kids. The family was constantly growing and every holiday was spent at grandma and grandpa’s house. Every. Single. Holiday. Grandma would prepare all the food and had correlating decorations all through out the house. I remember it always being so loud and so full of personality with all of us in that tiny house.
Every Fourth of July, my grandpa was the hit of the neighborhood. He would roll out this giant line of bright red fire works that reached from the end of his driveway all the way to the end of the street. This was always the finale at the end of the night and all of us kids would go inside and plug our ears. It was so loud; I’m surprised the cops were never called.
After my grandma got sick, the holidays were divided amongst their kids. My mom took thanksgiving, my aunt took Easter, one uncle took the Fourth and the other took Christmas. I became very bitter because of this. At each of these holidays, I would pout or go hide in bedrooms because all I wanted was to be back at grandma’s house. I was never good with change and I knew that this would cause a ripple effect of just that.
A random story that means everything to me now is about the wild peacocks that visited my grandparent’s everyday. My grandpa was like an “animal whisperer”. Squirrels would come up and eat Oreos right out of his hand. He loved his dogs and they loved him. But one day, two wild peacocks showed up in their lawn. My grandpa fed them lettuce and sunflower seeds and they came back every day after. My grandma named them Joseph and Mary and they would perch on the front porch, lean towards the window and “watch TV” with my grandpa.
My grandparents were both very sick around this time and unable to leave their house often. These two birds brightened their day and gave them something to look forward to. Joseph and Mary had a bunch of babies and whenever they shed their feathers, my grandpa would collect them and give them to us grandkids.
These birds became something so much more than just visitors at my grandparents house. The women in my family all have matching necklaces that have a beautiful peacock dangling at the bottom. Anytime I see a peacock, whether it’s a real one or one on a shirt at the mall, I like to think it’s my grandparents saying “hi”. Whenever I see one, I stop and say “hi” too.
In 2013, my grandma’s health began to decline. I don’t remember what exactly happened but she ended up being put in a hospice home. I didn’t think much of it honestly because like before, I just thought she would get better.
My mom and her siblings were at her side almost every day. I would go visit on weeknights here and there and things slowly started to go south with her health. Like any patient, she would have good days and bad days. Again, I just thought she would get better. My mom also sheltered me a lot from what was really going on and I thank her for that now.
The last time I saw my grandma, we had the best day. My mom, my aunt Jen and I got Iced Tea (my grandma’s favorite) and popcorn and grabbed the funniest movie we could find. “The Heat” was the winner and it seemed to be a good day health wise for my grandma. I held her hand as she slowly munched on her popcorn and dozed in and out of sleep.
We would all start laughing at the dirty jokes in the movie and she would wake up, laugh with us and slip back into her sleep and things were happy. I thank God for giving me that as my last memory with my grandma.
She passed away a few days later and our world was in shambles. My grandpa had lost his best friend, wife and partner. We all lost a mother, a grandmother, a friend and above all, an incredible soul.
The year after my grandma passed away was extremely hard. As a family we had to bear holidays with out her, my grandpa’s health began to decline and taking care of him was difficult. The original bad ass was also extremely stubborn and I mean EXTREMELY. But we did all we could for him and loved him unconditionally.
In early November 2014, he went to the same hospice house that my grandma had been at a year before. His health went a lot faster than my grandma’s had. He was a very small, weak and frail man so his body could only take so much.
The night before he passed, I was there. We were all in his room and I watched as his chest shivered as it slowly moved up and down. Every once in a while it would stop and I would hold my breath until I saw him breathe in again.
It was quiet when we heard someone playing a violin in the hall. My mom looked at me and said “no way” as she got up and looked out the door. A young, blond-haired boy was practicing in the hallway. My mom teared up as she turned to me and told me that a few days before grandma passed, that same exact boy was playing his violin in the hall. We walked up to the boy and asked if he had been coming here since last year. He looked down and nodded yes. His family member was very sick and practicing his violin always made his loved ones happy. We thanked him and my mom and I held hands as we walked back into my grandpa’s hospice room.
I woke up the next day to a call from my mom and she didn’t need to say anything. I knew. My grandpa had passed away exactly six minutes into the day. Six minutes into November 20th. The same exact day my grandma had passed away a year before.
After almost 50 years of marriage and one year apart, their souls were finally reunited in heaven. They are no longer in pain. They are my guardian angels.
Today marks two years since my grandma left this earth and one year since my grandpa joined her. I was so lucky to have almost 19 years of my life with them and to be able to tell their story today. Hug your loved ones a little tighter today. Thank you for reading and God Bless.