Two years ago today, my grandfather died after a prolonged illness and eight months of travels between hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.
Before his illness, my grandmother had traveled the same path: hospital, rehab, hospital, rehab...for eight months until we were finally able to get her home...three days after my grandfather got himself into an ambulance and to the emergency room. Like two ships passing in the night they were, except instead of ships they were ambulances and it wasn't an ocean so much as it was 10th Avenue.
Sixteen months is a long time to have two people you love at death's door.
Sixteen months is a long time to be afraid of the phone ringing, to spend hours in the emergency room, to talk to social workers and home health aids, to sit in an intensive care unit and then in hospice.
Sixteen months is a long time.
In a lot of ways those sixteen months, and in particular his last eight months on earth, robbed my grandfather of his legacy. Instead of being able to conjure up happy memories of him after he died, I often found myself thinking and talking about those last sixteen months. About how strong he was when my grandmother was sick. About how sick he was before he died. I think this must be something a lot of people who experience the death of a loved one after a prolonged illness must go through. For me, it was like I had a brick across my brain that I couldn't see through to happy memories of him.
After Pop died we were all kind of in a haze. No more hospital, no more
doctors, no more needles and beeping machines and strangers walking in
and out of the room. Just visiting Nanny, in her house, without Pop.
In March, my parents came over with my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Richy and my bridesmaids for lunch after we went shopping for dresses. My Mom brought her percolating coffee pot, since we only had the Keurig and I knew everyone would want coffee after lunch. She put the coffee on the stove and turned the heat on. I was in the living room and the smell of the coffee percolating on the stove hit me like a punch in the gut.
I'm pretty sure Pop never made the coffee. But after every dinner, he would sit in the living room while dessert came out. The coffee would go on the stove, the smell would waft through their house and someone would yell some variation of "DAD DO YOU WANT COFFEE" or "KATIE ASK POP IF HE WANTS COFFEE"!
More than anything I had experienced since he died, the smell of coffee percolating on my stove made me feel like he was there. Like he was sitting on my couch, waiting for cake.
On this day last year, I bought myself a Coffee Coolatta (something Pop decided he loved when he was sick) my very first one since he died, and toasted him in heavan. I think that was wrong.
Sick Pop liked Coffee Coolattas.
Healthy Pop, regular Pop, liked hot coffee with a tiny tiny bit of milk (and don't think he wouldn't give it back to you if you made it too light).
Regular Pop liked to take naps sitting up on the couch watching football with my Dad and Uncles. He liked to make fun of Dick Clark (post-stroke) on New Years Eve (ironic since he too was a stroke survivor).
He was literally the worst person to speak to via phone. He said "hello" before he picked the receiver up to his mouth and his notorious mumbling was made even more incoherent by the phone line (and God forbid he was on his cell phone).
He made the best meatballs and these incredible eggs with dried sausage in them. He cooked chicken cutlets and zeppoles and lasangna and macaronni and beans. He loved Chinese food. He was happiest when we were all in his house on Sundays, when he would meet us on the stoop and wave to us as we drove away.
Two years is a long time.
But for me, its enough time to stop remembering all the sad things that led up to his death. Little by little, I am able to remember to remember regular Pop, my Pop, clearer and clearer.
And so, he lives in my percolating coffee pot. Which I refused to give back to my Mom partially because I like how it made coffee but also because the smell makes me feel like Pop is still alive, visiting me in a house he was never able to see.
He lives when I make scrambled eggs in butter and when I have a cold and put a box of tissues in my car next to me. He lives when we sit around his kitchen table with Nanny, when I make chicken cutlets for my friends, when I find a kick-ass parking spot and park in it with my right arm flung over the passenger seat and my left hand open on the steering wheel.
But mostly he lives in my memories, which two years after his death I am finally starting to take back from the grief.
He lives in my heart.