What a Beautiful Life

There was so much I never knew about you.

 

To me, you were always just Pop-Pop. In the early years, you were the grandpa who would come over and read whatever stories I asked for. There’s a picture of us sitting at the dining room table in my house, me with my short haircut at three years old sitting on your lap, you with large reading glasses perched on your nose, both of us intense at a My Little Pony book. You were the grandpa who brought me gifts and made up silly jokes that really didn’t make any sense, but they just sounded funny when you said them. You were the grandpa who would call up my parents every month, right on the dot, and ask to go out to dinner with us.

 

When you moved into a nursing home and then into an assisted living facility, I began to see you as the grandpa who was old. You became the grandpa who was sick, the grandpa who vacillated between various nursing homes and hospitals and your sort-of-but-not-really home in assisted living. I would visit you sometimes with my parents, maybe once a month or on holidays and other special occasions, sitting with you in your room or in the community dining room where we all made small talk for two hours. When those two hours were up, I always left the building glad to escape the old-ness of the place, breathing in the fresh air that I could not find inside.

 

When I saw you for the last time, I was struck by how different you looked. While you had been here in this very place for a while, still yourself but slowly embittered by years of dependence on others, you now looked … frail. Helpless. Like there was nothing in your eyes. Like you were about to just fold in on yourself and shrivel up into nothing. Disappear.

 

All are from the dust, and to dust all return (Genesis 3:19).

 

There were so many people at your funeral. So many people I knew or recognized, and just as many whom I did not. They were all there for you, because they had talked to you or worked with you or just shared life with you in so many ways. So many ways that I hadn’t, and so many ways that I could never experience or truly know about.

 

To them, you were more than just Pop-Pop. You were born in 1936, the eldest among five brothers. You were a son, a strong son, a grieving son who went through things I could never imagine, because you had to support your family at 14 years old, financially and emotionally, after your father died in an accident. You were a baseball player -- and that in itself is an understatement, because you breathed, ate, and drank baseball. During off seasons, you had nothing to practice with besides a broken bat and a bunch of rocks. At 18 you were signed by the NY Baseball Giants. Even after your playing days, you went on to coach a number of Little League teams because you just enjoyed spreading your love of the game to others.

 

You were a loving father of four children. You were a man who lived by the seven P’s (proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance) and always arrived an hour early, maybe two, to any event because, to loosely borrow from Vince Lombardi, “If you’re twenty minutes early, you’re late.” You were humble; to this day you never talked about the pinch-hit homerun you made, in what became the most well-known game of your baseball career.

 

You never went to college and maybe you weren’t famous, but you were known and loved by so many throughout your life. You touched the life of every person in attendance at your funeral, and countless more lives of people who could not be there. Looking around, I realized there was such an outpouring of love that day. Family members, friends, acquaintances, coworkers … they had all come, from every part of the country, for you.

 

There are many things I still don’t know about you and maybe never will. But what I do know is this: You were such a full person. Full of experiences, hardships, laughter, strength, joy. Love. You were a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend. You were a human, full of the complexities of life. A man among the ones who were made of steel.