A week ago my world got pretty dark when I found out that my Poppa passed away. Seven days later I’m not any less saddened by the news but I’ve gone through some moments that have helped me to see some things in a new way. Attending Poppa’s wake and funeral not only gave me more of an appreciation for the man but also more perspective on life in general. I learned a lot of things this past weekend – reminiscing with my family and going through photographs and trinkets – and I wanted to share them because I thought maybe, in my time of mourning, these ideas might resonate with someone else too.
Be kind. I heard and said the word kind in reference to Poppa so many times this weekend that I wish I knew a hundred more synonyms for kind. But that was the word I heard more than anything. Kind. He wasn’t perfect and I’m sure like many people he probably softened a bit with each new generation of children and grandchildren, but he had a good heart and that outshined everything. He was kind to others sometimes even to his own detriment. He genuinely cared about others and people knew that. We felt that. We will miss that.
Tell your stories. Tell them to everyone who will listen and never stop telling them. Going through some of Poppa’s things that my Dad had, I was surprised to find out so many things about him that I never knew. In a letter he wrote to his sister while in pilot training, he casually mentions that he saw Louis Armstrong play at a club over the weekend. This? This is a memory I would have loved to hear my Poppa tell me. My favorite song in the entire world is by Louis Armstrong and I never got the chance to talk to him about that. I never got the chance to hear a lot of his stories and he lived a pretty fun life. I wish I knew more. I wish I heard more. I wish that I could tell a million stories about his life, but I can’t. I have the memories we shared together and now, after his death I’m building a better picture of who he was as a person before he ever was Poppa. It’s a great picture but man, I would have loved to pick his brain about it all.
We all have stories and you may think that no one wants to hear them but trust me, someone does. Someone wants to know more about who you were as a person before you ever met them. Someone wants to know what made you who you are. Someone wants to know all of the crazy and wild things you did. Someone wants to have a million stories to remember you by. Someone wants to hear all the stuff you think is done and gone. Someone wants to know you for all of your pieces.
Keep mementos. I am not sure if the digital age is a blessing or a curse in this regard. Digitally, there is so much that can be stored and maintained for ages. But the physical things, the special little personal things, some day they will matter to someone when you are gone. Finding that letter hand written by my Poppa at least 40 years ago? That was fucking cool. Looking at his letters and pictures and newspaper clippings and being able to touch them, I felt so close to him. Once upon a time he wrote letters back home and I am so glad that he saved some of them. Having the opportunity to see those letters touched me in a way I could never possibly explain. I am glad he kept such records of his life for us to remember him by.
Appreciate your life for what it is now. I don’t think anyone questions whether my Poppa was a happy man – whether he enjoyed his life or not. I’ve had a pretty stressful go around this autumn and I’ve felt incredibly overwhelmed at times. The stress has taken over and I’ve had a hard time appreciating the good. But I have to remember what is important. Life won’t always be sunshine and rainbows but life is a gift. I don’t want to look back in 50 years and think that I wasted my days with worry instead of appreciating them. I want to look back and say “Hey, my life wasn’t perfect and it may not have always gone as planned, but I certainly made the best of it all.” I need to open my eyes to the joy in the world more often. I need to breathe deep and let the frustration go. And so do you.
Love. If you do nothing else with your life, love. Do you know why there was so many tears shed at this man’s funeral? Not just because someone died and that is sad. There were tears because of how deeply he implanted himself and his love in our lives. Even from hundreds of miles away we knew he was still thinking about us. He was proud of his children and his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. He loved us all openly. With hugs and kisses and “I love you”s and kind words and genuine interest in our lives when we sat down to talk. He loved us so much. He was so proud of all of us. He was happy just to sit and talk to us about our lives. And whether he was talking to my dad about politics until 3AM or talking to me for an afternoon about what’s happening in my life these days, he always did it with a smile. Because he was happy just to be there, talking to someone he loved.
I know that I said the physical mementos of him are special and that is so very true but what Poppa leaves behind more than anything else is a very large group of people that felt very loved. He made an impact in our lives just by loving us. It doesn’t cost any money to love someone but it will make a world of difference to them.
We didn’t idealize the man this weekend. We didn’t pretend he was never mad or angry or that he always did the right thing. We didn’t pretend he was perfect. We remembered the good times and we cried because the good man that shared those times with us is no longer around to make more. Although he might have had different plans, I am pretty sure my Poppa was happy with the way his life turned out. He was proud of what he had accomplished and he enjoyed the moments he had. This past week has been sad and this past weekend in particular was not only sad but difficult too; but looking back on Poppa’s life and talking to the rest of his loved ones, I was able to gain something new: perspective.
My life isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. But life is precious and the tough time I am going through now (and will certainly go through again) is merely a blip on what could potentially be a really amazing life story. So I’m going to keep dreaming big and loving hard. I’m going to keep falling and making mistakes and getting back up again. I am going to keep feeling feelings so deeply that sometimes it hurts.
Then, at the end of the day, I am going to take a deep breath and try as best as I can to let all of the frustration go.
And through it all, I’m going to try to do what my Poppa did.
Leave behind a legacy of love.