I learned several things about my Grandpa after he died. Most importantly, he was prepared. Although his death seemed sudden to us, he had everything in order. In the months before his death he worked harder than his heart could take. He must have had a premonition. He was a few years older than my Grandma and had always talked as if he would die first. Because of this, he tried to make sure she was taken care of after he was gone. He had a list of tasks to complete before he died, including selling their house and getting a more manageable condo.
Ready for Death
On December 1st, 2017, my Grandpa checked the last thing off on his list. He and my Grandmother signed a loan to borrow money for some repairs they wanted to make to their new condo. After going to the bank and doing a few errands, their last stop was the grocery store, where my Grandpa stocked up on his favorite gluten-free treats. On the way home he began complaining of indigestion.
“Sal, you’ve had more indigestion in the last week…we’re going to the hospital.”
“No, no Aggie, I’m fine. Just mix me up my apple cider vinegar drink when we get home.”
My Grandma got in the house first and started fixing his drink. She heard the door open and then a loud crash. She ran to him. When she saw his mouth hanging open she knew right away that he was already gone.
Death did catch him by surprise
Most families experiencing an unexpected death would be dealing with a nightmare–no will, trying to find the essential paperwork. My grandparents had bought their condo about three months before this. They barely had any furniture because the floors had been redone. But, in the closet was everything we needed–organized and clearly labeled. He had a will, funeral plans, old taxes. He made sure everything would be taken care of and especially that his wife would be taken care of. For example, he chose to receive a smaller pension during his lifetime so that she would still have an income after he passed away. He thought of everything.
Grandpa the writer
We discovered something else as were going through his files–he was a writer. We found a folder full of poems, most of them dated in the early fifties, when he was in high school. They were filled with themes you would expect from a teenager–loneliness, darkness, trying to find meaning and purpose–but they were pretty well written. He even seemed to express anger at God in some of them. We were surprised by this because he had such strong faith. Later, my grandmother told a story that shed some light on this. “When he was a kid his parents let the doctors do some experimental surgery on him. He couldn’t play sports or do the things he loved after that, so he became angry with God.” I overheard this from another room and shouted, “That’s why his poems are so dark.” There were sounds of revelation from everyone. His anger at God somehow validated my own. It made it okay for me to say to God, “I want him back. Why did you take him away?”
My favorite piece of his that we came across was entitled “Growing Up Italian.” He wrote it for a high school English class. I began reading it outloud to my family but stumbled when I came to a word in all caps that seemed like gibberish–MED-E-GONES. I read it several times– MED-E-GONES, MED-GONES. “Try reading in an italian accent!” “Oh, Mericans!”
Death comes suddenly
My Grandpa was a faithful husband, father and provider. He also served the Church as a deacon in a quiet, humble manner and we are only beginning to learn about all the people he served and touched. Sometimes he would send me his homilies, which were insightful, but accessible. His last, and best homily was his death. Although it seemed like the worst timing ever, God’s perfect timing was not lost on me. Two days after he died was the First Sunday of Advent. In the Catholic Church, Advent is a time to remember Christ’s first coming, but also to look forward to the second. It is a time to ask: am I prepared to meet Christ? When Christ refers to his second coming he warns us that it will take us by surprise. The Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent contains one of these warnings: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming…May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
With his death, Grandpa showed me what “suddenly” means in a visceral, concrete way. He was not caught sleeping, but going about his work. He was ready. I just didn’t realize how suddenly, “suddenly” would come.