sleep is never a problem for me. I can sleep anywhere. When H and I first met he played on a dart league and I used to go and sleep in a booth in the bars while they played. I've slept through babies screaming and through major construction.
Tonight I can't sleep.
My grandfather is dying. Not in the "we're all going to die; he's 90, etc" sense, but in the very real sense of dying. Minute by minute. His kidneys are no longer functioning, his heart is failing and he's had at least one stroke. Second by second his life is ending. I can't sleep through it.
My grandfather is a patriarch in the true sense of the word. If it weren't for him, my entire extended family would have parted ways long ago. He had four children and four wives. I'm not sure who caused more trouble. His investments helped me buy my house and take 6 months off with my babies. He paid for my room and board my first year at college to make sure I went away to school. He bought me my first car. and my second. He bought me my first diamond earrings and ring. He never missed my birthday, although sometimes he'd remember in October. He had a fantastic garden and grew the biggest squash in westchester county. He would always stop for a hotdog and as late as last year bought me ice cream cones whenever I drove him to the doctor. He basically built my mother's house and just a few years ago, she came home to find him underneath her kitchen sink, fixing the drain. He was 86 and was tightening the pipes by hand. That year he also built her a pool deck.
He told great stories about his younger days. Most of them involved him getting arrested or beating someone up. A few months ago he lamented to H that he could no longer make a good fist, so how on earth was he going to punch anyone. We didn't mess with him. He once pulled the phone out of the wall while my mother was on it. She was a teenager and she talked too much. She still does. He kept us all in line. One year at Christmas my aunt complained that she should get a larger gift since she was the oldest. My mother threw a fit and didn't speak to her sister the entire year. The next Christmas, he gave everyone their gifts and told my aunt hers was more since she was the oldest. She got an extra dollar.
He taught us all how to behave and how to be respectful. You didn't enter without personally greeting him or leave without saying goodbye. He danced at my wedding and complained that I couldn't keep up. He stuck around to see the babies. Actually, we blame him for them being twins. When we told the family last Christmas that I was pregnant, he said, "Good, it should be twins. It's time for more twins in this family". I told him that was a terrible thing to wish on someone. Three weeks later, I had an ultrasound with an extra baby. He thought it was very funny. When the babies were born and they were in the NICU, he made my mother drive him the hour to see them. When they got to the hospital, she offered him a wheelchair since the NICU was in the back of the building and not an easy walk. He made it in on his own two feet and held both babies for almost an hour. We gave him a picture of him holding the two tiny bundles and it's sitting on the table next to his recliner where he spends most of his time these days. He told my aunt that they keep him awake at night; he can hear them crying. So for Christmas this year I gave him a picture of them laughing. It's sitting right next to the first one.
When he dies, there will be a lot of blame being passed around and I'm sure my mother and her siblings will come to blows about who should have done what to help him. But I know he lived a hard life and he's tired. He's been too tired to fight for a year or so now. I don't want him to go. I feel like there are so many things that I want to ask about his life. Stories that no one else will know now. He was the youngest of 10 children. His father came from Italy and carried an anvil in his arms up the train out of the city to start the iron works. His mother was the sister of his father's first wife and she came over to raise her sister's children when she was ill. She married her brother-in-law and had a baby 6 months after her sister's last child. No one talked about it. There was a set of fraternal twins, but I don't know which sister's children they were and I don't remember if they were girls or boys. I wish I could go to the hospital tomorrow with a notebook and write everything down. But it's too late. And I feel guilty that I haven't seen him since Christmas. I feel that I should have done more. Mostly I feel like I ran out of time. There couldn't be enough time to thank him for everything he's done for me. If it weren't for him, I might not have gone to college, I wouldn't have bought this house and I most likely wouldn't have had twins. If I tried to thank him, he'd just shrug it off anyway. As far as he's concerned, that's what you do for your family.
So in honor of my grandfather and his last few days here with us, here are some photos of the man who taught me what family was: