A year ago today, my grandfather passed away.
His death was neither unexpected nor tragic -- he had led a long, wonderful life, and after several months of increasingly debilitating illnesses, we all knew that it was time for him to go. It was particularly sad for me, however, because with a brand new baby who had not even had his first shots yet and a unhappy 2 year old who was not reacting well to her brother's arrival, there was really no way that I could fly cross-country for the funeral.
My mother suggested that I might be able to say goodbye to my grandfather and participate in the funeral without attending if I wrote the eulogy and had my father read it for me during the service. I resisted the suggestion at first -- all that I could think about was newborn poop and toddler tantrums and lack of sleep and it had been so long since I had written anything longer than an email that I wasn't even sure that the writer in me still existed at all. In the end, the idea grew on me, though, and when Julia finally went down for a nap that day, I grabbed the laptop and started writing furiously, the words coming faster than my sleep-deprived fingers could type.
The experience of writing my grandfather's eulogy sparked many memories for me, memories of my grandfather, of course, but also of why I've always loved to write. As the words poured onto my computer screen, I remembered how good it felt to express myself on paper and how important that part of my life used to be before feeding schedules and playdates and nursery rhymes crowded that piece of me out of the way. I mulled over that missing piece for a few months before I actually started this blog, but the idea for it was born that day as I said goodbye to my grandfather in a way that turned out to be far more personal, heartfelt and cathartic than flying out for his funeral ever would have been.
This is probably far too long for a blog entry, but I'm posting my grandfather's eulogy below anyway. I miss you, Grandpa. Thank you for the many ways you touched my life, including this last gift -- a rediscovered love of writing -- which you gave to me on the day you died.
Growing up, I always imagined Walter Cronkite as looking just like my grandfather. I'd never actually seen the CBS Evening News, so I wasn't sure what exactly Cronkite looked like, but I always heard Grandpa talk about how strangers on the street would ask for his autograph thinking that he was the famous newscaster. Years later, as an adult, I actually met Cronkite. I'd seen his face plenty of times on television by then of course, and I definitely saw the resemblance, but he still looked "wrong" to me in person somehow because he didn't look exactly like my grandfather. I guess that's how much larger than life Grandpa must have seemed to me as a child, that I fully expected one of the most famous faces in America to look just like my grandfather, rather than vice versa.
As a child, I thought of my grandfather as the man who knew the mouse. I had a fabulous collection of Disney character watches thanks to him, and when he took us to Disney Land, I fully expected everyone there, from Goofy to the man who operated the teacups, to know him personally. I think it was some years later that I realized he only knew everyone's name because they wore prominent name tags. Even outside of Disney, it always seemed to me like he knew the whole world. I remember an "autographed" poster of Darth Vader he sent to my brother when we were kids. He had signed it himself, of course, but it took me forever to realize that. In my young view of Grandpa, it was perfectly reasonable to believe that he would know Vader well enough to ask for a favor like that for his grandson.
My grandfather was a salesman through and through. From the ladies' handbags and later watches he sold professionally to the ideas and opinions he sold to family and friends, he was born to sell. His success in sales was due in no small part to his ability to b.s., and no one could do that as well as my grandfather. As I grew into my teenage years, I started to realize he sometimes employed those skills for less than kosher reasons, like using the handicapped parking pass he had as a volunteer driver for the blind even when it was just us in the car. But despite the fact that my grandfather no longer seemed a superhero to me at this stage, I still admired him. In addition to golf, his active retirement included many altruistic activities, including volunteering at the hospital, driving the blind and of course, the many, many hours he put in at the LAPD. Flashing the police badge he shouldn't technically have had might have made me embarrassed at times, but the work he did to help his community there always made me very proud.
There are Kramer family traits I'm proud to have inherited from my grandfather, like a desire to contribute and give back to my community, and those I could do without, like the stubborn streak a mile long that runs through all of us Kramers. I'm sure I have his b.s. gene to thank in large part for my successful public relations career and I know my daughter has him to thank for her beautiful blue eyes. I'm so sad that Grandpa's no longer with us and even more heartbroken that I can't be there with my family to say goodbye to him. But I'm grateful that he's not suffering any more and I'm especially grateful for all of the years I had with him -- how many women get to dance with their grandfathers on their wedding day or see them hold their great grandchildren in their arms? Most of all, I'm grateful that Grandpa will live on for me in so many ways -- when I catch myself refusing to believe that the person I'm arguing with might actually be right, when I look into the eyes of my children, and whenever I see Walter Cronkite.