Yesterday I left a hot and sunny Chicago day and returned home to a cold and snowy Denver evening. I twisted the key in my apartment door and hesitated. Inside awaited a reality that I was not ready to accept.
I still am not ready.
In my apartment, darkness blotted the wood floor and my plants curled their sad leaves away from the dreary sky. My dog nuzzled his long snout against my thigh, his jaw in the shape of a sorry half-smile. Oversized snowflakes plunged past my window to their melty demise.
My visit to the suburbs of Chicago, to my grandfather’s sprawling and outdated ranch style home, was my second in only two weeks. I spent my first visit curled up next to my grandpa in his bed. We scratched lottery tickets, ate takeout, watched sports and movies, sorted old photographs and reminisced. I spent this past weekend gazing at his bedroom floor, at the place where his bed was before it was removed.
Where it was before he died.
Jewish tradition dictates that mourners tear their clothing upon the death of a loved one. This custom symbolizes a torn heart, an external representation of the pain, suffering and sorrow felt in the wake of tragedy and loss. On a deeper level, Judaism views the body as only a garment that wears a soul. And a soul can never die. Beyond the surface of our worldly perspective, nothing can separate us.
To symbolize my torn heart, and to preserve the soul of a good, loyal, kind, generous and stubborn man, I have attempted to pay tribute to my grandpa with the words below. I am grateful to have shared this eulogy at his funeral, even if the Rabbi was not thrilled with my bacon talk.
I think my grandpa would have had a good laugh.
Ross The Boss, February 28, 1928-October 3, 2017
The year my grandfather was born, a pound of bacon cost $0.47. By the time I came along, the price of bacon had risen to $3.49 per pound and my grandpa had already lived sixty of his eighty nine years. By his own admission, he was an alter Kacker from the very moment we met. But his old man status never stopped us from bonding over bacon at breakfast. Diligent Jews we were not.
It was there over those bacon slices that I, in my earliest years, and my grandpa, with his jolly belly and oversized glasses, started our relationship. It was a connection that grew and deepened with each subsequent year.
My grandpa was the trusty voice on the other end of a phone. A flip phone to be exact. He was a “howdy do” of solace and support. And I am grateful for his love of the phone because shortly after he got a computer, he sent his first and only email to me, the entire contents of which were in the subject line.
In our weekly phone calls, we talked about football point spreads and bet on games. We talked about his old Army days, how drinking too much Schlitz got him in trouble. We talked about the heating & air conditioning business, how in recent years it had become a young man’s game. And yet somehow, though a young man he was not, he still had skin and teeth in that game until only a year ago. I guess 88 is as good of an age as any to retire.
I spent last weekend curled up in bed next to my grandpa. We watched Northwestern football, Cubs baseball, and black and white westerns. I didn’t know it at the time, but those days were my Grandpa’s final days on this Earth. During those days, I asked him what he learned in 89 years.
He told me to go with the flow, that life is ever-changing and there’s no use in complaining about it. He told me life is fleeting, to take chances and live in the now because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
There is a quote that goes, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” My grandpa had both.
Beloved father and grandfather. Army Corporal. Union man. Scratcher of tickets. Lighter of fireworks. Griller of ribs. Frequenter of greasy spoons. Chain smoker. French toast maker. Beanie baby collector. The eternal optimist.
Ross. The boss. The best. Rest easy now, rest easy among the stars.