My grandfather used to joke that when he died, he wanted to gift everyone who came to the wake a Budweiser. This was years before he really got sick. Years before any of us could imagine, mind you, fathom the idea of planning his funeral arrangements.
For the majority of my adulthood, my grandfather was in pain. Between his diabetes and high blood pressure, hospital visits and check-ups became routine. And yet, we never took any of his health complications seriously or as possibly fatal. That is until the week before Easter 2016, when he had a heart attack. It was the first time he truly skated towards death, and we were afraid.
While he quickly recovered from the initial heart attack, he returned to the hospital less than a week from discharge after complaining of chest pain and difficulty breathing. At the hospital, the doctors discovered that he had been suffering several mild heart attacks a day and he was now down to a 20% heart function. Even more problematic, due to the low activity of his heart, his kidneys had shut down and liquid was getting backed up in his lungs. My grandfather and family quickly realized that the medicine and doctors were only postponing the inevitable. After two days in the hospital, he decided to discontinue treatment.
In the days leading up to his death, my family camped out in his room. My aunt, uncle, father, mother and sister planted firmly by my grandmother’s side, as my cousins and I made FaceTime cameos. Dark circles under our eyes and voices squeaking while we played him Rod Stewart and begged for his attention. Praying he would stop asking to sit up. Desperately telling him over and over what a great grandfather, husband and friend he had been and how much we loved him.
My grandmother was by his side the morning he passed. His last words were “I love you, Ginger.”
My grandfather never asked much, but one of his final requests was to have his ashes scattered in his three favorite spots: Salisbury Beach, my aunt's lake house and Vegas. He loved Salisbury because it was home to Brown’s Lobster Pound, where he would spend many summers with his kids and grandkids cracking lobster shells and taking in the sea air.
And so, reunited in memory of my grandfather, my family gathered on Saturday and started our trek in an isolated corner of the beach. It was unbearably cold that afternoon, but remarkably beautiful — bursting sapphire blue and blazing gold sand in a perpetual sunrise across the horizon. We huddled together in our winter jackets, amidst driftwood and seaweed, to hear my aunt's eulogy and take a moment of silence.
"Mom, are you ready to say goodbye to dad?" My aunt asked my grandmother, tears brimming in her eyes. My grandmother simply nodded, silently continuing to watch as my aunt turned and marched knee-deep into the water to release the ashes.
I would be lying if I said it was an easy sight to witness. My grandfather was my number one fan. My best friend. My favorite person– so full of curiosity, life and light. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to the man who has touched my soul, changed my life and inspired me so greatly. But there was something very poetic and appropriate in letting my grandfather's ashes fade into the sea.
You see, to me, my grandfather is my memory of youth. He represents the limitless—the infinite possibilities of this world. Of being alive, connected, and so, so free. He is the feeling of racing down a hill on your bike, the breeze carrying you for miles along the violet and peach sunset skyline. Holding hands around a home cooked meal. Looking out a window, watching storm clouds fade into rays of sunshine. Running breathless to the finish line of a cross country race. Reading in the corner chair of the living room, warm and endlessly content. My grandfather is the never-ending pull and tides of the ocean.
But I didn't just see my grandfather on the sea's horizon. I saw myself. I saw my grief.
After first learning the news of my grandfather's passing, I felt a 100-foot tall wave of sadness crash onto me. All I could think to do was flail around and scream in anguish. Desperately seeking the relaxing tides of the night before, I attempted to swim against the current. But the waves continued to fall on me, pushing me further and further away and under the break line. I was drowning. How could the most amazing man in my world cease to be? How could I possibly be expected to carry on without him?
I don't know if I will ever get the answers to those questions. And Saturday I realized and accepted that. Watching my grandfather's ashes disappear in the ocean, a deep sense of calm overcame me. I finally found the strength to remain still. To release the tension. To stop the fight. To join forces with nature, and ride the waves.
Life, like the ocean, is always changing — from calm to overbearing. But always it remains beautiful. Let the wave crash over you. Don't try to mask it or block it. The only way to make sense of it is to plunge into it and move with it.
I will forever look back at this past week as such an incredibly bittersweet time. In many ways, I'm still confused and scared to go out into the world without my grandfather, but my life is changing. And that in itself is incredible. I will let the current of change carry me where I need to go, knowing my grandfather will never be that far away from me in the tide.
Grandpa, I loved you so much and I always, always will. I assure you I will never, ever forget you. I will think of you everyday.