By Kim Vigier
The metal feels cold in my hand as I push down on the handle, yet comforting and warm from all of the memories it holds. The simple act of mashing potatoes for tonight’s dinner leaves me choking back tears and trying to put on a brave face in front of my little girl... The potato ricer was my grandfather’s and a recent acquisition since my grandmother finally sold their home and moved into an apartment, a year and a half after his death. I’m the only person in the family who ever used it besides him and it’s become one of my most prized possessions.
They say it’s supposed to get easier as time goes on but in my case, it’s not true. It’s gotten worse. My pop, as I called him, had been sick for over a decade and was affectionately known as the cat with nine lives. Multiple end of life scares year after year but it was never his time. In the last year of his life, I pushed him, more than I ever had, to fight…. to fight to make it to my wedding and then to hold on a bit longer to meet his first great grand child. He did both, with the same brave face I had known all 33 years of my life. And a month and a day after my daughter was born, he was gone, taking with him a piece of my heart I will never get back.
Maybe I didn’t grieve as much as I was supposed to because the past eighteen months have been filled with so many good “firsts” that I forgot about the bad ones… My daughter’s first Christmas was also the first Christmas I’ve ever spent without him, her first birthday nearly marked the one-year anniversary of his passing and so on.
Now, with his and my grandmother's house being sold, I’m starting over. I will no longer take the quick fifteen-minute ride over to their house just to say "hi." Or call and see if they need anything from Costco since I will be around the corner. My grandma lives farther away now and as much as her new home is lovely, it’s not the same. She started fresh, with new furniture and paint and a different zip code and I hate it. It just doesn’t smell like my grandfather’s house.
I hold on to memories and share stories with my daughter. There’s even a picture of him in her room and every morning she points to it and says “Poppy.” Yet I’m still left struggling with how I can honor this man who was the one constant male figure in my life. I spoke briefly at his funeral, a reading the pastor had selected which rolled off the tongue quickly amidst the flowing tears. It didn’t mean anything to me and all I’m left with from that day is regret. This man had never let me down and in the final moments, I was unable to share with the world who he was in my eyes.
I wanted them to know that my grandfather thought he was a failure. That he had spent decades questioning why he chose to open a Wetson’s fast food restaurant instead of McDonald’s. That he and my grandmother struggled financially each month but he still managed to squirrel away $500 for my wedding gift, a check that pained me to cash but I did it anyway as to not want to embarrass him. My grandfather had enormous regret about things in his life and felt he was leaving this world with nothing to show.
What I wanted him, and every one in the church that day to know was that my grandfather was exorbitantly wealthy, not in money, but instead with the love of his family. A family consisting of his wife of sixty two years, four children and their spouses, and six grandchildren and their partners. A family that rallied every time he was ill to gather at the hospital. A family that came together for Sunday football games and a dish of macaroni. A family that took yearly family vacations. A family that called him each and every day just because... A family that never missed one Christmas together in my entire lifetime. And a family that at the end, surrounded his bedside as he took his final breaths and left us. A family that carried out each and every one of his last wishes, including having his tombstone inscribed with his favorite quote “Family is life’s greatest gift.”
I’m expecting my second child in January and while I consider myself blessed to have a healthy baby, whether it be boy or girl, a secret part of me prays every day that I will have a little boy to carry on his name. More than that though, my sincerest hope is that my grandfather will live on in my unborn child and my daughter and that somehow, even though his heart stopped beating, this new life affirms that he’s still very much alive in all of us.