My grandpa is leaving the house he’s lived in for the past 12 years. Moving into our house was the beginning of a new chapter of his life – the loss of his wife and his independence. My grandpa could’ve worked till 90 if it weren’t for the circumstances around him. Mentally, my grandpa is still sharp as a tac. He still gives cashiers a hard time for using calculators and will have the math done before they even have time to react.
When he had knee replacement surgery they asked him questions to see if he was healthy. “What is the year?” “What is your name?” “Who is the president?” They asked him. Grandpa responded and said, “Ok, my turn. If you don’t get this right you stop asking me questions.” The doctors smirked in confusion. “Who is the secretary of state?” No answer. Grandpa chuckled, his eyes sparkling and looking around with satisfaction. The nurses giggled and the doctors confirmed that grandpa was definitely ok.
The new chapter of his life meant he was living with me, my mom, and my dad. It was 2006. My grandpa didn’t really see how bad my dad’s addiction was until this time. The woman that hid all the pain from my grandpa was gone and he suddenly suffered the truth of my dad’s disease. He resigned his license and any friends he had. He didn’t give up. As he’ll tell you he was living for me. That’s the kind of human he is. Old fashioned, family-first, sacrifice everything for others. So, he didn’t give up. It’d be unfair to say that. But he did stop living for himself.
It was too painful to talk to the many friends he had for fear of the questions they’d ask. He couldn’t bear to hear the question, “How is Slavic? How are you?” He couldn’t frame his mind around any answer that didn’t make him sick to his stomach.
He has been sitting in the same room for 12 years with not a single soul besides his broken family to turn to. He saw his daughter-in-law and son fight about money, drugs, and keeping secrets from me about the truth of the situation. He watched his son overdosing. Physically at the age of 87, my grandpa lifted my dad from his bedside and cried for him to get help. The man who didn’t believe in religion prayed to save him.
Along the way, we had good times too. We’ve had successful holidays together, laughs with the whole family, game nights, and two graduations. Grandpa especially loves to hear that my boyfriend and I have plans to start a family of our own. When we took grandpa to get a haircut recently, I texted Eric across the room. Grandpa’s eyes lit up. He smiled so big and looked at Eric then back at me. “He’s not looking yet!” Then he looked back at Eric to see his response when he got the text. Eric began to speak and grandpa laughed saying, “No you have to text your answer!” It was a clear indication how much my grandpa adored love. And he loved my grandma Anna more than anything in the world.
And he has a brother that is a gift to the world that you couldn’t understand unless you really understand what the cure to heartbreak is. Consistent love and acknowledgment. Without fail his brother calls 3 times a day at the same times to have any conversation that is left to have. David and grandpa are proud to say “If you ask us what we talk about, don’t ask! We don’t know!” That’s what’s beautiful about their relationship. There are no excuses to miss out on any words not said.
My grandpa is now picking up his bags and at the age of almost 89, he is starting over again.
We talked on the phone today and lately, our conversations have been filled with emotion. Today he called and in a stutter, he explained his fears. Finally, with a stern voice, he said “I have one suitcase. I’m 89 and I fit everything in my 89 years into one suitcase. Do you understand what that feels like?”
I knew he meant that he feels like he has nothing to show for his 89 years. He’s suffered so much loss and sacrificed his success in the USSR to make sure his family would have a chance in America. He worked for 30 years at the same factory as an engineer. Some days he worked 16 hours. He was popular, smart, and had so many friends that loved him. And he feels like he has nothing to show for it.
But that isn’t true. The beauty of having one suitcase at the age of 89 shows his bravery, his pain, and his ability to fight. That suitcase couldn’t even begin to fill the memories and the legacy that I will not fail to pass along to my family one day.