Seven years ago today I lost my grandfather. I was 22. My life would be forever changed without him here with me.
My grandfather and I had a very special bond. Something more than just your typical grand parent – grand child relationship. For all intensive purposes, he and my grandmother raised me. My whole life it was just my mom and I and as a single parent, she relied a lot on her parents for help to raise me. To me it was normal that I spent every week in the summer with my grandparents and during the weekends I’d spend it with my mom. Nothing of that seemed odd to me.
When I was able to finally form words and actually speak “coherent” (in toddler terms I guess) I named my grandfather Daddyjack. I guess even as a young kid I knew he was something more. To me he was the only man in my life and really only man I knew. He was more of a father figure in a lot of ways than a grandfather. He would discipline me (oh yes, a few yard sticks broke across my butt over the year) and he had fun with me. For example, every Easter he’d transform his entire back yard into an Easter Egg Hunt, which included a hand drawn scaled map. He did it all. And he did it all with love.
Back in 2007, his health started to decline. Sure he had just turned 78, but to me, Daddyjack was Superman. Nothing could stop him. May 2007 was also when I was to graduate from college. It had been planned out that he was to be driven up from TN by my aunt and uncle to attend my graduation. I was the first in my family to go to college and graduate. To me, this was a pretty big deal and I wanted nothing more for him to be there.
The week of graduation, I received a phone call from him stating he had been having some heart issues and was admitted (he assured me it was nothing serious because he knew I’d be in a car driving to TN and miss my own graduation if I had to), but the doctors felt it was best that he didn’t do any travel right now. I acted tough and of course knew it was the best for him and his health, but to say deep down I was CRUSHED would be an understatement. I had even gotten him a maroon and black tie to wear for my graduation to match my college colors. The tie was never worn. It now sits atop my dresser as a constant reminder of him.
Move forward to late September 2007. Everything seemed to be going OK for my grandfather. He was still undergoing a lot of test, but nothing yet was causing the family to worry. Then I got the phone call I’d wish on no one. They found cancer. Yup, the big, nasty C word. It was Pancreatic Cancer. Stage 4. Nothing could be done. My mom told me to drop everything and go spend a weekend with him because it would probably be the last real time with him. They gave him a year.
So I did just that… visited my grandfather. We did everything we normally did. We ate at Waffle House. Ate at Cracker Barrel. Stayed up late eating vanilla ice cream and playing cards. When I look back, it’s like the cancer didn’t even exist that weekend. He was still superman to me.
Three weeks later, Daddyjack was admitted into hospice. Just 3 weeks, not the year the doctors had told us. My mom had gone down to take care of him shortly after I left and kept me up to date with daily talks. When she told me he had officially entered into hospice, all I could remember hearing is that his time was close. It was maybe 3 days later that she called and said use the credit card and get on the first flight to TN. It didn’t matter the cost. Just get to TN now.
Panic. Anger. Regret. Frustration. Sadness. Guilt. Just a few emotions that overtook me in that call. I miraculously got a flight out of Pittsburgh to TN and somehow managed to get a bag of clothes together too and off to the airport I went. The date. October 17th, 2007.
A family friend picked me up at the airport. No one wanted to leave his side. I understood. Besides my step-dad, I was the last family member to get here. My mom, my aunt, both uncles and 2 cousins were already there. I arrived late afternoon and had no idea what I was walking into.
When I finally got to his house, I went in to see him. It was then that it hit me that something had gotten Superman and it was taking him over. The hospice nurse (bless her heart, she was AMAZING) explained everything that was going on, what I was seeing and how he was. In other words, she had it could be any time now. The family let me have some time with him by myself and for once, I didn’t know what to tell him. What did I do? How could I sit there and say goodbye to Daddyjack. The person who meant the absolutely most in my life?
I don’t remember everything I told him, but I do remember holding his hand and telling him it was OK to go now. That I was here and I knew he waited for me to be there and it was OK to go and be with Mother (that was my grandmother who passed away in 2002). I just kept telling him I would be OK, the family would be OK and that I would continue to make him proud of me.
Mere hours later he passed away.
The family of course was a mess. Daddyjack was truly the glue in our family. He was the family rock, but to me he was still (and always will be) Superman. I remember just sitting there, not crying, not doing anything and the hospice nurse came up and asked me if I had someone to call or someone to talk to. I said no because the person I’d call would have been him.
I never cried that night. I never cried during the funeral. Even giving part of the eulogy, I stood there in front of everyone talking about the random stories and still, no tears. I think somehow I became the family rock. Everyone else around me starting their grieving process and I was on hold. I stayed in TN for awhile to help clean up the house and take care of the estate with my mom and aunt. There I was 22 years old and packing up my grandfathers 78 years of life.
It was easy for me to take a step back and see everyone grieving in their own way. I still didn’t think it was my time. I had to stay strong for everyone else.
Finally when things started to become ‘normal’ again, I headed back home to Pittsburgh. That was a hard time for me. Daddyjack passed right before the holidays and I didn’t know what was to come. Even weeks after he passed, I still didn’t feel like I could truly grieve. I ended up reaching out to a local hospice organization about grief counseling and found a great group of ladies I began to meet with weekly. I looked forward to those nights. I got to open up about how I felt not just about losing Daddyjack, but how this nasty thing (Cancer) came in so quickly and just ripped my life apart. Sure, I get it. I wasn’t the one who had cancer, but if effected me more than some may even think. With the help and support of these ladies, I finally was able to cry. And wow, what a cry that was. let me tell you too… Just thinking sometimes about my grandfather I’ll start crying now (case in point, writing this whole post, I’ve been a blubbing mess). I finally felt that I was beginning to heal after his death.
A few years back I was at a rowing regatta in TN and took a short detour to his grave site. I think it was only the second time to visit it since he passed. It was a gorgeous sunny day and all I remember is I sat there and cried for what seemed like hours. I saw people come & go from other grave sites but I just couldn’t move. I needed that time there.
Seven years later though, it still hurts. It’s always going to hurt. I lost a piece of my life. A piece of me. I sure as hell would not be the person I am today with the nurture and love from Daddyjack. I just hope I continue to always make him proud. I know he might not be with my physically, but I never want to let him down. Ever.
Not a day has gone by in the last seven years that I don’t think about him. I draw a lot of strength from him. I might be 2 miles away from a finish line in the most horrid race and all of a sudden I might feel an extra boost to get me there. I know it’s him helping me finish. Telling me to keep my head up and get my butt to the finish line. He’d probably be yelling something like, “Prior’s don’t give up, so just get to the finish line anyway you can”.
So you’re probably asking, why did I just spill my guts to the world about this? Well, a few reasons. The date -it’s been 7 years and this is the first time I’ve really putting this all down on ‘paper’ of sorts. This felt good. Also, recently I was asked by a local organization if I would run the Pittsburgh Marathon as a charity runner for them. Sure, they were trolling through twitter just reaching out to people I am sure, but the thought honestly had not crossed my mind. All I was concerned about at the time was OMG I JUST SIGNED UP FOR A MARATHON.
After doing some research and exchanging a few emails with this organizations marketing coordinator, I decided that YES I would do this. This was the right thing to do. Daddyjack would I am sure tell me how proud he was that not only am I tackling 26.2 miles, but that I want to do it for others and to help others as well.
I’m happy to say I will be a charity runner for Our Clubhouse (previously known as Gilda’s Club Western Pennsylvania)! When I did some research on Our Clubhouse, I kept thinking to myself, where was this when I needed it 7 years ago?! I felt so alone and here was this amazing organization that was there to help everyone effected by cancer. Cancer sucks, yo. It just does. But to have a little extra help and support during the whole thing, would have been a nice thing. They provide that comfort and extra care you may need. Something so small can go such along way in these situations. Trust me. I am excited they did reach out to me and so happy to know about this great organization.
So as I start my journey to run (and FINISH) 26.2 miles, I’m doing it for my grandfather, Daddyjack, and everyone else whose life is effected by cancer. I will be fundraising through this journey to hit my $500 goal. I hope you can help at some point along the way.
Somewhere I know, Daddyjack is smiling over me. This one is for him. He might be gone, but he’s always going to be my Superman and now it’s my turn to show him how much of a Superman I can be.