Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grandpa Ivan.

There's a unique feeling you get when you hear someone has died. For me, it feels like my insides have been flushed. My heart goes to my stomach, and starts searching for a way to get back.

It's an entirely different feeling to be told someone has died, then that they haven't... then that they did. A true roller coaster of emotions.

That's where I spent Monday night, with the news of my grandpas passing. My grandpa had been battling bladder cancer for years, and when he noticed a new pain in his hip last week, my dad took him to the hospital to get it checked out. Come to find out, his hip hurt because there was a fracture. There was a fracture because cancer had spread, and made his hip weak. The doctors were optimistic, and they started treatment. The plan was to stay 14 days at a step down facility while he had chemo, then go home. He was used to this routine, as it was the norm, but this time he didn't make it. But go figure that man didn't go down without a fight. My dad found him dead, then paramedics got a pulse, and for 45 minutes we felt relief. Relief because for a brief time we weren't sure if "grandpa died" actually meant he was dead. We didn't know if our grieving was premature. Because that man had always been a tough Ruski, and to be honest, my family couldn't be too surprised if he opted to fight death with a resurrection. And I found myself thinking, "that man would try to come back from the dead".

But ultimately, his time was up.
His heart couldn't do it anymore.
His fight was over.

I didn't have a "crawl up on my lap" or "sneak you some candy" grandpa. I had a grandpa who lived in the ghetto, let me and my sisters ride in the back of his van with no seat belts (let alone seats), and encouraged me to shoot guns. He started off rough around the edges, but was softened by sugar and spice, and everything else 3 granddaughters bring into a mans life.

My grandpa was always a fighter. Born in communist Russia in 1920, he grew up in an era I'm thankful is history. He fled Russia after refusing to serve in Stalin's army, changed his birthday by 4 years, and successfully covered the tracks that could have led to his instant execution. Upon leaving his homeland, he found refuge, and a wife in Belgium. Within a few years, and 2 small boys later, my Grandpa became hell-bent on getting to Hollywood, CA. It was a land of palm trees, sunshine, and streets paved in gold (so he heard). He wanted a part of it. And when the US wouldn't let Europeans in, they went to Canada first, and entered the states from the North. And they made it. They had the dream, the family, the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief convertible, and an address right off of Sunset Strip. But it seems like my grandpa never had to wait long before it was time to fight again. Times got hard, and when word got out of jobs available for auto mechanics in Detroit, they sold the car (in 1 day), and headed East.

Detroit had a lot of ups and downs. It was a long move, but there was work. It was the place where my grandparents ultimately divorced, but also the place where my dad was given the opportunity to meet his high school sweetheart. my mom. The furthest I've ever moved from home is 60 miles. and it was for the most part, painless, convenient, and low stress. My grandpa had to fight with every one of his. From moving across the world, to being set on staying put in Detroit while the neighborhood around him lost families and gained drug dealers and neglect.

My grandpa wasn't always a good Father or Grandpa or Father-in-Law. There was reason he was called "Ivan the terrible" at times. There was a time I walked away from him in a courtroom in Detroit, when I thought that I would literally never speak to, listen to, or see him again. I had decided that I would remember my childhood memories of stomping grapes in his backyard, ice fishing, playing with the litters of Lab puppies that came around every few years, and package that up as who my Grandpa Ivan was.

A few years later my Dad showed by example (the way only the best dads do) what forgiveness and redemption in action looks like. Day by day he and my grandpa repaired, and rebuilt. And out of that came a new relationship I thought would never exist. When my dad lost his job in March of '09, a new one came up right away. But the new job didn't pay a dime, and yet he didn't turn it down. The job was tending to his ailing Father. And almost every day for the past two years, my dad made the trip from Farmington Hills to Detroit to spend time and care for his dad. Or "Pops", as he called him.

Thanks to Gods gracious intervention, Audry and I went to see our Grandpa the day before he died. He was sleeping when we got there, but popped up with a smile on his face when he saw it was us. In the midst of conversation, he shared with us about how our dad saved his life. And as much as in a lot of ways I knew that was true, I also knew that he wasn't just talking about the days added to his life, but the life added to his years as well.

Life can be a mess. In a lot of ways, it feels that way today. But I'm always thankful for seasons. I'm thankful for joy and for sadness, and for the peace I have knowing that God always knows what He's doing in timing.

An old roommate from college emailed me tonight and said that maybe the whole job loss thing with my dad was what needed to happen in order for the two of them to really be able to spend significant time together. And as hard as the last few years have been financially for my parents, I know that when my dad came home Monday night with tears falling down his face, it was because he lost the man he had grown to know and care for in the last two years.

So tonight, I sign off in peace. The last conversation I had with my grandpa was a deal for me to bring him some bright orange mums, and a friendly argument of who loved who more. I still plan to buy him the mums, but I've found it hard to put into words in this post about the freedom in forgiveness and choosing love. I've found myself taking a lot of deep breaths the last few days. Deep breaths that are filled with realizing I'm not sure what step to take next, but exhaled knowing that I got the chance to close this chapter in a way that was done right. With love.

With the heart of a thankful granddaughter,


Krista said...

love you em.

this is a beautiful post. I admire your dad and the story of redemption and forgiveness he has played a role in.

Katie Veenstra said...

before I came to the comments section, I was planning on starting my comment the EXACT same way that Krista did. "i love you em." You have such a beautiful heart, that is shown not only by your words, but more imnportantly by your actions.

Thanks for sharing this awesome story of love, forgiveness, redemption, perfect timing, and seasons.


Dana said...

em, just read this. I love seeing the world through your eyes and your beautiful reminders about life and love and the human condition.

thanks:) i love you, a lot.