We didn’t quite get there in time. My aunt and I were leaving Madison when we found out that my grandpa had passed. He was gone. My parents were there, so was grandma. I should have looked at him in the hospital when we arrived. We had come all that way. Some sense of closure or reality to ground me could have been good, but something kept me standing outside the door. I couldn’t make myself look.
Four days later I packed up the van and drove to Princeton, New Jersey to row with the national team. It was easy to brush the loss aside. I wasn’t with my family, I wasn’t in Wisconsin. I didn’t need to deal with it then. Now that I’m back in Wisconsin, I have to remember.
I remember the night in the hospital, but it’s good that I won’t remember him like that. I don’t even think I want to remember him like the last time I saw him alive; brain functions compromised by strokes, hair thinned by chemo, body slowed by age. My grandpa was far from living his ideal life. He walked to get his daily mocha, read the paper and walked back to the home. He was living away from his wife, whose reality is twisted and warped by Alzheimer’s. He visited every day.
I prefer to think of him in the height of his medical practice in Green Bay; Living in a community who loved and respected him. I want to remember him volunteering at the Green Bay botanical gardens. I want to remember him working as a surgeon in the air force or as a young med student at Creighton.
Most of all I like to remember him as a rower at University of Washington. I never really knew my grandpa very well. He was obviously brilliant, an introvert and a little bit gruff, but when I started rowing we had something we could talk about. It wasn’t much, but he understood what crew was like, he appreciated my hard work and I know he was proud of me.
Rowing connected us in a way that I wish I had found sooner. I appreciated that a man who had done so much with his life and had been so successful had followed a similar route to me. I like that even though I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, he thought that choosing to spend my time with the crew team was admirable.
At his memorial service this summer there was an opportunity to say this. I didn’t.
I would have thanked him for setting up my life so well. For raising my stoic, kind father. For giving me every opportunity to be educated and successful. For loving me and my brother. For taking care of our family.
He’s gone, but that’s the beauty of family. The Wanamaker name lives on, the world keeps on turning. We all miss him and remember him in our own ways. Things will be different without him and everything has changed, but some things won’t. There’s still a Wanamaker rowing at UW and for now, that is enough to give me peace of mind.