Monday, November 2, 2020

A Life Well Lived

 My grandfather, Pepere, passed away at the end of August. He was 97, and while it certainly wasn't a surprise that he passed....once people get to their 90's you know they won't be with us forever...his decline was very quick and unexpected. One day, he seemed to be struggling more with confusion than usual. He was sent to the hospital for some tests, which found nothing wrong, but he still continued to decline and in a little over a week we had to say our goodbyes. 

I've written this blog post in my head so many times, but never seemed to be able to get it onto the screen. Pepere's birthday was on October 31st and, with today being All Soul's Day, he's been on my mind and heart in a special way. So I figured it was now or never to share a little bit about a special man who was part of America's "Greatest Generation". 

Pepere is my Mom's stepfather. My Mom's dad passed away when she was a teenager from heart problems. My grandmother, Memere, worked with Pepere's wife as a seamstress. When my parents got married, they lived in a tenement house on the 3rd floor and Pepere and his wife were on the second floor.  Pepere's wife passed away of cancer.  Pepere and my Memere ended up getting married over a year later. All that happened before I was born, so Pepere was always in my life and he was always my family.

Pepere was the foreman at the local landfill and worked hard all his life. My sister and I liked to go visit him at work because all the garbage trucks that drove by would honk for us. He knew a little about everything and was always ready to lend a hand. He was always tinkering with something in the basement!

Pepere was a World War II veteran who forged his mother's signature so that he could enlist in the Navy when he was only 17. Pepere experienced a lot during his years in the Navy. He was at the battle of D-Day and helped to transport soldiers to the beach from the ship. That was a traumatic experience for him and he seldom talked about that day. Occasionally he would talk about a few of the details, and even after over 60 years you could tell that, as he spoke, it was as if he was back in that moment experiencing all the horrible pain and death all over again. Pepere had a sensitive soul and a very big heart.

At another point in the war, Pepere's ship was hit by a kamikaze plane. Some of his friends lost their lives that day. Pepere survived but completely lost his hearing in his left ear. Thankfully, he returned home safely but always carried the emotional scars of living through war.

Pepere lived a lot of life in his 97 years and had lots of stories to tell. As he got further into his 90's dementia started to set in and we got to hear some of these stories quite a few times. :)

One of my all time favorite stories that Pepere told happened on D-Day. At one point in the battle, another ship had run aground and Pepere and some of the crew on his ship were trying to help them out. As they let out the cable to attach to the other ship, they heard a peculiar sound. Every time the mechanism would go around, they heard "clink, clink...clink, clink". Once the cable was out, Pepere reached in and pulled out Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Months earlier, before they had left America, some of the sailors(Pepere included) smuggled cases of beer onto the ship and hid the bottles all over. Apparently, this one was forgotten. So, right in the middle of D-Day, Pepere opened the bottle and the sailors that were helping with the cable all took a swig! Pepere always said that he wished he had gotten the names of everyone that drank that beer so that he could have sent it to the Pabst company. He thought they would have enjoyed hearing that their beer was a tiny part of history that day. 

Pepere lived in an assisted living the last 5 years of his life. He had macro degeneration that accelerated quickly in his 90's. He ended up being legally blind. He also struggled with hearing: he had one deaf ear from the war and his one "good" ear wasn't really that good. Even with his hearing aide he struggled. 

Pepere was always a very social man. Even after Memere passed away when he was 82, he would go to the local Dunkin' every afternoon to grab a coffee and shoot the bologna with whoever was around. He developed a lot of friends, and was especially popular among the widows. They would ask him for rides, which he gladly provided. But he always told us that he had loved two women in his life and that was enough.

As his eyesight deteriorated and his hearing got worse, he started to withdraw socially. If people didn't talk loudly on his right side he wouldn't even realize anyone was talking. Dementia was starting to become an issue as well. It was hard to watch such an independent, outgoing man become a shell of himself. He struggled with confusion at times and would obsess over items or ideas. It was hard trying to please him...especially when he would adamantly insist on wanting something specific for days, like a blanket of a particular color. Yet, after a day of having said blanket he would say it was too thick or too thin, that he didn't know why we brought him a blanket and that he didn't need a blanket. We would just sigh and take it home. 

Pepere would go through stages when he couldn't remember his age. We got him a white board and wrote a giant 97 on it. Even though it was in the room, on the days he would obsess about it he would call me and my mom several times a day. I would answer the phone and Pepere would say, "Yaaah!", (he never just said hello:)...and he would ask me, "What's my number?". And I would tell him, "97". And he would repeat it. An hour later he would call me back and ask the same question.:)

Pepere was very excited last October leading up to his 97th birthday on the 31st. He talked about it every day....and called multiple times a day to check on his age!  On his actual birthday, my Dad picked him up and brought him over to have dinner with the family to celebrate. Halfway through dinner, Pepere looked up chuckling and said, "I just remembered that it was my birthday." We all laughed hysterically. 

I miss his smile and the twinkle in his eye when he was teasing someone. I miss sitting with him and hearing his stories. I even miss all the phone calls. Whenever the phone phone rang for the first month after he passed, I would think, "Must be Pepere". Then, a second later I would remember, and it would make me sad.

Pepere had very little of material worth in this world. The one thing he had an abundance of was faith. After retiring, he always started his day with Mass and then a visit to a local coffee shop to enjoy some conversation. His statue of Mary traveled with him to the assisted living, and he faithfully "prayed his beads" every day. Towards the end, he would forget how to say his prayers. I would have to rely on Google to try and help him...not because I don't pray the rosary, but because he always prayed in French! I always assured him Mary knew what he was trying to say. Thankfully, those prayers always seemed to come back to him. The prayer in his soul had a deeper grip than the dementia that tried to steal it from him. 

Covid definitely accelerated his dementia. The isolation was not good for him. We missed out on three of the last five months of his life. That hurts...and I wish I had been able to ease all the loneliness he felt. I'm so grateful that the rules loosened in July and that I was able to visit him several times a week for the last month and a half of his life here with us. 

I can say that I'm very grateful to God for Pepere's love and example. He will be missed, and even though I'm getting to this blog post late, he will never be forgotten. 

Pepere with Kate and his namesake, Luke Arthur, on his 97th Birthday:)


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Part 3...The celebration

This will be the wrap up of the whirlwind of events that surrounded Marisa and Jon's wedding! You can read about the rehearsal dinner and wedding here if you missed it. :)

After the wedding, we headed on the trolley to take pictures. There were lots(!), but here are a few....

I love that Jon's holding the bouquet lol

Kate made a very pretty flower girl:)

Marisa was a beautiful bride:)

Jon is ALWAYS teasing Marisa's sister Bridget! Turnaround if fair play...and made for a fun pic!

After pictures, it was time to celebrate. I owe an incredible about of thanks and appreciation to my friends, Carol and Mary, who helped me to design, decorate and pull off an amazing party! I wanted to create something really special to help make up for the disappointment of not being able to have a "real reception" with dancing and everyone we had hoped to celebrate with. Carol and Mary far exceeded anything I could have come up with on my own! 

A little side story before I get to the pics.....

During the pictures after the wedding, the skies looked pretty dark and ominous. I was nervous....we had done so much to create a beautiful backyard and our house couldn't really hold all the people waiting to celebrate. While Marisa's dad gave a toast before dinner, I heard a distant clap of thunder. Yet, the weather stayed clear despite the dark clouds. Later, we saw on the weather channel that all around us were bands of thunderstorms all evening, yet the clouds seem to part right over our town until they continued to the east of us.

There were so many struggles with planning a wedding during a pandemic. The several months leading up to the wedding were filled with discouragement, unwanted changes and tears. After lots of rescheduling and replanning, I gave everything over to Mary. I spent several weeks praying to Mary and thinking about the wedding feast at Cana. Mary interceded when there was a need, and her Son provided something better than the couple could have ever planned!

I didn't realize it, but Jon and Marisa had chosen the Wedding Feast at Cana as their Gospel reading for the wedding. When it was being read, I got a little teary eyed and felt very grateful for all the ways Mary helped us to pull everything together despite all the obstacles we had to face. She even provided for us to the very end of the celebration by giving us a summer night we could all enjoy!

And now onto the pictures.....:)

Here's what our guests experienced as they arrived at our home....

Even the septic cover got a pretty makeover!

The hearts were from the bridal shower and had advice from the guests for a happy marriage:)

After one of the tents was destroyed in the rain storm after the rehearsal dinner, I sent out an SOS text
to the company we rented our chairs and tables from. Thankfully they had a tent available last minute
and were willing to come by early Sunday morning to set it up! 

Our cool "lounge area" by the bar:)

The triumphant entrance!!!

I didn't get pictures of the food, but we had the event catered by On the Go. We enjoyed the food very much! Jon does not love cake, so we settled on ice cream sandwiches....bc Jon is an ice cream fanatic! Jon's close friend Amber, who he has known since tball when they were four!, recently purchased a local ice cream shop named Captain Bonney's. She gave us a very generous discount and we ordered three different ice cream sandwiches: vanilla, coffee oreo(Jon and Marisa's favorite), and cookie dough. They were enthusiastically enjoyed by everyone! Check out the cute labels Amber made!


We strung lots of lights...which looked amazing after dark! The pictures don't really do it justice.

I should have shut off the spotlight before I took the picture...but it was the end of the night and I was tired! lol

Even the tomato stakes got lights:)

Since we couldn't have dancing, Andrew ran a marriage themed trivia game after dinner that was so much fun! Everyone got really into it and the friendly bantering between teams made the night extra special!

Jon and Marisa were supposed to go to Hawaii for their honeymoon, but, again, plans had to be changed. They ended up in California for 10 days, starting in San Diego and driving up some of the coast to visit many of the mission towns as far as San Jose. After everything they went through with the wedding, one more change didn't phase them. I sense a theme for their married life.....but God's plans tend to work out better than our's anyway.

Just ask the married couple from Cana;)


Monday, August 24, 2020

Part 2...The Rehearsal Dinner and the Wedding

This post is long overdue but continues Jon and Marisa's journey to their wedding!
Thankfully we had always planned to have the rehearsal dinner catered in our backyard since a restaurant would not have been possible because of Covid!

I had my design team dream team of my friends, Mary and Carol, helping me with design and decorations. The rehearsal dinner was actually a rehearsal luncheon. We planned it that way so that Jon and Marisa would have some time to relax and socialize in the later afternoon with their out of town friends. (And I'm SO glad we planned it that way because the weather in the late afternoon was horrible! More on that later!)

The rehearsal at the church went great and then we headed back to our house to celebrate. The rehearsal luncheon was laid back and fun. We enjoyed good food and each other's company. Jon's friends from New Hampshire played bartenders and helped to make some fun specialty drinks and made sure we had ice and drinks all set up for the party. (Which was super helpful and I appreciated so much!) Jay made a custom bar for the party that will double in the future as a generator cover. Jay had also made a special corn hole game and Marisa's parents bought a big Jenga game which was a lot of fun. The plan was for Jon, Marisa and the bridal party and NH friends to hang out for the afternoon; swim in the pool, enjoy the yard, and have smores later in the day. Unfortunately, by mid afternoon it started to rain a little so they decided to hang out at the apartment that Jon and Marisa would live in once they were married.

I got the special sticker off of Etsy and the beanbags from Amazon:)

The custom bar..Sarah painted the "H" for us.

That light rain turned into torrential downpours for hours and ended up collapsing and breaking one of the tents we had borrowed! I consulted my design crew and we came up with a couple of back up plans! Ironically, we had been in a drought and hadn't had rain in weeks!

Thankfully, the wedding day was filled with sunshine! The time passed quickly with the usual busyness of makeup, hair styling, and food to keep everyone going. Having the "after wedding party" at our house meant that there was lots(!) to do in the backyard. Because of Covid restrictions, Jon and Marisa moved the real reception to next year, and we hosted a legal outdoor gathering of less than 100 people.
Thankfully, my design team was in full swing with the help of Jon's NH friends and Jon's groomsmen. The to do list was long, but it all got done!(stay tuned for pictures in Part 3!)

the bridal party enjoying breakfast
the bridal party enjoying breakfast

Marisa and her sister, Bridget, facetiming their sister Ali and adorable niece, Zoe, 
who were unable to travel bc her husband is serving in the Air Force in Italy. :(

Kate being silly 

Sarah and my dil, Liz, sporting similar hairstyles:)

The bride revealing her dress for the first time!

The Bride's bouquet

The bridesmaid's bouquet

Marisa's parents rented a trolley to drive everyone to the church and then pictures afterwards. It was a lot of fun!

And then it was "go" time! Since I'm the mother of the groom, I snapped some pics of Jon watching Marisa come up the aisle.

Jon started smiling because Marisa started crying:)

The ceremony was beautiful. There was lots of emotion for a moment that had been in the planning stage for over two years and postponed briefly because of Coronavirus. The day might not have happened on the date they originally planned or in the way it originally planned, but it happened! And that was the most important thing. 

The newest Mr. and Mrs. Hamel