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:)|