My Papa Jerry

My Papa Jerry just started receiving hospice care. I know, I really shouldn’t be surprised. He’s 91 after all, and it’s certainly inevitable that he would deteriorate at some point. But, somehow that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

I’ve been trying, for the last few days, to figure out how to sum up what a grandfather’s life means to his granddaughter. Words simply don’t do his life justice.

The main theme that I keep returning to, however, is adaptability. My Papa certainly knew how to adapt, and this lesson is one that I believe will be very important for me during my lifetime. I, for one, always assume that the life I have now is the one I’m going to continue to lead. Papa learned adaptability in so many ways throughout his life, and I’ve been so impressed watching how he’s adapted to the curve balls that I’ve seen him deal with during my lifetime.

Born and raised in Chicago, he was busy fighting in World War II and earning two Purple Hearts when my dad was born. He returned to Chicago for a few more years, having two more sons and trying to make it financially. Eventually, around 1950, he decided that opportunities awaited in California, and they packed up for what must have been a terrifying, life-altering journey away from everything that they knew and away from all of their family.

Flash forward many years…Papa has managed to outlive three wives/significant others – certainly not what most statistics for male life expectancy usually show. I remember vividly when my Nana died 23 years ago. Papa spent many – many – lonely days sitting on our reclining chair in the family room staring into space. What would he do with himself now? I would return home from school each day and cry for his loneliness and his void.

And then…one day he picked himself up and moved on. He met Lil and got remarried. At his second wedding, on Pebble Beach, we stood outside in the beautiful scenery as the bride and groom were about to appear. I couldn’t help but laugh, watching strangers await the beautiful young bride and the handsome groom – only to then see a couple in their 70s appear to get married! What a statement of hope and longevity to remarry at that stage.

Papa spent a number of happy years recreating a life for himself with Lil, first in Palm Springs, then in Northern California. Eventually, his heart led him back to L.A. to be near his family. He adapted, once again, at Westwood Horizons and quickly made friends in his new surroundings. To all of our amazement, he managed to find another great woman with whom he enjoined companionship and comfort. Freya was a vibrant, incredible woman and it was a joy to watch the two of them together.

Through it all, Papa has continually shown the ability to adapt to his surroundings and to change with the changes in his life. He used to smoke cigars, and he claims that he simply stopped one day when I refused to kiss his stinky breath. This is my Papa – adaptable…fiercely in love with his grandchildren….passionately proud of his three successful sons….and truly devoted to his family.

Living far away from family means constantly having to say goodbye. For the last fifteen years, I’ve cried every single time that I’ve walked out of his house or his senior home room, knowing that it very well might be the last time that I would see him. And then, of course, he’d be there the next time to greet me with his warm smile and the sparkle in his eye. And I’d always feel a little silly that I had cried when saying goodbye the last time. Because, of course, Papa would always be there.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel silly anymore.

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