It has been a sad, and sometimes beautiful, few days at the hospice where he spent his last few days on Earth.
I arrived in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, after catching a flight out of San Francisco on a few hours notice. Although he was not expected to live but more than a few hours, I got to see him before he died. He was a fighter … to the very end.
On Tuesday, he was obviously in a great deal of pain … but completely aware of our presence. For the next two days, each member of the family took their turn comforting him, holding his hand and telling him how they felt about him … and also recounting many funny and touching stories about our family throughout the years. Many tears were shed … but there was also laughter. Yesterday, he drifted away … still alive, but we knew that he did not have much time.
My grandfather had a great deal to be proud of. Coming from a poor family of coal miners, he led a very hard life when he was young. Although it is hard to imagine today, his family was so poor that they often did not have enough food to eat. His younger brother Jerome passed away when he was only 17 years old, due to their inability to afford proper medical care.
In this harsh environment, my grandfather got the will to succeed. In high school, he became a star football player and semi-pro boxer. When World War II hit, he answered the call of duty, and helped supply ships traverse through the North Atlantic through packs of Nazi U-boats. Many of his friends died in the war, and he always told me that at the time, he realized that “the war was an incredible learning experience … if you could just live through it.”
After the war, he returned home and went into poltics and business. He became the mayor of his home town of Ashley, PA, and held the post for sixteen straight years. He followed this up by going into the law, and became a magistrate judge.
After a huge flood resulting from Hurricane Agnes hit Northeastern Pennsylvania in 1972, my grandfather started a mobile home park in Ashley for the many flood victims with little more than a backhoe and a shovel. He himself dug all the needed trenches for the water lines etc.
Over time, Cooney Park, as would become called, prospered, and become the family’s financial lifeblood, with hundreds of tenants. He used the proceeds to buy real estate and start other business ventures, to ensure that no one in his family ever had the kind of hard life that he had growing up.
When I was a little kid, my grandfather was more of a father to me than anything, and for this, there are no words that can capture my gratitude and love that I have for him.
The last few days have been extremely difficult. But, I am grateful for the final hours that my grandfather and I had together … with nothing left unsaid.