I have always known of Anthony Albanese as Grandpa. He was the loud, tanned man with the big house in New Jersey (later, Florida) that his daughters and grandchildren would descend upon for the summer and Thanksgiving. He was the builder who could make something out of nothing and the staring role in so many memories that gave me the understanding of what family is and should be.
He was surrounded by strong willed, opinionated women and one could say that's enough to drive a man to drink but to me, he was always happy and full of boisterous laughter; if we ever drove him nuts he certainly didn't show it. In fact, I think he wouldn't have it any other way -- our strong personalities made us, well, us.
When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 15 months ago it was honestly the first time I realized that Grandpa may not be around forever -- something I had innocently thought all my life.
Cancer is not a pretty disease. It is degrading and heartbreaking and even the strongest willed people can be broken by it. My grandfather, above all things, fought. He was not the type of man who would go quietly into the night and his wife, my strong grandma, was his second in command. She was with him every step of the way and refused to give up. They were a team as they always have been and cancer wasn't going to break that companionship.
On Thanksgiving evening while families were watching football or preparing to go shopping, my family was in a frenzy as they tried to get to Florida as quickly as possible. The day was already a little dim -- my Aunt had died 11 years prior during the Thanksgiving holidays -- but the holiday grew even more dim when I learned that my wonderful grandfather was not long for this world.
My parents and I drove through the night to Florida and were by his side on Saturday morning. The next two and a half days are private moments between my family and our loved ones, something I will not go into detail on here, but despite the suffering, medication and panicked calls to health care workers we had one wonderful moment: my grandfather awake and lucid, not feeling any pain, and surrounded by his family.
We talked, joked, drank and smiled and one by one we drifted off to go to bed with a smile, kiss, and "good night" from my wonderful grandfather -- the last time we would hear our grandpa say goodnight to us and receive his kisses.
We all feel an emptiness in our lives without him here. We have lost many opportunities to build future memories: for the children not yet born in our family -- they can't meet this wonderful man; for those not married -- he will not see us wed. And yet, one has to think that a man so full of life and determined to live will not be so easily extinguished from the world. He cherished life and lived it to the fullest and he will find a way to do so in death. He will be at future weddings through our thoughts and will meet our unborn children and know them well, whether if it is in heaven or by the sturdy objects my grandfather built for us, such as the intricate dollhouses each granddaughter has.
I never met my great grandpa, my grandpa's dad, and yet I've always felt I've known him. My mother, aunts, and older cousins have kept him alive by telling me so many stories and I feel that if I saw him walking down the street I would know him although I was born after he died. My grandpa will live on in that way because we are filled with stories about his wonderful personality and life.
How lucky we are to have called Anthony Albanese our grandpa. How lucky we are to have known and be loved by him. Although we have lost him, and it certainly leaves a void in our lives, I would never give up my memories and experiences of him.
Grandpa, do know that grandma is left in the capable hands of your daughters and grandchildren. Know that you have taught us well. We will remain those loud opinionated people you loved and you will always live on. Thank you for teaching us what true love and devotion is. Thank you for showing us how to laugh loudly and fully. Thank you for teaching me how to whistle on your back porch and going blueberry picking with me. Thank you for letting us take over your otherwise peaceful home each summer despite dirty feet, picky eaters (sorry, I really loved my pink milk) and "dangerous" games of "throw me on the couch." For every life you have touched you have brightened and in that you will always be here with us. I love you.