Opa and Oma

April 3, 2008
By Shannon Smith, Eagle River, WI

When I was seven years old, my opa and oma (grandpa and grandma) from my dad’s side passed away. This had a very profound impact on me, because I was very close to them and I did not understand why their death happened. To this day, I still cry when I think about them and everything that happened. In a way, I am happy for them because I know that they are happy in heaven, but at the same time I am sad that they are not with my family and me.

My oma was the first to pass on. Cancer took her life after a hard eight-year fight. She passed away on January 19, 1998. I remember on that particular night, my dog, Murphy, was about two years old. We had trained her so she would whine by the door when she had to go to the bathroom. On that night, she kept whining, so we kept taking her outside and bringing her back inside. She would go out our front door and go to the side of our house and look up the hill at my oma and opa’s house. Then she would pace back and forth until we would call her to come back into the house. This pattern repeated itself until we brought her inside for about the sixth time; she then stopped whining and just looked at us with her big brown eyes. No more than two minutes of her looking at us passed and the phone rang; my oma had passed away.

On February 21, 1998, just over a month later, my opa passed away of an aneurysm. I don’t remember this night as clearly, but I do know that he was taken to town in an ambulance. My parents never did tell me where he passed away: in the ambulance or the hospital. I remember at the time asking my mom where it happened, and she told me that it wasn’t important and I needed to think about all of the fun that I always had with him. So that is what I did, and that is what I will always do. It doesn’t seem important to me anymore where it happened. The doctors said that he died of an aneurysm, but I don’t believe it. I think he died of a broken heart.

After my oma passed on, my opa wasn’t the same person. Who would be? You spend your whole life with someone and then they just leave you. It is so unfair. When I was little, the way I understood things was that my opa was a different person after my oma died. It was not a bad different, he just wasn’t the same. He was very confused and basically heart-broken. I took my grandparents’ deaths very rough. It was very hard for me to understand because everyday I would spend so much time with them after school and all of a sudden they were gone. I was too young to understand the concept of death but now that I look back it probably was for the best. My oma fought cancer for as long as I could remember. I never knew why she HAD to go to the doctor until she didn’t HAVE to go anymore. She told me that she didn’t have to go to the doctor anymore because she had cancer and didn’t have that much longer to live. I remember that day like it was yesterday, it was close to my birthday and she got me the best present that I wanted that year. A lava lamp, but it wasn’t just an ordinary lamp, it was the exact orange lava lamp that I wanted. It was perfect, just like Oma and Opa were perfect.

Even though this topic still makes me cry like I am seven years old all over again, I know that they are still here for my family and me. I know that they are watching over us and laughing at all of the stupid and funny things that we do.

On my sister’s 20th birthday, my grandpa on my mom’s side past away. It was October 20, 2005. I also remember this day like it was yesterday because it practically was. At about 2:50 AM, the phone rang at my house. It was my mom, who was spending the night at the hospital with my grandma and aunts. The phone had woken me up, so I went to my dad’s room and asked what was going on. He didn’t say anything about what was happening, he just gave me hug; I immediately knew what happened. I started to cry and wanted to know what the details were. He told me to go take a shower and get ready like I was going to school. I did as I was told because I knew that we were going to the hospital. On the way to the hospital my dad explained everything to me about what had happened. We had a really good conversation and I didn’t know what to do besides cry. All my dad told me was that I needed to be strong because when I see my grandma, I needed to be strong for her. I needed to help her through this because she would be the one that was gong to have the hardest time with this.

When we got to the hospital, I tried my hardest to be strong. It was so hard to be strong when I saw my mom’s, my aunt’s, my uncles, and my cousin’s tears. I didn’t know how to react or what I was supposed to do. I walked around the corner and saw my grandma. She had no tears; she was the strong one. I didn’t understand and she knew it. I looked at her and started to cry; she wiped my tears, told me she loved me, and hugged me until I stopped crying. I was mildly confused by all of this because you would think that the woman who just spent the last 50 years of her life with the same man would be devastated when she had lost him.

I was given the option to go into the room and see my grandpa for the last time because he was going to be cremated. I wanted to go into the room to say goodbye to him, but I didn’t want to see him like that. I knew my grandpa for the man that he was, and I didn’t want my last image of him to be one where he wasn’t who he was. I didn’t want my last memory of my grandpa to be in a hospital bed. My dad told me that I didn’t have to go in the room because he could tell that I didn’t want to. He said that I could walk down the hallway and say goodbye to him there, I didn’t need to be face to face with him. I took my dad’s advice and did not go into the room. Instead, I walked down the hallway and said my goodbyes. I knew that he would forever be with me wherever I went from that day on; it is just sad that I can no longer be with him.

The morning that my grandpa passed away, I came back into Eagle River to go to school. I didn’t want to go, but I needed something that could keep my mind off of the whole situation. My parents and I went out to eat at Leif’s restaurant at about 6:00 in the morning when we got into town. After breakfast my parents dropped me off at school at about 7:00. I waited outside the computer lab in anticipation for it to open so I could start working on my homework that way, I could leave the school as soon as possible. I had hoped that going to school would keep my mind off the situation, but the exact opposite happened. I should have stayed home that day, but I knew that if I stayed home all I would have thought about was my grandpa. At school, I was in a sad mood, so everyone and their mother was asking me what was wrong. It was extremely annoying. I left school after lunch and didn’t go to school the next day.

The funeral was on Saturday and my three day weekend was consumed by visits from out of and in town family. It was good to see my whole family but under the circumstances, it was not that great. The funeral was nice and gave some closure to my grandpa’s death, but the funeral was not enough.

I think my largest struggle with my grandfather passing away was the fact that I never really got to sit down and talk with him. My grandfather had been through a rough couple of years. He had three strokes, therefore, it was frustrating for him to try and talk to me. I couldn’t fully understand him and I would constantly ask him to repeat himself or I would ask my grandma what he said. Because of that, I never really asked questions or attempted to find out about his life because I didn’t want to upset him. Granite, I spent time with him, mowed his lawn, and did everything that a grandchild should but, I never sat down with him and had a conversation with him on his life growing up, and what he was up to. I was only seven when my oma and opa passed away, so I do not remember a whole lot. If I was given more time with them, I would find out every detail about them and their lives. I was given a second chance with my grandpa and I didn’t take advantage of the situation. This is what makes me really sad. I think that throughout my whole life, this is the only thing that I will ever regret.

From this entire situation, I have learned that the statement “You don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore”, is so very true. I have always known how much all of my grandparents have meant to me, but I never thought that I would miss them as much as I do. Now that I have realized this, I am not going to take anything for granite because who knows when I won’t have it anymore. So, I am going to get to know my grandma better and I am going to spend some quality time with her. She is a wonderful woman and I need to understand who she is and what her life experiences have been. I just hope that this curious, regretful girl doesn’t stay stuck in this too busy for everything, ignorant teenage body.
I have learned my lessons and I hope that I am able to apply them to real life so that I won’t have to experience this ever again because it would be the biggest mistake of my life. It will be something that I will never be able to fix. My time is running out because everyday that I don’t go to visit her because I decide to hang out with some other friend is another day wasted. I am wasting my time because unexpected, horrible things can happen. I need to start to realize that I leave for college in five months and I know that those five months are going to go just as fast as these past seventeen years have. Not to say that I will never be back, but I won’t be able to drive the five miles to her house, it will be at least three hours.
Life goes by so fast and before I know it, this could be my granddaughter writing this essay during her senior year of high school. For her sake, I pray that she is not in this position. I will just have to change this path that I am headed for right now before it is too late.

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