Like many of you, I am a member of a blended family. When I was 30 and my mom died, it left me feeling rudderless, to say the least. My dad, Bob, was naturally bereft, and as time went by and he’d given grief its due, he jumped back into life. Before long, he fell in love with Judy and she became my stepmother.
Fast forward 20 years later and our very large blended family is dealing, each in our own way, with the death of beloved Grandpa Herb, Judy’s dad. He wasn’t my biological grandparent (I lost them all many years ago), but he served that role admirably. Herb was 98 years old when he died on Tuesday, and while he already had it on his calendar to celebrate his 100th, his frail body wasn’t up for the wait.
The Herb I first met was a man who had given his career to Swift & Company up in Minnesota and was now happily retired and living the life of a winter Texan, fishing on the Gulf coast with his wife, Dorothy. She passed away not long after I met them and Herb eventually came to live with my dad and Judy. For most of their married life, he was there.
When Dad and Judy were still working, Herb was an enormous help to them. They’d come home from work and the house would be clean, the table set, and dinner prepared. Herb took care of the yard, fed the birds and squirrels, and always found a project to work on. If something wasn’t functioning to his satisfaction, he would jerry-rig it in some creative, often outwardly unattractive but workable way.
As he got on in years, one of his favorite things was playing Rummikub, and we all got hooked on the game along with him. Herb took supreme satisfaction in winning and especially in securing the joker tiles, which he called boogymen. In fact, his body will be cremated with one of those tiles!
When you’ve lived nearly a century, you experience so much. Just think about the events of our history over that time, and how much the world has changed. Herb talked often of life during the Depression, of playing basketball and meeting Dorothy, of his time managing a large crew at Swift & Co., of his lake homes, ice fishing, and winters in Rockport. He suffered loss, including seeing his son pre-decease him, but nevertheless remained invested in the art of living.
If you met Herb, you were instantly charmed, as was the case even in the last month of his life when he moved into an assisted living home. He never wanted to be a burden to anyone, and swore that he wouldn’t get in the way of Judy and my dad being free to travel. We wonder whether his commitment to ensuring their freedom played into the timing of him leaving his rapidly declining body. A 10-day trip to Germany is coming up next week, and while the loss of Herb leaves a void in our family, we go there to celebrate the expansion of it through another marriage.
None of us escapes death, yet the spirit surely endures. Memories link us forever to those who have left before us and with each passing generation, they’re somehow reborn. You see it in the eyes, in a loving gesture, in the way they’ve inherited qualities that remind you of who you’ve loved and lost. Thanks for the memories, Herbie.
©Maria K. Benning, M.Ed.