Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Hey, everybody.

Today, I've decided to share some thoughts with you all about a topic that I've mentioned briefly before in a post I made last year, but have never cared to elaborate too deeply on:
the passing of my grandfather, which happened a year ago today.

In exchange-and/or-travel-related contexts and others, I generally tend to keep things fairly cheery and upbeat on this blog, trying to embrace the best, most positive aspects of life both in what I share with you all, and what I personally focus on in my own thoughts and reflections offline.
But today, I thought it only fitting to pay a humble homage to my grandfather, a man very close to my own heart, to whom I am immensely proud to be related, and dearly miss.

A year ago today, I found myself taking advantage of an impromptu "snow day" off from school (of which we had many last winter) in a way that is fairly characteristic for me - browsing in a Barnes and Nobles bookstore located a mere five minute walk from my house (thank goodness).
It's something of a safe space for me, somewhere I can go if I have nowhere else to go, but just want to be out of the house or do something, where I can meander aimlessly for hours, hopping from world to world among all the different books I find.
On this particular visit, I spent most of my time in the international travel and foreign language sections, as I typically do. At the time, I had yet to start amassing the extensive collection of Lonely Planet phrasebooks I've since gathered for the various languages I am interested in, and among them is a Hungarian phrasebook. In posts I've made before concerning the various languages I want to learn, I've mentioned my grandfather, whose parents both emigrated from Hungary as teenagers, who spoke Hungarian, and shared bits and pieces of Hungarian heritage with my father's side of our extended family, as my main inspirations for wanting to learn Hungarian. As I looked at that Lonely Planet Hungarian phrasebook, I immediately thought of him, and decided to buy it and start using it, in the hopes that I could eventually hope to have an uncomplicated conversation with him in a phone call, or a future visit to my grandparents' home in New Jersey.
Little did I know how ironic that decision would soon prove to be.

As I walked back home, I fought my way through the gusting winds, soft but ample snow, and bitter cold that characterized most of last winter for us residents of southeastern Michigan. Once I finally reached my house, I arrived to a palpably shocked and distraught atmosphere that immediately led me to believe something was very, very wrong.
I wondered what it could be. There was the one thing that I feared it could be, that I hoped it wouldn't be, that was proven with my father's words along the lines of "Grandpop is gone."
As gentle as those words were meant to be, they sliced through the air like knives, landing in my chest and diffusing a feeling of cold, numb shock throughout my body.
It took me several minutes to fully process the news. The shock was particularly visceral due to the fact that I'd just bought the Hungarian phrasebook mere minutes earlier because I'd thought of him, and because I was hoping I'd put it to good use and wish him a "boldog születésnapot" (happy birthday) just four days later.

In the days that followed, I tried my best to go through life as normally as possible, and at times, the frenetic, fast-paced life I was living as an IB-eleventh grader did a good job of keeping my mind grounded. But the cold, numb feeling in my chest did not go away, and every time I thought of the situation, or of him, and I was reminded of what had happened, it got stronger, and spread further.

Just around a month and a half after my grandfather passed, there was a memorial service held in his honor in his (and my father's) hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, which was attended by a huge number of my extended family (and I mean huge - my father is the youngest of ten children, nearly all of whom have their own spouses and families. Needless to say, I come from a biiiiig family.)
The gathering itself was not actually that mournful in nature, for the most part. We enjoyed being together as a large group, as we hadn't for quite a while. We all live in different parts of the country across many different states, and when I was growing up we'd meet up every summer in Topsail Beach, North Carolina, for about two weeks. This was an annual ritual that was part of growing up for me, and a source of many memories I treasure deeply to this day. Unfortunately, partly because my grandparents weren't feeling up to the trip anymore, and partly because of various logistical complications that arose, we made the trip out there for the last time in the summer of 2012, just weeks before I left for my year in Egypt, and it hasn't taken place again since then. Therefore, we took full advantage of this now rarer chance to spend time together. We spent whole days just sitting around the house together, watching movies and the Oscars on TV, sharing stories about my grandfather, about each other, about our lives and hobbies and beliefs, and just generally enjoying each other's company as much as we could, supporting each other through the difficult time.
This sedentary stint of ours lasted a few days, aside from a visit to my grandmother that I made with my parents and sister. While we were very happy to see my grandmother, the whole visit was weird. In every possible sense of the word.
As I wrote in my journal afterwards, "...the house felt incomplete in every sense of the word, like half of its energy was missing. It felt as though any moment, Grandpop would pop out from behind one of the doors and come over to say hello, smiling his wide smile and laughing his throaty laugh.
But of course, he didn't.
It just didn't feel right."
I hardly could some up the experience any better than I did with those words.

Then came the actual service.
This for me was probably the most emotional part of the whole visit.
There were some readings, one of which was read by my father, and there were many kind and heartfelt words spoken. I remember little else of it, as the whole experience inspired some pretty tumultuous feelings.
The one image that continues to haunt me and pretty much did me (and, by the look of it, many others) in was that of my grandmother being led down the aisle alone at the end of the service.
She and my grandfather had what is certainly the longest marriage of which I have ever known. They celebrated their seventieth anniversary the month before he died, and had been high school sweethearts for a few years prior to boot.
I'd always known them as each other's companion and better half, their partner in life in every way imaginable, always looking out for the other, as a partnership that was a true force of nature, that I'd always looked up to as the kind I, as a self-proclaimed romantic idealist, would hope to one day find myself.
Seeing my grandmother alone like that really forced me to confront the reality and full implications of my grandfather's passing, and the emotion that came with that realization slammed into me like a ton of bricks.

I barely even had time to process those feelings - that very evening, after a reception following the service, we flew back home to Michigan, and I jumped right back into the crunch of my life at school, into three straight days of standardized testing.

Many things have happened in the meantime, and sometimes I have to be reminded of the whole situation - between the frenetic pace of my school life, spending most of the summer in Turkey, applying to colleges, and so on, it's been a very busy year since that fateful day I came home from Barnes and Nobles with the Hungarian phrasebook. With my grandparents living in New Jersey, I didn't see them very often, and often could only regularly keep in touch with them on the phone, or through my grandfather's admirably active Facebook presence.
But every time I see a picture of him, or think of one of my many memories in which he features prominently, or call their house and only my grandmother picks up, that cold, numb feeling comes back to stay a while.
By now, I would say that at this point, I've reached a fairly good place mentally with regards to my grandfather's passing.
In spite of the fact that the same cold, numb feeling returns at times, I've come to a point where I can look back and feel more happiness and pride in his life and many achievements, in all that he gave me, and in my personal pride that I am related to him, than sadness and misery at the fact that he no longer is here.
And today, in the spirit of this happiness and pride, I wanted to take a moment to honor the man himself, his wisdom, his kindness, his wry humor and gentle spirit and the unconditional love he felt for all his family and friends, and all that he's given me to be proud of as his grandson.

Suffice it to say, Grandpop, I love you, and I miss you.

All my love,
Nico <3

My grandfather used to say "go with the flow," so I learned the Hungarian translation of the phrase and wrote it on my wrist (thinking about getting a tattoo of it someday). 

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