In support of my friend over at A Clown on Fire and in honor of Movember, a campaign to raise awareness for the fight against prostate cancer and issues regarding men’s mental health, I dedicate this post to my grandfather.
In my family, men don’t die from cancer. In my family, unexpected death comes in the form of heart attacks. It has claimed my mother’s father in his 50s; it claimed my beloved and all too young Uncle Kenny in his 30s and it first claimed my father’s father in his 40s. Movember is about raising awareness about prostate cancer – but it goes beyond that – it highlights how important it is for men to take their health seriously. The impact upon the people in my family from these three deaths is much like a single drop of water in the lake. It ripples out and changes us on the surface and deep inside. The death of a loved one is hard enough to cope with, but coupled with the unexpected death of a family member that could have been saved by preventative treatment is heart breaking.
I wrote about my maternal grandfather’s unexpected death in another post that you can read here. I miss my Poppy daily. He was part of my everyday life when I was little. I sat on his lap and he would pull my pigtails and tease me about having another granddaughter named Rosalie (I was the only granddaughter). He owned a Sabrett hot dog stand – and I thought he had the coolest job going. I remember him at Christmas making Italian ribbon cookies alongside my Nanny, who cooked up a storm for our 100 course dinner and midnight buffet on Christmas Eve. I was devastated when he died but he left me memories that I can hold on to for my lifetime.
My Uncle Kenny’s death was so very different. I will never forget that day when the phone rang. We lived in Tucson at the time and everyone else was living in New York – all my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. I remember my father answering the phone in my parent’s bedroom and I heard an anguished wailing that shook me to my core and made my blood run cold. My father came lurching out of the bedroom making that noise – and crying. I’d never seen my father cry. I was about 12 years old and was completely unprepared to deal with my father’s anguish and sorrow.
The phone call was from my father’s brother – having to break the news to my father that their baby brother, in his 30s, died of a heart attack. My Uncle Kenny had a wife and three young children – one still a toddler. His death was heart breaking. It hurt my father so deeply – he never really got over it. It affected his mental health – which in turn affects everyone around him. My mom has said that he wasn’t quite the same man after Uncle Kenny died.
My Uncle Kenny was such an awesome person. He was funny, silly and loved children. It was always such a treat when he came to visit. He’d let me lie in his bed early in the morning and tell me stories that would make me giggle. He never minded that I talked a blue streak – and always had time to listen to whatever I had to say. He was one of the first adults that I remember that treated kids with the same respect that he treated adults. He seemed so carefree – but he also had another side to him. He worked a lot and didn’t pay attention to his diet (he wasn’t overweight at all, but my father often told me Uncle Kenny didn’t eat vegetables). Unbeknownst to me, he was under an enormous amount of stress and that coupled with poor eating habits resulted in his untimely death. He should not have died that young. His wife, my Aunt Lynn is also a phenomenal person – and she raised my three cousins as a single parent. My cousins, whom I love dearly even though I don’t get to see them often, make me so proud. I cannot even imagine what it was like for them to lose a parent at such a young age.
However, like my Poppy, I have memories of my Uncle Kenny that I cherish.
This brings me to the first unexpected death – my paternal grandfather, who I never got to meet. He, like his son after him, left behind a very young child. My Aunt Maryann, I believe, was 5 or 6 when he died. My father and she have a 20 year difference between them. So my father and his two brothers all grew up with their father – my Aunt didn’t get that opportunity. Thus my grandmother was left widowed in her 40s with a young child – and my grandfather’s family lived in Canada, so she didn’t have the comfort of his family to help see her through those rough times.
I regret that I never met my grandfather – he was also someone that was very funny and clever. My mom often told me he was one of the nicest guys she’d ever met. My favorite tidbit that my parents shared with me about my grandfather was that he was a ‘One Man Band’ – that is so cool. He was very much an individual and he was Canadian – that, in and of itself, makes him extra cool (which, if you know me, you know I am such a Canadian-Wanna-Be). I often feel that I’m somewhat different from much of my family – and I think that I would have had a special connection with my grandfather –as my father often said I was a bit like him. I think his death was also something that could have been prevented had there been more awareness regarding men’s health.
I wish I could have had a memory of him to cherish.
So I implore all of you men reading this – go to the doctor and have regular checkups – your prostate, your heart, and all the other body parts that need exploring…get them explored! Now turn your head and cough.