In December we lost my grandfather, George Ervin Rowswell, just 3 months shy of his 102nd birthday. He was a coach, a teacher and an athlete until his dying day. He loved football more than just about anything, save his family, and was the grand patriarch of a wild family of 3 children, 7 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death 17 years ago by Maxine, his wife of 60+ years.
This loss was somewhat expected. When you hit the triple digits in life, it is always a possibility that the last time you see someone will be the very last time you see them. I’ve been estranged from that side of my family for nearly 10 years, so I am not wholly sure when the last time I saw my grandfather was. I cannot recall what he was wearing (probably something in a loud print), or what we said (probably talked about my kids and football).
He died before I could apologize for why I had been away from the family, for why I had not seen him in so long. I always thought I would have a chance to explain, and I didn’t take any of the chances I was given.
Understandably, I was a little reluctant to attend the memorial this past weekend. The pain I felt was raw and real and SO BIG, and I was going to have to stand in a crowd of people I had not seen in 10 years, at least one of whom openly does not care for me. I didn’t want to go.
I had panic attacks as the day drew closer. When my father came to fetch Wolfgang and I to take us to the service, I yelled at him. I yelled at Wolfgang. My grief was manifesting itself in ways that were not obvious to me….until I started crying in the middle of a McDonald’s or sobbing at work. I would be fine and then it was not unlike getting punched in the stomach – I would double over in pain and the tears could not be held back anymore.
Love has a way of helping people forgive the sometimes-unforgivable. Of course, there are always people who are going to hold onto grudges so tightly that their knuckles turn white and their faces become pinched, but those who truly love you will forgive you. Even if you are a horrible, terrible human being.
My cousins all welcomed me immediately back into the fold. Big rib-cracking hugs, genuine smiles at seeing me, hand-holding, hair-tousling, arm-pinching, old nicknames dragged out. (Side note: my whole family on that side has called me Bite since we were tiny, and some of them still do. Their kids now call me Aunt Bite. I love it so much.)
I’ve been internet dating lately (another story for another time) and it can be so disheartening sometimes. It can make you feel isolated, when your whole family is married and you’re the only one standing alone. It can make you feel like you’re the only one who isn’t loved in the whole room when you celebrate holidays.
I’ve been struggling with the concept dating as a whole, with getting too attached to people too quickly and feeling unmoored, or not getting attached at all and feeling like I am dead inside. Love seems incredibly elusive to someone who has waited 7 years since her last relationship died to date again, like I have waited too long and missed my chance.
This past weekend with my family and the way my friends rallied around me to lift me up when I couldn’t function on my own has taught me something incredibly important about love.
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We lost my grandfather last month, at the ripe old age of 101 (just shy of 102). . He was a coach, a teacher, an athlete (until his death, he rode the stationary bike every morning), a husband for over 60 years, a father to three, grandfather to 7 and great-grandfather to 14. . I heard stories about him during his service yesterday that I had never heard. Stories about his youth, how he grew up and what he was like as a teacher and coach. . From him, I get my tenacity. My ability to get shit done in ways that do not occur to other people. I get my passion for people, my drive to want to help them and my deep-seated love to give as much of myself as I possibly can to others. . He will be missed deeply, but he was celebrated wildly. We even sang his alma mater’s fight song at the graveside service. . Goodbye grandpa. Your Lillibet loves you madly. ❤️ . George Ervin Rowswell, 1917-2018 . . . . . #inmemoriam #inmemoryof #washingtonstateuniversity #georgerowswell #mygrandfather #funeralservice
Love isn’t just shared with only one other person in your life. It’s not just rainbows and kittens and roses and holding hands and kissing in the rain.
Sometimes it’s your son, in his very first custom-tailored suit, pulling Kleenex out of a pocket when you start sobbing at the gravesite. It could be one of your best friends saying “I’m taking you out” after the memorial service, and getting you slightly tipsy in some fancypants hotel bar. Sometimes it’s sitting in the car with your brother, talking about how twisted your love lives are because of how you were raised. Or it’s your dad, picking up you and your more-than-slightly-tipsy self up from a club (!!!??!!) at the ripe old age of 39.
Sometimes, it’s the whole family standing around a hole in the ground where you just placed the remains of your beloved family patriarch, while you sing the WSU fight song at the top of your lungs and laugh. Sometimes it’s one of your cousins holding your hand so you could lean over said hole in the ground (without falling in), touch the surprisingly-small marble box containing your larger-than-life grandfather, and say how sorry you are for everything.
My tenacious grandfather loved people with his whole heart and lived to help anyone in any way that he could. He was whip-smart and strong as an ox. He holds the record for being the oldest competitor in the Senior Olympics for shot put and rode a stationary bike to stay strong until the day he died.
He was laid to rest with his beloved wife in Tumwater, Washington this past Saturday, and his legacy of love and ridiculous outfits and garage sale-ing and pinching people on the back of the arm to say hello and doing his very best to give everything he had to help others will live on in his family.
We will miss the twinkle in his blue eyes and his crooked smile and his stories. We love you, Grandpa. Say hi to Grandma for us.