Maui was magic, but March was hard.  We came home to the news that Shane’s dad, who hadn’t been feeling well, was back in the hospital again.  Shane decided to fly out to Minnesota to offer whatever support he could as Denny and Pat and a slew of doctors struggled to just figure this thing out.  It was a week of tests and hard news and more tests and treatment plans and eventually Shane came home to us, exhausted and anxious, but we maintained a glimmer of hope that his dad would rebound and we’d be seeing him again this summer in Walker, perched on the seat of his golf cart at the street end, waiting to tuck Juliette into her rightful place as his best copilot.

Hope quickly waned in the following days as Denny’s health declined and hard conversations were had.  I cried rivers that week.  I sent Denny daily videos of the kids being silly or wishing him well as I began to face the fact that he’d likely never see them again in person.  Juliette wrote him the sweetest letter, gushing about how lucky she felt to be his granddaughter, how much his love has meant to her over the years.  Shane bought another plane ticket to Minnesota, this time with the knowledge that he’d be saying goodbye.  He landed in Minneapolis shortly after midnight on March 17th, drove to his mom and dad’s house two hours north, and held Denny’s hand in the wee hours of the morning.  I was so glad Shane had made it, so glad he’d have a final few days with his dad.

Shane called me around 10am later that morning – I was halfway to the zoo with the kids, determined to stay busy and enjoy the unseasonably warm day.  But my phone and rang I knew before Shane even choked out the words.  Denny had passed away just hours after Shane’s arrival, at home and surrounded by his beloveds, like he’d wanted, but damnit, this wasn’t really what he wanted.  What he wanted was more years on this earth.  It’s sure as hell what we wanted.  We wanted more hugs, more fishing trips, more rides in the side by side.  More of his contagious belly laughs.  More time.

Instead, we gathered in Minnesota a couple of days later, abundantly aware of his absence.  Juliette immediately remarked on how different the house felt without him.  Isaac wandered into their bedroom on our second morning there, patted Denny’s side of the bed, and asked “Papa?  Papa?”.  I peered in from the doorway as Pat explained to him that Grandpa is in heaven now.  Isaac then ran to their sliding glass door, nodding as he said “Mmm-hmm.  Papa outside.”  “Yeah, kind of…” Pat replied.  I cried all the while.  I couldn’t believe he was gone.

We spent a lot of time that week looking out the window for deer in the corn, knowing how Denny loved to watch them roam.  We sat around the kitchen island, telling stories about the man that loved people and food and farming and America.  It was the first time all five of his grandkids were together in one place, and it felt so unfair that he wasn’t there to enjoy it.  We stood together and wept as the marines performed funeral honors, with a gun salute and a folding of the flag.  It was beautiful.  And heart-wrenching.

Saying good-bye was the hardest thing any of us had ever done.

There’s a lot I miss about Shane’s dad, but in scrolling through photos these past few weeks, taking the time to sit with my favorite memories, it’s the loss of my kids’ grandpa that stings the most.  Goodness, how he loved Isaac and Juliette.  How they loved him back.

Rest in peace, Denny.  We miss you, deeper than we’ve ever missed anyone before.  But your generosity of heart made an indelible imprint on us.  We’ve each got this little nugget of your love tucked deep inside.  We’ll have that forever.  Forever and ever, amen.