Ari with his grandparents

Ari E. Lebowitz takes a selfie with his grandparents, Keith and Yvonne Krieg, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 2015

Life is a beautiful thing. It has its ups and downs, its twists and turns. We see joy, and we see tragedy. If it weren’t for the upsetting moments, we wouldn’t have the appreciation for the positive parts. It is a constant give and take.

Losing a loved one should never easy. You may not have known them as much as you could or should have, or you may have been two peas in a pod.

When dealing with death, you get a better understanding of life itself, and if you are strong, you can learn things from it and you will hopefully become a better, more understanding person for doing so.

Within the last year and a half, I have lost two grandparents, Keith and Yvonne Krieg of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Yvonne was my mother’s stepmother, and she passed away in early 2017. On July 17 of this year, we lost my maternal grandfather, Keith, or according to me, my Grandad.

I am not writing this to bum anybody out, but this is just the reality of my life right now and, hell, it’s the reality of life.

I am writing this two days after burying the cremated remains of them both in a quiet little cemetery on a hill among the headstones of the Krieg family members who passed on before, in the sleepy town of Huntington, Indiana, the ancestral home of both my grandfather and my mother.

This past weekend, my parents and I took the long drive along Interstate 80 through Iowa, across Illinois and into Indiana to say goodbye to our beloved patriarch, who by all means should have been dead in the '90s after doctors gave his cancer a matter of months. He beat all of the odds, and I was blessed with many more great years to see him. Cancer and diabetes finally brought the reaper last month and I am relieved he can no longer feel the brutal hurt we will all most likely succumb to in the end.

One reason I decided on this topic for this week’s Final Say is because during our final conversation, I told my Grandad that I was interviewing for the entertainment writing position at the Weekender. At that point I was not utilizing my journalism degree and was pounding parts out of steel sheets for a living. After I told him my intentions to get this job, he uttered in a feeble voice that was no longer his own, “I’m proud of you, little buddy.” Those were the last words I would ever hear him say. He passed away four days later, and I accepted this position at the Weekender the following week.

There were only a handful of people at the cemetery, and I opted to fill his grave with dirt using the convex portion of a shovel. This is a Jewish tradition which allows you to not rush the burial...he may not have been Jewish, but I think the tradition is beautifully personal. It gives you more time to say goodbye.

I had spent the night before in an Applebee’s across the parking lot from the motel in which we were staying, sipping liquid courage and wracking my brain for what I would say for his eulogy. I couldn’t just sit at the service and mope. I had to tell whoever was going to be at the service what my Grandad meant to me and give little anecdotes from the past 32 years of knowing this wonderful, caring man, and of course my Nana, as I was in the hospital with my own health problems when she passed away last year.

Arriving at the church, I was amazed with the turnout. There was family there I had not seen in a quarter century. It was very touching to see how many lives one 91-year-old man had graced. It was a beautiful thing, death making me connect with people I may not have even remembered from my childhood.

Standing in front of the congregation, I read my speech from my phone, trying my best not to get choked up. Miraculously, I held it together while telling funny stories and cutting the tension in the room (if you ever give a eulogy, try to throw in a bit of humor). Toward the end of the speech, I couldn’t help letting go of some tears, the hot, salty liquid sliding down my face and eventually dripping from my chin. I did what I had intended to do, I gave a poignant eulogy, sometimes making the congregation belly-laugh, and other times watching people dabbing their eyes with soft, white tissues. The experience was cathartic, and just what I needed to let go. Mind you, letting go does not mean forgetting. That, I will never do.

My point, dear readers, is that you can never take your life, or your loved ones lives for granted. Nobody knows how long anybody has on this Earth. Take advantage of having your grandparents and parents in your life. Always tell them you love them, because you never know when sweet lady death will extend her soft palm and invite them home. Love. Love them. Give them as much love as you can. All you need is love. I will always feel fortunate to have known such unconditional love from my departed loved ones, and because of that, they will forever have a home in my heart.

The immortal words of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” come to mind. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

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