Small Packages

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I’ve wanted to but couldn’t bring myself to put words on “paper.” The pressure of writing something perfect enough to encapsulate my feelings is next to impossible.

On Saturday, September 19th, I lost my grandpa Jim. It’s been well over a month since he left us and yet I still haven’t processed the magnitude of our family’s loss. He played such a critical role in my life, it seemed required that he would always be there.

My grandpa was a strong man, in fact one of the strongest I have ever met – so when we got the call that it was time for his family to come, I was skeptical. He had fought and conquered so many times before, I was sure that this was just another of those times.

My grandma & grandpa have 4 children and amongst them, there are 11 grandchildren and amongst us we’ve provided 13 great-grandchildren. When we got to the hospital almost the entire family was there, surrounding the man who had started it all and unlike what I was told on the phone, he was in great spirits. Obviously tired, but alert & aware, cracking jokes and telling us stories from the good ‘ole days. He made sure he saw & talked to every last one of us and specifically asked to see each of his great-grandkids, taking his oxygen mask off so that they weren’t afraid and he could see their smile one last time. If it wasn’t for his stubbly, unshaven face, it would have felt almost like any other Friday night growing up.

That’s right – almost every Friday night (and a lot of other days & nights of the week) of my entire life was spent with my extended family. It likely started off with a sporting event, to which my grandparents were in the stands cheering us on. They never missed a single event that any of their 11 grandchildren competed in – and let me tell you, we competed in almost everything a small school has to offer.

He was always there supporting us and yet after much reflection I’ve realized – he NEVER asked us for anything. He gave us everything he had and dedicated his life to his family and in return, all he wanted was our love. Even that night as he shared his final words, he didn’t ask any of us to do anything for him. He worried who would care for grandma, about the house and some of his remaining projects yet to be finished – but he didn’t ask a single person to do something for him. Ever.

The conversation I had that night with my grandpa would be the last. I’m so grateful for that time and I know how fortunate our family was to receive that gift. On Saturday, grandpa was still with us – but no longer awake or responsive and passed away peacefully that afternoon. We planned a beautiful memorial service and a record setting number of people showed up to pay their respects. It’s no surprise though, my grandpa impacted everyone he met and even though I grew up in a small community, the impression he left was unmeasurable. My brother gave the eulogy and couldn’t have delivered a more perfect tribute. I’m including it here because I want to preserve it for anytime I need to come back to remember.

They say when it rains, it pours. We returned home and the very next day our chihuahua of 11 years, Narley passed away. Similar to grandpa, I luckily spent some extra time with him that morning before heading to work. Like every other day, I put him in his dog bed when I left. Unlike other days though, when we returned home he didn’t greet us with his wagging tail & snorts. Narley was not just a dog, he was our family. He was our baby before kids and there is no way we’ll ever be able to replace him.

It seems crazy, but Grandpa Jim and Narley had more similarities than one might think. If good things come in small packages, they were the best gift possible. Both were small in stature, Grandpa weighing around 150 lbs. on his best day and Narley topping out at 9 lbs. Despite their small size, they were extremely protective & loyal to the ones they loved. They were always excited to see me and their most important shared trait – they loved me, for me.

I’m not sure how we’re supposed to move on, but I do know we’ll be forced to do so. Already this past weekend we had to take our kids first Halloween photo without Grandpa Jim. Although I was strong at the time, I needed some air so I stepped outside grandma’s house. Blowing in the wind, I was comforted by the sound of the beautiful chimes from grandpa’s funeral.

For now we’ll take one day at a time and be sure to count our lucky stars for all of our blessings and remember that we are Jim Boylen’s legacy.

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