Will you help me pay tribute to someone wonderful?01-31-2014
Last week a very dear and beloved member of our family passed away — my son’s paternal grandpa, Norm. Or, as we affectionately called him —Grandpa Bebop (as a nod to his love of jazz).
Here’s who Norm was. Norm was someone who traveled to San Francisco every year since my son Kayne was born so he could celebrate Kayne’s birthday. He’d mix up Harry Potter potions with us, stuff goodie bags with us, and bowl with us. One time when Kayne was going through his superhero phase, Grandpa Bebop and his wife, Sue, brought a 4-foot Spiderman piñata on the plane with them!
Norm was someone who never had a negative word to say about anyone. He looked for the good in situations— always pointing out what was pleasant or interesting, not what was missing or difficult. He took responsibility seriously. He provided for his family, planned for his retirement, paid all the bills on time, and saved a lot of his money. After his wife died, Norm carried out her wishes for a big family vacation: he splurged generously on a trip to Hawaii for eleven people. And then, the next year he said, “How about Cape Cod?” And the year after that, “How about Pismo Beach?”
Many of you know that I have a rather unconventional relationship with my son’s dad. We are no longer partners in the romantic/married sense, but we are partners in living together and raising our son within a loving, compassionate, and fun family. Throughout all those unusual transitions, Norm continued to be every bit as warm and wonderful to me as he ever had been. Again, never a negative word at all. I think he just wanted everyone to spend time together, be happy, and to love one another.
In fact, one of my very favorite ongoing memories with Norm is that every year since 2006 he has traveled with us from California to Ohio at the holidays to spend ten or twelve days with my mom and other Belul clan. My beau of eight years, Ian, has traveled with us most of those years and Norm simply extended Ian the same warmth and joy he had for everyone else. Not only that, but Norm was game for anything and everything. Travel from sunny, warm San Diego to the slushy, snowy cold of Ohio? Sure thing. Learn new card games or board games? Why not? He was Jewish, but he would be the one to hang the most ornaments on my mom’s Christmas tree when the rest of us pooped out. (He’d also lead the prayers and kick-off the kugel-eating for our Hanukkah night!)
Bebop was in in 80’s, but he’d don a blue bandana and heartily join in our “Survivor Christmas” Holiday Hoopla antics and games— teaming up with my mom for the “Extreme Gingerbread House Decorating” event and then afterward eating the gooey mess! He’d participate in treasure hunts, blindfolded food tasting, ornament storytelling contests, personalized crosswords, magic shows, you name it. All you’d have to do was ask, and he’d throw his arms up in the air, laugh, and say, “What the hell? Why not!”
I could go on and on telling you tidbits of marvelous things about Norm. He was just plain lovable in so many ways. My heart is squishy right now thinking of how much delight he added to our lives. (As my friend, Suki, put it, “Norm just tickled me by who he was.”)
But this note isn’t really meant to be just about Norm/Bebop. It is a reminder for myself and all of us — that the people we love dearly … the people who make up our favorite memories … aren’t always going to be here. One of the most poignant parts of being human is having the knowledge that at any moment anything could happen. Our lives, or those of people we love, could change or end without notice.
I miss Norm. And I’m really sad. But one thing I don’t feel is regret. Over the years, as a clan and individually we took many opportunities to celebrate Norm and to tell him all the reasons we loved him so gosh-darned much. We wrote him letters and cards. We made him Love Lists, Celebration Books, and personalized iMovies. One year for his birthday, I set up an appointment at Story Corps and my son and his dad interviewed Grandpa Bebop, collecting audio stories of his life.
We had plenty of opportunities to re-tell wonderful memories and pay tribute to Norm. And fortunately, for us and for generations to come, we will always have these memory books, audios, and other tangible reminders of who he was and the central role he played in our lives.
What you can do to help pay tribute to Norm/Bebop:
Norm absolutely loved his family and friends. As a tribute to him, I invite you to take ten minutes today and connect with someone in your life by sending a short love note or card in the mail to them. Simply tell them they’re fondly on your mind. Jot down a favorite memory or something you’re grateful to them for. Maybe enclose a little hand-drawn illustration, old photo, quote, or pressed flower. It doesn’t have to take a long time or be a big deal. It just needs to be a simple, heartfelt connection. And it needs to happen today. Because in the rush and tumble of everyday life, it is easy to put off the things that are most important. Don’t wait; say it now.
After you send your love note, email me and tell me how it felt to do so. I’ll send you a li’l thank you something.
P.S. If you have some favorite jazz music, will you play it in the background —in memory of Bebop —while you write your card or note to someone you love? I think he'd like that.