The Death Of Superman

Flickr / erlin1
Flickr / erlin1

My grandpa is gone. His last breath was taken only minutes before I arrived to see him. The night before I had left and I was headed out the door I hugged him and told him I loved him, then my husband did the same and my grandfather shouted through his breathing mask to tell my husband that he loved him. These were the last words I would ever hear him say. This fact breaks my heart and yet it also fills me up. I know that the man I married is a man who exemplified all the best characteristics of my grandfather and truthfully, I think my grandpa left me as soon as he did because he trusted that I was in good hands.

I wish I could say that I handled his death with grace. I wish I could say I was strong, and that I was a rock for my family. I wish I could say that I used all the skills that my grandpa instilled in me to get through tough times and pulled myself together… but I can’t. I nearly fainted when I found out he had passed and that I didn’t have a chance to have more time with him. I sobbed uncontrollably and wept for moments when I knew I would need him that he was not going to be there. I wept for the pain that I knew my family was about to endure. I was the first one there. I missed him by mere minutes. I think he planned it that way. I think he knew I would be up there bright and early, and I think he knew that I would have my husband to get me through it. If he wasn’t dead I would have killed him for doing that to me. I fell completely apart. I couldn’t even call anyone in my family to tell them. I could only sit and cry at the bedside of my grandfather whom I worshipped.

Eventually I handed my husband the phone and asked him to call my sister so she could tell everyone. I didn’t want to face them. I didn’t want to deal with their grief on top of my own. I just wanted to fall apart and have that be okay, so I did. I sat holding my grandpa’s hand (never in a million years did I think I would do that but I loved him so much that not touching him was impossible. It was as if I thought I could bring him back.) until his girlfriend walked in. She sobbed. She couldn’t believe it. We sat and grieved for each other, for the loss of someone who was so wonderful and for the many things we wanted to say and do with him yet. I grieved like a child who was just orphaned and she grieved as the widow. Both of us loving him so much and in such different yet oddly the same ways…

I am like my grandfather in many ways (or at least I like to think so). My grandpa was a foster parent, all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins are connected to me from his fostering- and because of that I became a foster parent too. We are nearing the end of the process to adopt two beautifully non well behaved little boys who have lived with us for just shy of two years. Just last month I opened our foster care license up for two more children. I didn’t feel like we were done growing our family or fostering, so in one of my better negotiating moments- I coerced, er I mean convinced my husband to let us do foster care again. Just like the first time we opened our license, he wanted one child and I opened our license for two. My grandfather was greatly amused and pretty proud. He loved the boys so much that he couldn’t wait to see us with even more kids (especially since he knew I had my heart set on girls). About a week before he passed, I got a call asking me to accept placement for twin baby girls. I immediately said yes. My grandpa wasn’t feeling well but he laughed his butt off when he heard and couldn’t wait to meet our newest additions to our family.

The day came for them to arrive, and nothing happened. The babies didn’t show up. There was a catch… the babies wouldn’t be needing a home after all… I was crushed. Grandpa told me everything happens for a reason, tried to let me down easy and put me back to focusing on my degree. Days later I was in the hospital in the scene I already described above. I suddenly understood why I couldn’t have those babies- I needed to be here and trying to take care of little baby twin girls wasn’t going to allow for the grieving that I needed to do over the loss of this man. It felt like I had been cursed, a week full of crushing devastation… even though I had been afforded the luxury of getting to say goodbye, I felt cheated. I felt alone. There was no amount of support that my husband could give me that was going to make up for the pain of having lost the biggest support in my life.

I raged. I isolated myself from all of my family, and said hateful things to my husband because I was upset. I told him that now that my grandpa was gone that I had no reason to move forward with adopting our children after all what did it matter now – my grandpa was the one who was so proud of us for doing this, he was the one who loved those boys more than anything in the world, he was the one who would have dropped everything in order to be in a courtroom (with a walker and oxygen tank if needed) to watch us become what he knew we were all along… a family. So why should I move on? So what if that’s what Grandpa would have wanted – he didn’t care what I wanted! I wanted him. I wanted more moments with him. I wanted to hear his laughter and feel his warmth. I wanted to make him proud. I wanted him to continue to be the guiding light on my life… but he didn’t… so why should I care?

I alternated between sobbing and lashing out with anger. We drove home, my husband trying desperately to be understanding, supportive, and patient. I refused to get out of the car and instead sit in the car crying my eyes out and yelling like a mad woman. I stared out my window refusing to look at my husband as he begged me to have some ability to reason during this crisis. He was just another person to be mad at- if only we had gotten there sooner- which I was sure was his fault… then out of nowhere the brightest double rainbow formed from one side of my car window to the other- perfectly framed. My mouth fell open and I got angry again. I stuck my middle finger up and left it there pointing directly at the rainbow that my grandpa decided to try to calm me with. My husband was in shock and awe. He watched it for several minutes as the colors only grew brighter and brighter the longer I flicked it off. Finally, I broke. I put my hand down, I got out of the car, I took a deep breath, and I sobbed as I whispered: “I’m sorry grandpa, I just miss you… so much…” Then as I wiped the tears from my eyes the rainbow faded away. My husband’s jaw dropped. He doesn’t believe in signs, but as he watched me talk to my grandpa and watched it fade away when I was done, even he had to wonder what kind of universe creates something so random.

I spent the next couple days in destruction mode. I sat alone and cried for a few days. A friend of mine came up for an entire day and hung out with me just to keep me from thinking too much and slipping into a dark place. It helped. I received phone calls from four different workers asking to place kids in my home… but nothing fit right. I was stuck. Then, four days after I lost my grandpa I got a phone call that may as well have come directly from him in Heaven: “Kera, can you take the girls? It’s a long story but we are moving them tomorrow- for sure this time.” I couldn’t believe it. “Yes!” I tried not to get my hopes up but I couldn’t help but feel like my grandpa had a hand in this. The day before my grandpa’s memorial service I picked up the little girls that I had been waiting for. I looked at them and knew they were supposed to be mine- at least for a little while.

I took them to the memorial service. I felt like it was a way for him to meet them. The girls and I sat in the church listening to the hub-bub. I whispered to the girls that they would have loved him if they had known him, then I paused and said- or maybe you already have, maybe that’s how you ended up in my arms right now… and as I looked down into one of their eyes I swear I saw my grandpa’s reflection. I lost it. I felt this he had given the girls to me to help me get through, but it was all so daunting. Moments before I was to stand and give my eulogy, one of the babies threw up all over me. Massive amounts of formula and no time to spare, so I went into the bathroom of the church tried to clean it off and when I realized that wasn’t going to work I ripped my shirt off turned it inside out and backwards, and walked back in to give my eulogy to the man whom I loved and whom I loved and felt was still nearby. Here is what I said:

“Hi everyone, my name is Kera Wagner and anyone who knew my grandpa knew he had a wonderful sense of humor, and he’s having a good laugh right now because one of my twins just threw up all over me, so excuse the backwards shirt. I have been married for three years and before I got married I was an Osborne- like him. This was something I took very seriously and so when it came time to change my name I talked to him about it and he said: Wagner is a much wealthier- change it! So I did…

My grandpa was an amazing man which anyone here can attest to. He took in hundreds of kids and gave them a safe place to call home, even years after he stopped being a foster parent. He stood by, encouraged, and loved so many of us despite our faults, imperfections, and numerous ways that we found to fail him. He continued to have hope for every single one of us that we would one day pick ourselves back up and try again.

In fact the only thing he ever asked was that each day we woke up and tried to learn from our mistakes so we could do better the next day. Often, I know I failed him in that way- I’m sure I’m not alone. Having said that though, he made me want to be a better person. I woke up every day knowing that I had a role model to help guide my life. In fact Grandpa taught me everything I know about how to live my life… except how to live it without him…

His voice will be heard in our heads, his warmth will be impossible to replace, and his lessons will live on in all of us forever. In everything he did there was a lesson; he taught me to always look for the joy in life by always reading the newspaper by starting with the funnies. He taught me that love knows no bounds by loving me and every person in this room as if they were his own flesh and blood though many of us weren’t. He taught me that failure was usually just a step in the process to success by loving me even more when I failed. He taught me that hope springs eternal by never giving up on any of us- especially me.

His hand is in every single aspect of my life; from the man I married (Grandpa approved- which no doubt had something to do with the fact that they are nearly the same person), to the children I had (directly a result of wanting to be a foster parent like him), Thanks for the twins grandpa- and my career which I chose because I wanted to make him proud and let him watch me walk across the stage at graduation. There is nothing in my life he didn’t affect and nothing in my life that won’t be a little broken now that he’s gone. I am more than a little broken without him.

Every single moment of my life has been shaped by him, he was literally there the moment I was born. When I talk about my memories growing up it’s about the bubble lights on the Christmas tree, and the jars of candy on the entertainment center. It’s the senior pictures of all his kids hanging up proudly on display for all to see in the old house, and it is the Osborne Hotel that everyone knew would find an empty bed for those in need. As my brother Logan said once: I knew if I had nowhere to go- I could go there and Grandpa would always find a place for me- I always had a home. I’m sure many of the people here found a home because of him. And for some of us, it would be the only home we would ever know.

Grandpa’s generosity was not in his money (though Lord knows he gave up plenty of that), but in his heart. He loved with every fiber of his being. Just the touch of his hand or the sound of his laugh could brighten your day if not outright fix everything that was wrong. He cared about other people in a way that most people who did not know him will never understand. He was a super man, and for those of us who grew up calling him some form of Dad he was the actual Superman. His kryptonite was the laughter of little children. Whenever I would come to him overwhelmed by the kids, he would turn to me and tell me: “Just love them… they are Osborne children… just love them and they will be alright…” As a parent that is infuriating to hear him say, as a grandchild looking for wisdom it is a sense of comfort and relief- the knowledge that the person you love most in the world has a constant faith in you… and we are aren’t we- in some form or another- Osborne children? Did not every single one of us learn something from this man who we sit here today grieving the loss of? Have we not all shook our heads at the things he has endured and watched in amazement as he kept coming back for more with a smile on his face and an “I’m always great!” coming from his mouth?

I’d like to end by telling you some of the most important lessons I learned with my time with Grandpa: First, never walk directly behind a slow walking man with a shopping cart in a store- as he is probably passing gas. Second, always rate the hotel you are staying at by the food it serves. Third, if driving to Florida with your family, take your own car and get extra insurance on any vehicle that an old man might be driving. Yellow is not gender neutral for a baby- it IS in fact a girl color. Always give people more credit than they are due as they might surprise you. Family is not made up of flesh and blood, it is made of the people you love most. Family comes first, period. And lastly, Love with every single breath that you have.

I will miss him in every moment, of every day for the rest of my life and there are no amount of words that will ever be able to tell you all what he meant to me, and the only reason that I know that’s okay is because I know you loved him that much too. Good bye Grandpa, I love you.”

I have woken up every day since then and felt his presence in the family I have built. I see him in the smile of the girls, and the laughter of the boys, I see him in the cupboard door my husband is incapable of closing, and in the way that I think about him before I do anything. I’ve lost Superman, but what he left behind is a legacy that I intend to keep alive and never let anyone forget how much he loved his family and what having a family really meant to him. It was about the people you love most sharing the moments that mean the most… and that is something I am working to follow his footprints. I would like to think a piece of him lives on in me, and that he will be somewhere nearby for all the moments he will miss but would have enjoyed so much… TC mark

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