On April 16th, I lost one of the most important people in my life- my grandpop. I had the opportunity to spend the last days with him, am so grateful I was able to tell him everything I wanted to before he went to join my grandmom in heaven. On April 27th, I had the privilege of giving his eulogy. Words can’t do justice to the impact he had on my life.
“Lost love is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.” ― Mitch Albom
My name is Patrice, and I am Al’s granddaughter. Just 16 days’ shy to the exact date two years ago, I was at this same podium sharing the impact my grandmother had on my life. Like deja vu, I’m here again, this time celebrating the life of my Grandpop. So, who was Al Bendig?
He was a bartender who shared with us his appreciation of cosmos, vodka and cranberries, fuzzy navels and apple martinis. Later in life, I was able to share with him craft beer, especially Not Your Father’s Root Beer & Cherry Cola. He was always rocking his trademark plaid flannel button up shirts, striped polos in the summer, and one of his array of baseball caps. He was proud resident of Pebble Beach drive, living in a community that truly cared about him. The highlight of his week was the golf outing played at the Mays Landing Country Club, literally in his backyard. His neighbors became his second family, providing him care and comfort. Thank you for helping to care for my grandparents during the last few years of their lives. He was also proud ride operator at Storybook Land, a place where he was able to form new friendships later in life.
He was man of faith, a parishioner of St. Anselm’s Church in Philadelphia for over 40 years, and then St. Katharine Drexel for the past 15 years. He & my grandmother had a permanent seat at Saturday night mass, which they never missed. He also took his commitment as an usher very seriously, going faithfully until illness prevented him to do so. He had even lamented how upset he was that he wasn’t able to attend Easter mass for the first time in his life, just two weeks before his passing. After moving down to Mays Landing, he became a member of the Knights of Columbus, something he took much pride in and had always said that they would be standing guard at his funeral one day. Thank you for being here today.
He was a dedicated husband and father. For 61 years, he lived this crazy adventure with the love his life Pat. Meeting in their early teens, they literally grew up and grew old together. They raised four upstanding children, in which he passed on appreciation for a strong mixed drink, the importance of knowing how to grill anything, and how to analyze any sport. Of course like anyone who lived together for over 22,080 days, him and Grandmom had their squabbles. When he was being extra grumpy, Grandmom had no problem turning down her hearing aid. He was notorious for making silly faces behind Grandmom’s back when she would remind him to behave. When his back was turned, she would wave her fist at him. As much as my heart is breaking, there is a comfort knowing that after 23 months apart, my grandparents are back together again.
There were many roles Al Bendig played in his life, but the one that he excelled in the most was being my grandfather. As a little girl, my favorite thing was when my parents would have them over. Kneeling on the couch, I’d prop myself up to look out the window. When the red two door Oldsmobile would appear in view, I’d jump up and yell ‘grandmom and grandpop are here’.
Every time we left their house, Grandpop would stand outside of the car, making funny faces at us while our parents got situated. He’d stand there waving until we were completely out of sight. He introduced us to Entiemens, sherbet, the joys of coffee creamers, ketchup chips, hot sausage and crab dip. We introduced him to texting, snapchat, Taylor Swift and Beanie Babies. He was always in the center of the action, making continuous efforts to be on our level. Like when he would pretend to be a monster and lift up each of us in the swimming pool while making funny faces and sound effects, then plunging us into the deep end. When I was a little girl while they still lived on their house on Medford road, I remember sitting in his chair on his lap as he sang me songs like ‘Camp Granada’ and ‘A You’re Adorable’, while making over the top facial expressions and bouncing me on his knee. Growing up, our conversations were the highlight of my week. They took part after dinner, whatever Grandmom has made that night at our weekly Tuesday night dinners in Yardley. Usually we would sit at the kitchen table, him at the head of table and me next to him. We would linger once everyone cleared the table after desert, which was usually some sort of cake from Mccaffrey’s.
Grandpop was always ‘one of the kids’, never spared any expense to make us laugh. He’d go through the revolving door with us at Wanamakers at Christmas team until we were dizzy. I can still hear Grandmom yelling ‘Al, Al’ as he would swing us up in the air by our ankles and arms while we shrieked with delight. He taught me important life lessons: Never cut a loaf bread, always break, how to blow bubble gum despite my mom being against me having any sort of gym until I was 15, how to whistle and how to snap. Growing up, he would sneak five dollar bills in the palm of hands so we would have money for the ice cream truck. During our Disney World vacation when I was nine years old, I had my heart set on this huge figment puppet. It was about 3 feet tall, would not easily fit in a suitcase and was way more expensive than any stuffed animal should be. Even when my parents said no way, Grandpop had snuck back to the area to buy me the puppet.
My favorite memories of my childhood are the summers spent in Margate. We would spend all day at the beach, right in front of Lucy the Elephant. He would always go into the ocean with us kids, where we would be clinging on to him when the waves got to be too much. Even after my cousins went back to the pool at the condo, he would stay out in the ocean with me as we bobbed the waves. We would go to Lucy’s food stand, where we would get ice cream and walk along the beach. One of his favorite stories to share was the summer vacation when my new shoes made my feet get blisters. At six-years-old, this of course felt like the end of the world and there was no way I’d be able to walk the highly anticipated boardwalk. So what did he do? Grandpop carried me the entire length of the Ocean City, NJ Boardwalk, just so my feet wouldn’t hurt and I could enjoy the evening.
Almost 2 decades later, I can still see Grandpop walking up the grass field in his business suit after a long day of work to watch my softball games. He would sit on the bleachers during my CYO Saturday morning basketball games, cheering me on despite not being very good at all. Years later, he told me one afternoon while out back eating lunch “You know sweetheart, you’re weren’t very good at basketball” he admitted. Recently while going through his office, I stumbled across a box with my name on it, I found he kept all of my writings. The melodramatic Christmas story I wrote for him when I was thirteen based off of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, My high school and college newspapers, all of my published essays from my career, which we talked about each one in detail. He even had a few of our emails printed out- the ones that had updates from college.
When my mother first got sick when I was 12 years old, every day after work he would drive up to our house and sit with me. While other adults were busy making arrangements, getting health updates or visiting my mom, he would come directly to me. It was time where I didn’t have much to say because I was in shock. He sat there on the sofa and asked how I was doing; his concern was my feelings. He was always on my side, and the face in the crowd that was guaranteed to be there. Even as an adult, he continued to connect through text message when I couldn’t get down to visit as much. Before starting my current job a few years ago, he would text me everyday giving me encouragement to calm my nerves. My two of my favorite texts from him were when he told me I’d love the new Taylor Swift Diet Coke commercial that featured her cat, and when he reminded me when the Grumpy Cat Christmas television special was airing. The Saturday before Easter, two weeks before his passing, his ‘girls’ visited him. “We are your Charlie’s Angels” Kelly joked, pointing out there was a blonde, a brunette and a redhead. “How lucky am I to have my girls”, he’d always say. As you’ve probably noticed, one of the classic photos we took was with him and his girls. We have so many from throughout the years, and I’m so glad for some reason we took one last shot that Saturday.
During the last few weeks of my grandfather’s life, I learned that the memories that remind you what family is about aren’t the scrapbook snapshots or the Christmas-card scenes- though they make for great photo collages. Family is about dropping everything to sit in throughout the night in the hospital room, bringing a purse full of Burger King because you know your cousin hasn’t eaten anything and is too tired to make any decisions. Family is walking outside of a nursing home making stupid jokes because if you would have stayed in that room for another minute, your heart would have exploded from grief. Family is sitting in a shoebox sized, 90-degree room watching Law and Order SVU together while your grandfather and father is on the brink of death. Family is spending every Sunday morning meeting at Ihop for two years straight making plans over pancakes. Family is filling the plastic cup with cold water and moistening your grandfather’s lips when he can no longer eat. Family is leaning your head against their shoulder despite squabbling moments earlier, without having to say a word, and receiving solace without speaking a single word.
My father, John, and my aunt, Suzanne, have been pillars of strength during the loss of both of our grandparents. For the past 4 years, they’ve put much of their own lives on hold to care for my grandparents while they were struggling at the end of their lives. Always bringing a chai vanilla latte or a milkshake, they took on the role of caretakers, advocates, and even barbers. Clearly it wasn’t easy, but the dedication to their parents up until their final breath gave me a newfound respect for them. Thank you both for once again setting an example of doing the right thing, no matter what the circumstance may be. I know Grandmom would be so incredibly proud of the way you cared for grandpop the final two years of his life.
I had the privilege of having my grandfather for 28 years- which is more than many have, and nearly double of the time I had with my other grandfather. Grandpop has been one of the few consistent things in my life- and for all of us. It’s been less than two weeks since he passed, and I miss my Grandpop more than words can say. Personally, this is the hardest loss of my life up and will always be one of the hardest. Both my grandparents are gone. For many of here, two of the important and influential people in our lives are gone. The gravity of the situation has been weighing on my shoulders throughout the past few weeks as Grandpop began to slip away. I will never hear him say another blessing before grace on a holiday meal, nor will I ever look up to see him making a goofy face from across the table. I will never hear his personalized text tone signaling he sent me a message.
There will be no one waving to me as the car pulls away from the house, there will be no more house. There will be no more Sunday morning drives down to Grandmom and Grandpops. There will be no more summer bbqs in their backyard where we had to be vigilant of being hit with golf balls. A new chapter now begins as we continue their legacy by now being the ones to make the time and effort to create the memories over baked goods and coffee, sharing barbecue dinners while watching the Phillies, and just being present when one of us needs each other. Based on the last few weeks, I am sure we will rise to the occasion. We already have.
“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here. -Morrie” ― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Each of us, we will have a special way of knowing Grandpop is with us. For me, whenever I sip on a vodka and cranberry, see a bottle of Propel, listen to Frank Sinatra, and bob in the ocean- he will be there. I love you Grandpop, and I am and will always be your girl. And as your favorite guy Frankie says “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” until we meet again Pop.