My father-in-law John passed away a week ago today. It has been hell the past week trying to first understand exactly what happened and then trying to come to grips with the reality of it all. Decisions had to be made literally within minutes of finding out he had died. Calls to family and friends to deliver the horrific news was devastating. The 45-minute drive to his apartment after getting the text that realized our worst fears was as brutal as you can imagine. As was the greeting from the police officers upon arrival.
My FIL died from an iliac aneurysm and from all indications, it happened fast and he didn’t suffer. We all have questions as to how long prior the warning signs were there and we may never know. He wouldn’t have wanted to burden us all with his physical well being. That wasn’t his way.
I’ll never forget walking into his apartment that next day and seeing what I can only describe as “a normal week night setting”. Papers strewn on the table, an empty soda bottle nearby and the dishes from his dinner sitting on the kitchen counter. All so normal and yet overwhelmingly painful in its normalcy. A simple dinner at the dining room table and the next second you’re gone.
We have all spent so much time tying to relive what must have happened and only today have some level of acceptance. An acceptance that there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.
He was only 68 years old and ready to embark on the next chapter of his life. He had retired only 6 months ago and in a cruel twist of fate, had signed the contract to purchase a home at the Jersey Shore only days before he died. On Labor Day we had a chance to tour the home with him and it breaks our hearts now to think back and remember just how excited he was that day.
Fucking bullshit if you ask me.
No one deserved it more than him. He had struggled financially for a long stretch after being laid off from his job in marketing years ago and then going through the same thing again with another company that ultimately went under. While we knew the hardship he went through, he always persevered through with dignity and a determination to figure it out on his own.
In between those two jobs John had opened a coffee shop locally here in New Jersey. This had always been a dream of his and to watch him build it from the ground up was beyond inspirational. He not only developed the concept, built the business plan and hired a team, but he actually helped physically build it. I remember many long nights seeing him with goggles covered in saw dust, exhausted but determined. The place thrived for years before the financial reality of running your own business kicked in. I like to remember the crowd of regulars that had their own coffee mug stored at the cafe who he would chat up each and every morning. No one could carry a conversation like him and I watched as he had the crowd enthralled like a killer stand-up comedian.
I can’t possibly sum up his life in a blog post and the obituary we composed under duress will never do him justice. So instead of trying to cover it all, I just want to leave you all with some short thoughts that I’ve collected over the last 25 years that I’ve known him. For those of you who knew John, feel free to add comments and I’ll add them to this story. I know they are endless so this will be a chance to give him the life summary he deserves.
In no particular order:
Last Friday the mayor of the town John worked in gave the OK for all town employees to leave early if they needed to after receiving the devastating news. We can all only hope to have that type of impact.
My FIL could build you a deck (he did for us) and then bake you a cheesecake (he did many times). He also made the world’s greatest pepperoni bread.
Through all of the anecdotes we’ve heard and comments that have been written via social media, the most common theme has been his devilish sense of humor and warmth to go with it.
When we called the mortgage company to make them aware of his passing, we learned that the entire office was devastated. As was the realty company, and the car dealership where he leased his car from. That my friends, is a microcosm of his presence and love of people.
I will forever miss watching the New York Mets hit a big home run, and then counting down the seconds before Pop called to revel in it with us.
My son spent many a night with Pop and his girlfriend’s son watching sports, talking smack and just hanging out. Three peas in a pod. They all had a special bond and it will be crushing each and every NFL Sunday for eternity knowing we can’t watch him cheer on and curse his New York Giants.
I am clueless when it comes to doing anything DIY. My FIL and his son are like the best I’ve ever seen. To watch them navigate plumbing or electrical work or putting up molding or building a deck is a beautiful thing. Father/son bonding at its best.
My daughter, through tears, said she was going to miss the back and forth joking she had with Pop. She could take it and give it and I’ll miss watching the two of them go at it.
My wife and I still joke about how we would talk to him about something we needed to do around the house or a potential car purchase or a decision we had to make on buying a new dryer and how there would be phone call after phone call always starting with “You know I was thinking” or “I just researched”. He listened and cared.
The grandchildren were his life. Each had their own unique relationship with him and that will allow his memory to easily live on forever.
One last thought: I’m kind of an awkward giver of physical affection. The entire family knows it and has accepted it. I also never once called my FIL “Dad”. I don’t know why but I didn’t.
With that in mind, I’d like to officially send him a big bear hug and say “Thank you Dad” for all you’ve done for us all over the years.
There will never be another one like you and we’ll continue to laugh our asses off recounting all of the stories you have gifted to us. Like the one about the baby alligator … or De De and Da Da and Meatballs … or …
Comments from others:
I have lost a wonderful friend and colleague. A man who helped me through the care and ultimate loss of my mother with his kindness and humor. He brought us Philly pretzels and Rita’s in the summer. “John’s John” will always remain in the Finance Office. He is gone far too soon from all of our lives. To his family, I cannot imagine the sadness at the loss of such an incredible father and grandfather. Know that he was loved by all whose lives he touched. Love you Johnny D – I have the last dollar I won in our Yankees/Mets annual bet and I will cherish it forever!
I only knew John through our Construction Tech. Assistant Association. The times at our meetings he was such a funny, honest, and knowledgeable man. I know we discussed a few times our love of the New York Giants. I am so sorry for your families loss. He was so looking forward to the next stage of his life. He will truly be missed at our meetings. Blessings to your family.
Your father’s passing was especially sad I’m sure, to everyone who knew him. For us, it brought back a flood of fond memories of your grandparents and your dad over the years. We will never forget his distinctive voice and laughter. Simply said, he was a good man and we’re sorry for your loss.