March 19, 2011
My grandfather died, peacefully, in his sleep.
The last week was filled with tears, laughs, and family. My grandfather was fortunate enough to see his children, his grandchildren, and his great-granddaughter before finally closing his eyes for the last time.
But I won’t remember him as the man lying in bed for the last ten months. This past week, as bittersweet as it was to finally see him at peace, with no pain, will not be the memory I carry with me.
On Sunday, before the ambulance arrived to take him, I had a few moments and I gathered enough strength to say, “Papi, gracias por todo. Te quiero mucho.”
Papi, thank you for everything. I love you very much.
He looked up, and it was one of the few times I’ve ever seen him even tear up. He looked at me and said, “Todo eso fue de amor… Haz lo mismo en tu vida, y nos veremos despues.”
All of it was out of love… Do the same in your life, and we’ll meet again afterwards.
My grandfather was one of the toughest men I’ve ever known. I don’t mean that in hyperbole. He helped build the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, California, a bridge we always called “Papi’s Bridge” when we saw it. We still call it that if we see it in a movie.
He helped raise four children who went on to become teachers, businessmen, and who in turn have grandchildren who have gone on to travel the world, learn a total of five languages, work in film, government, education, public service, and business. Several years ago, though, Papi came home and told us he’d gotten his GED. We didn’t even know he’d been preparing for it. He was retired. He told us, matter-of-factly, that he did it to show all of us that nothing stood between us and achieving our dreams. If he could do it, we could do it
Papi was a cook. He could make carne asada so good we asked for it on special occasions. He knew a recipe for a chocolate cake that even people who didn’t like chocolate liked. If Aristotle is right and everything is a shadow of a perfect form, one perfect version of that thing, then my grandfather’s carne asada and his chocolate cake are the form of every other piece of meat and dessert.
My grandfather didn’t plan things so much as he just did them. I don’t mean he was impulse. Far from it, but when he set his mind to it, he could do anything. The first time he bowled, my cousins and I invited him to join us. We kids were having a blast when Papi went up and knocked over every pin. When he did it a second time, we accused him of having secretly played for years. Confused, he just said, “El chiste es que lanso la pelota y tumbo los pinos, verdad? Eso es lo que estoy haciendo.”
The point is to throw the ball and knock over the pins, right? That’s what I’m doing.
To him, there was no such thing as failure. “Pedro” is the Spanish form of “Peter,” which is usually translated as “rock.” My grandfather was one of the toughest, strongest men I’ve ever known. The doctor told him he had five months to live. That was eleven months ago. This week, the doctor said he had maybe three days. He stuck around for six, I’m sure just to show the doctor he was an idiot.
Despite his skill and roughness, he was first a family man.
When my sister and I were younger, we would get up early to watch cartoons. My grandfather always used to sit in a big recliner. It was his chair, his throne, and my sister and I got to sit on the armrests with him on Saturday mornings as we all watched Bugs Bunny cartoons. This man who worked with steel and could intimidate anyone if need be… watched cartoons with us on Saturday mornings.
Though he rarely said he loved anyone, everything he did, even his cold demeanor, was to teach us something. It was to teach us respect, to teach us how to stand up for ourselves, to show us that life goes on.
In the end, I heard him say, “Los quiero mucho.”
I love you all so much…
But we always knew. Being humble is not thinking less of yourself. Being humble means thinking of yourself less, and that’s what my grandfather did. Like he said, everything he did was for his family, out of love, and God help anyone who stood in this man’s way.
Nietzsche once said that anything done out of love is beyond good and evil. My grandfather was not particularly religious, though he was a man of strong faith in people and what they could do. He lived his life to give others the chance to achieve something greater than he ever could. His legacy lives in his family and the morals and drive he instilled in us. He was more than a superman. He was and will remain the standard by which we judge our own actions.
He taught me the meaning of love. He wished my fiancé and me a happy life together. Then, last night, before he took one final morphine nap, he asked my grandmother, “Ya ví a todos?”
Did I see everyone already?
My grandmother told him he had, and he smiled, just barely, and said, “Ya me voy a componer.”
I’ll be better soon, now.
Six hours later, with my grandmother at his side, he quietly passed. He held on, despite almost no lung capacity and a weak heart, just to make sure his family could see him one more time as they traveled over half the continent to get here.
He did it out of love.
Pedro Ramirez was a father, grandfather, friend, and the patriarch for my family. He’s lost a son, become an American, and argued until the last day. To me, he will always be Papi, a strong, gruff man who, despite his upbringing and tough life, used to laugh at Bugs Bunny with me.
I’m not sad for him, but I’ll miss him terribly.