This is Paradise.
The definition of paradise is; heaven, as the final abode of the righteous.
It is a perfect place of peace and the state of supreme happiness, bliss and tranquility.
It is utopia. It is nirvana. It is the highest sanctuary of love.
It is our natural state and it is the word used to designate mankind’s first and final home.
When I was a young girl, I asked my Grandpa, the eldest and wisest person I knew,
“What do you think Heaven is like?”
He answered me honestly,
“I don’t know, honey. But I kind of feel like I am in Heaven already. Here with my family and all of you beautiful grandkids. How can it get any better? This is paradise.”
He smiled, took a sip of his vodka on the rocks, and gave me a double wink.
Even as a curious young girl, there was no need to question him further. I believed his words because I felt him live out their truth. He so obviously loved this life and all of the people in it.
I believe that most humans share this common desire to live a happy and blissful life. Only for most, it’s not that easy. Emotions, outside influences, troubles and stress all get in the way and cause bad moments or days. My Grandpa, however, as I knew him, was completely immune to all of that. He is the one person in my life that I never once saw angry. I never once heard him speak ill of another. I never once saw him manipulate or lie. I did often see him cry, though they were never even tears of sadness. They were tears of complete love and gratitude.
His mantra will stick with me forever.
“Every day is a good day. No lousy excuses, Taylor. So if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, ROLL OVER!”
I have been drawn to his positive, comforting spirit and genuine warmth since I was a small girl. A visit, family gathering or holiday could never properly begin until I found Grandpa first and foremost to exchange a kiss and a hug so big it cracked my back. He was so goofy and always loved making my cousins and I laugh. He would sing his infamous song as many times as we asked. “She has freckles on her butt she is nice.”
One of my favorite childhood memories was when we were on a cruise in the Caribbean. We easily convinced Grandpa to join a ship wide Hairy Chest Contest. He didn’t win, but he did successfully convince the judges to acknowledge that his chest was, indeed, the softest. He loved to have fun. As simple as that.
While I have only fond memories of my Grandpa as a child, he did impact me most during my adult life. I loved visiting him at his condo in Florida so much that it inspired me to attend college there. That first major life transition of mine, moving away from home to a different state, Grandpa was there. He was there as I said goodbye to my parents when they got in the car to drive 1,000 miles back up north. I was crying and nervous about all of the change, but with a big smile, and his vodka in hand, Grandpa comforted me with his words.
"What the hell are you crying about, baby? We are going to have fun down here. This is paradise."
And he was right.
Mornings in Florida were spent walking around the lakes at Lexington. The birds singing in the background, we would stop to observe the gators, turtles and fish. Strangers and friends would stroll by and with a nod and a wave Grandpa would greet them, “Good morning, just another day in paradise!”
After walking, we would grab our pool noodles and spend the rest of the day floating around in the sun. Bud, ever the social butterfly, never wanted to go to the private pool, he could always be found at the club where his many friends gathered. Everyone at the pool knew him and by 3pm the bartender girls would specially deliver a chocolate mudslide to his noodle. He would take a sip, look at me and wink, “Look at this life, This is just paradise.”
By 5pm, cocktail hour was in full swing. Vodka on the rocks with two olives, that he always selflessly shared. We would leisurely walk over to the club for dinner, admiring the colorful sky behind the palm tree silhouettes on the golf course. The club for dinner was a big party and Grandpa thrived. Here is where the snowbirds all bragged about their families back north.
“So how many Grandkids do you have?” they would compare. And let’s be honest, no one loved this question more than Grandpa. He usually would sit back grinning and allow the others to answer first. He would then chirp up last, “10 grandkids? Oh, is that all?? I’ve got you all beat. 24 grandkids, 26 great and I don’t know how many on the way!” He was so proud.
After dinner, it was back to the condo for a night cap and a chocolate almond ice cream cone. This time of night was always my favorite. Relaxed on the couch, he would answer all of my many questions about what it was like growing up in Youngstown, which decade was his favorite, how he met Grandma, and what it was like raising 8 kids.
I especially loved when he told me stories about his parents. He had such a profound respect and admiration for them that it gave me tears and made me wish I knew them. He expressed how he looked forward to being reunited with them someday, and that has given me great comfort these past 2 weeks. Despite not growing up with a father himself, Grandpa knew how to parent. I know this because I was the luckiest one who got to be raised by his son, my dad, who is utter proof of his success.
Grandpas favorite decade was the 1950’s. He met Grandma during that time. He had originally been going out with her sister Beverly, but decided to ditch her one night to take Grandma, the one with the beautiful long red hair, to the burger joint instead. He always said that was the best decision he made. Grandpa also told me that raising 8 kids was really easy. He told me that they were all well behaved and never fought. Actually, I think that was the one time I ever accused him of lying.
Grandpa would finish the nights in Florida by turning on The Five. I loved my Grandpa so much that he is the one and only person I would ever be willing to watch Fox news for. He was passionate about both politics and financial investing. He was the only republican I would ever debate with because I knew he could never send me into a fury. Our debates would always end with laughter and a kiss and he’d say, “I still love you, even though you’re one of them damn liberals.”
I respected him as a conservative. He grew up without being handed anything. He provided for 8 kids of his own that grew into an immediate family with more than 70 people. As if that wasn’t big enough, he still had enough space in his heart to provide for those in greater need. He sponsored children in Central America and loved showing me the photos and thank you letters from his Guatemalan kids. He started a successful business that he so proudly never officially retired from. He owned a gorgeous second home in Florida and spent the last decade of his life reaping the benefits of all that he had sowed. To say he was successful would be an understatement.
“It’s been easy,” he would say. “Work hard and be smart with investing your money and you can have this life by the time you’re 60!” My 401K will forever be in his honor.
Just by being himself, he taught me far more that year in Florida than any of my university courses did.
Even as he was dying, Grandpa was showing me how to live. The jokes, sometimes inappropriate, never stopped. The kisses and strong hugs, never stopped. The enjoyment of the little things; vodka, dove heart shaped chocolates, and Chicago popcorn, never stopped. His appreciation for the sun shining on the back hill and the fluffy white clouds floating in the blue sky, never stopped.
The last morning I saw him, I asked him “how are you feeling today Grandpa?” His response, “Every day is a good day.”
While his eyes became heavier and his breath more shallow, I felt Grandpas heart continue to grow strong with love and gratitude. Though the physical body expires, that spirit and love is everlasting.
I will always feel the loss of my Grandpa. But this feeling of loss and grief is a direct reflection of an even greater love.
8 years ago, Grandpa wrote this word in his handwriting on my left wrist. It is the spot I touch to focus inward and observe the sound of my own heartbeat.
It is an Irish Gaelic word that means to trust and to believe.
So while I will forever miss my Grandpa in his physical form, I trust that his spirit lives on and is always with me. I believe that he is in a better place. And whenever I start to become overwhelmed with worry, I can, in fact, hear his voice reassuring me.
He is saying,
“What the hell are you crying about, baby? Don’t worry about me. This is Paradise.”
(Video updated on October 21, 2016)