Monday, April 28, 2008

A Life Well Lived...

My grandpa -- my dad's father -- was 89 going on 90. He was still deeply in love with his wife, Madeline, after almost 65 years. He lived not just a long life, but a good life. After going out to breakfast with my grandma and then going for their daily morning walk, he came home to do his crossword puzzle and nap before lunch. He died peacefully, resting in his favorite chair last Wednesday morning.

As soon as we learned the news, Rob, Madeline and I drove through the night to Fairfield Bay, Arkansas, where my grandparents retired 24 years ago. Family trickled in from all over the country, and while we were all there with heavy hearts, we were also there to celebrate my grandpa's incredible life.

Donald Johnston Wiebmer grew up in Quincy, Illinois on the Mississippi River, which, in his youth he both swam across and canoed down from Chicago to St. Louis. He spent his undergrad years and went to medical school at the University of Illinois. My Uncle Steve, who wrote a beautiful eulogy, said that this is the part of the story where my grandparents' life played out like a Hollywood movie. The young handsome doctor meets a lovely young nurse, Madeline Olson, in Chicago. Before he left to serve as a doctor in the U.S. Air Force for three years in France, England and Germany (1943 to 1946), my grandma traveled to Boston to secretly marry him (she was still a student and it wasn't allowed). When he returned home from the service, my grandpa practiced medicine as an ear, nose and throat doctor for 35 years in Alton, Illinois. They had four children.

I have so many wonderful memories of him. The way he made us laugh like crazy by eating his corn on the cob like he was a typewriter. By saying "she's a natural" at golf, fishing, tennis, you-name-it (even when we whiffed the ball or didn't catch a thing). For years, we've imitated his term of endearment for my grandma; to everything she said, he would reply, "HmmmMmmm Babe." Now Rob calls me babe too. He read voraciously and stayed current in his knowledge of his profession. He was a 90-year-old guy who tracked our family genealogy on the Internet, checked his email daily ("Babe, we got another one....") and was up-to-date on the latest in Wired magazine. He was an Illini -- he and my grandma visited me on campus several times, and years later, we watched our team play in the Final Four together. He adored Madeline and got to spend quite a bit of time with her during our trips to Fairfield Bay and their frequent visits to Peoria. He always excitedly jumped on the phone if my grandma answered first when I called; the last time I talked to him -- a week before he died -- he told me about how he misses my grandma when she goes to the beauty parlor. He danced the Congo at our wedding and looked so handsome and smart in his tuxedo and bow tie; to honor their 60th wedding anniversary, I gave my grandma my wedding bouquet and they danced to their song, "Fascination."

We all loved him so much. I miss him terribly. The love that my grandma and grandpa shared was the greatest love I have ever seen. It was epic -- not like a Hollywood drama -- but in real life. Day after day, year after year -- for 65 years -- kindness, respect and incredible friendship.

No comments: