10 Jan

I lost my Opa.

Well to be honest he isn’t lost. He actually is healthy, happy, and at peace for the first time in 18 years. I’m happy for him, yet hurt for me. I wasn’t sure I could even write this yet. I’m still not sure I can.

Opa. It’s slang German for grandfather — or at least that’s what I’ve been told since I was a little boy and no one in society corrected me, so that’s what he always has been. Was. He was the closest thing to a “man’s-man” as I’ve ever seen. He could build anything, and did. He built and/or remodeled two complete homes, built the most beautiful deck I’ve ever seen, and personally built his own retirement workshop — blood sweat and brick. He was a great hunter but was just as thrilled to carve intricate objects from a block of wood. He fought in a World War, married a beautiful German woman I know as Oma, and never lost a boxing match. In fact he was some misfiled paperwork away from being on the same Olympic team as Muhammed Ali. He raced stock cars, was master of a fishing pole, and yet he loved to garden. He worked his butt off doing whatever he could to provide for his family. He ran rental properties and when he retired transitioned to homemaker. He could paint beautiful pictures, enjoyed singing at the top of his lungs, and loved to dance with his wife. He loved doing anything with his wife and family. In his greatest accomplishment he stayed married for over 50 years, unheard of in our society. He was as big as a bear and gentle as a child. His heart was the only thing bigger than him. Just weeks before he passed (we found out in hindsight) he was out praying for and visiting friends. In a moment when he was at his most fragile he was caring for someone, anyone else. That was Opa in a word — selfless. He loved people, stories – both hearing & telling – and leftover peanuts from Texas Roadhouse.

In the initial shock following the news last Friday I have struggled with how to express myself and my emotions. I suppose that is normal. I catch myself saying “There’s Oma & Opa’s…”, but it’s just Oma now. No, it wasn’t unexpected or a surprise. It’s been coming for some time. But that doesn’t make it easier because it happened so fast. On the flip-side I am glad he went quickly without suffering. See what I mean about emotions?

I do feel a tinge of regret, as our relationship wasn’t what I feel it should’ve been but that is really no one’s fault. My grandparents retired and moved happily to deep Texas when I was young, and besides a handful of trips either way I didn’t see them much in middle school and high school. In college I was able to use my full ride scholarship checks to buy Southwest airline tickets to see them each year. (They really are the low fare airline and I cannot begin to describe my gratitude for that). At the end I wish I could’ve given his frail, formerly massive boxer’s frame a hug and let him know he left me far more than I imagined. I wish that I would’ve went fishing with him far more often. I wish I could’ve hunted with him. I wish I would’ve asked him to teach me his art of woodworking. I wish I would’ve helped him with more projects. I wish I would’ve asked him to teach me only a quarter of what he knew.

I said once recently that I only wished I had more memories with them, with him. But I was mistaken. Memories have flooded back in the last 6 days. They came in the form of stories long forgotten, time spent silently in his shop, eating at his favorite restaurants. They come from stories only Oma can tell (I am incredibly thankful for her and her strength!). And they’ll live on forever to be my son’s knowledge of a great man. I have no words for that.

Until we meet again Opa..

In loving memory of Robert Lee Weitzel
Jan 26, 1939 – Jan 4, 2013
Remembered always in my gun, fishing pole, tool and heart

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