Our beloved BB passed away tonight. I promised I wouldn't sit up blogging, but somehow sleep will not come until I write about him. But I'm now faced with the issue of how you grieve for someone who still feels very present. How can he be gone when it still feels so much like he is here, like there has never been a time when he was not here? The earth spins on its axis--and there is BB. Thursday comes after Wednesday comes after Tuesday--and there is BB. The sun rises and sets every day--and there is BB. To paraphrase William Saroyan, we know that death comes to us all; but we really thought there'd be an exception in BB's case.
He was simultaneously larger than life as the family patriarch and yet real enough to inhabit all those small decisions and actions we made without consciously realizing his influence. He was a devoted husband, loving father, attentive and funny grandfather, and beloved great grandfather. Many roles for one man. Many needs to be met, many responsibilities to handle, none of which he ever failed to accomplish. His capacity for handling all that life threw at him always amazed me. His capacity for love and humor did not, simply because that is the BB that I always knew.
He would set his many house clocks to chime one minute apart for the benefit of the delightedly thrilled Bambina, even when I know it took a chunk of time for him to do so. He would let her climb all over him yelling "BB!BB!BB!BB!" when I'm sure he could have used some peace and quiet. He pushed her stroller around a zoo on a blistering hot day simply because she wanted him to, when I know he could have used a seat and a cold drink. I know this because *I* needed a seat and a cold drink myself. He sat for more than an hour telling me all about his family because I suddenly decided that we had to draw his family tree THAT DAY. At, like, 4pm on a Saturday. On the flip side of a scrap piece of paper. When he clearly had just come upstairs from the basement for just a moment--that is, until he was accosted by the Aggressive Genealogy Maniac in the kitchen. In all these ways and more, BB was generous with his time and his love.
In addition to his generosity of heart, BB had an impressive mind. Aristotle said that "it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." He and I rarely agreed on politics or policy, but I continued to enjoy discussions with him because he never once acted like I was wasting my breath. Perhaps in my own head, I always felt like he was saying, "If you are truly logical, persuasive and cogent on this topic, today just might be the day you change my mind." I never did manage that, of course. ;) But he always respected my right to my differing opinions even if he thought they were hooey. Most importantly, he always respected me in every discussion, which is what made him so much genuine fun to talk to.
He loved his children and grandchildren with what I can only describe as a quiet fervor. Never one for the broad strokes of airplane messages in the sky or call-ins to radio shows for a birthday, BB instead put his energies into walking the walk. Being there. Offering advice. Helping where needed. Giving you a verbal kick in the pants when warranted. Making clear his expectations for what constituted being a good, productive, ethical person. As I've said before in these pages, my grandfathers both passed by the time I was 4 years old, so having this elder statesman in my life was a very new situation for me. One I worried about a little at first (God, I hope he doesn't think I'm stupid after making that dumb joke), but one that I embraced wholeheartedly--and thank goodness so did he. Having BB as my grandfather for these many years was a blessing straight from God himself. I am--and will always be--the richer for his presence in my life. I thank God that the Bambina got to have him in her life too. She sees clocks and thinks of him. She learns her alphabet by writing BBBBBBBB a hundred times. She keeps a picture of him near her bed at night.
More than anyone, BB loved his wife, our GiGi. Two people more devoted, more committed, more in love all these decades later you have never seen. Theirs was a marriage of mutual respect, shared destiny, and consecrated commitment to each other. Whatever it was, it was clearly special and clearly meant to be. They were a Burns and Allen comedy show, a funny and engaging conversational duo, and a crackin' dance partnership all rolled into one. BB's secret to the long and happy marriage was simple: "I don't meddle with her doing what she wants. I trust her." (See? I told you he was a smart man)! Perhaps most importantly, they laughed together every day even after all these years, which made us all smile inside with renewed faith in eternal love.
As basic as it sounds, BB was a Good Man. A good man in word, deed and intention. I can't articulate how sad I am that BB is gone, but I can't hide my gratitude for the life he lived and shared with us. We were lucky to have him in our lives, and we remain lucky to have memories of him in our hearts.
I'll remember BB in lots of ways. But this song, sung by BB faves like Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme perhaps sums it up best:
Whenever skies look gray to me and trouble begins to brew
Whenever the winter winds become too strong
I concentrate on you
When fortune cries "Nay, nay" to me
And people declare "You're through"
Whenever the blues become my only songs
I concentrate on you