When It Counts Most
This past spring I lost my grandfather, Robert Mattner, of Ship Bottom. For a time, he was a realtor which inspired me to take this path, but he was also a son, a brother, a father of six, and grandfather to a number we still can’t decide upon because of blended families and a heart bigger than the inlets that mark the southern and northern borders of our island.
My mother, brother, and I moved into my grandfather’s house on West Sixth Street when I was seven years old, a second grader. I lived there until going off to college in Vermont. I grew up with my grandfather. There’s no other way to put it; no simpler way to put it; no better way to put it. He helped raise me. A testament to his influence still lies framed above what used to be his bed. It was a school assignment in which I had to write a biography about the man I respected most – the man I most wanted to be like when I grew up.
I don’t know if I’m grown up yet. I think that’s more about the journey and not necessarily the destination – but I am older now – more than two decades older than when I entered my grandfather’s home to stay. This past February, his health started to decline. My grandfather knew if he entered the hospital again, he would never leave. It’s why, when his Doctor told him to go immediately to the Emergency Room, he first chose a nice lunch at a local restaurant. My grandfather’s departure from this earth was much like his life on this earth – on his terms, and for the most part – on his schedule.
During his last few weeks languishing in the hospital, the inevitable a foregone conclusion none of us could bring ourselves to say, I watched him. I reflected on the many things he had done for me over the course of my lifetime which was a mere fraction of his. I pondered all the ways my grandfather influenced me, shaped me, loved me. As the time drew near, I struggled with how to I thank him. How do I express my gratitude for the life he gave me? I found a moment on one of his last days to speak a few words, but my thoughts tumbled from my throat, and although he smiled and hugged me, it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough. How do I thank the one man who has shaped so much of my life?
On April 2nd, at 8:27am, I was one of four people in the room with my grandfather when he left us. I stood at his feet, watching him, listening to his struggling breaths, and then aware of the sudden silence and the stillness of his chest. And then he was gone, and all the weeks of knowing his death was coming was not enough to prepare me for that moment. It was a loss I had never felt before and of a magnitude I could not comprehend.
This Sunday, we will spread my grandfather’s ashes in the place he loved most in accordance with his last wishes. Time has mitigated the depth of the valleys I felt after he passed, but his absence is felt every day. I’ve had time to reflect - on him, on me, on the debt I will forever owe, and I realize now that I gave him the greatest gift. I was there when he died. I was there when it counted most. He did not leave alone, and now I will honor his wish and spread his ashes where he wanted them – on his terms.
I miss you Grampy. I will love you forever. Rest in Peace.
Robert Mattner: February 9, 1935 – April 2, 2016
From your “Running Realtor” Andrew Gonzales….
Look for more local historical segments next week.