Thursday, August 16, 2012

And the strength continues......

I think that a normal question for an obsessed family genealogist is "How will my generation be viewed by future generations?"  When my great, great grandchildren go hunting for me and start finding information, what will they think of me?  Will they smile?  Laugh?  I hope so.

And that question leads me to the realization that I want future generations to know and understand just how fabulous this generation is.  I want them to know how their Grandpa Ed's blue eyes sparkled.  How Grandma Peach had an uncanny knack of knowing each of her children and seemed to just know what we needed in some situations.  How much Grandma Peach and Grandpa Ed adored each other.  That when Grandpa would have had one too many, he became an adorable intoxicated person.  He would get very nostalgic and talk about how lucky he was to have found Mom.  How lucky we are to have her as our mother, and how lucky they are to have us as their children.  And Mom would just look at him, pat his leg and smile.

I don't want those details lost for those who come after us.

All this thinking then leads me to some incredible people in our family today.  This is harder to write than I thought it would be.  It's still raw, still not quite believable.  But I think it's important for our descendants to know the strength they come from.

Brandon Gromada.  Just his name brings a smile to my face.  The party didn't get started until Brandon showed up.  Joyous.  Fun.  Always up for a good time.  And a good man.

The photo below was taken at my niece Christa's wedding.  Brandon was famous for his "Worm" dance move, but I had never seen it.  I told him that he had to do it at Christa's wedding for me.  And he did.  But he didn't tell me he was performing it, so I didn't see it!  Being the good aunt I was, I told him he had to do it again.  And his chin was the result of that.  I shouldn't be smiling in that photo, should I? But it still makes me laugh every time I look at it.

What I didn't suspect was just how STRONG Brandon was.  He had a few things in life that tested him before his final battle.  Perhaps those trials prepared him for the big one.

He battled an aggressive form of head and neck cancer for over 2 years, and it eventually was in his liver, lungs and brain.  And throughout it all, he was strong.  I never heard him utter a "woe is me" comment.  If you wanted to ask him about it or ask him how he was doing, he'd tell you.  But he didn't sit next to you at the family Christmas party and complain.  He was still joyous.  Would still grab a beer and sit down and talk to you about whatever was going on with you.

At his sister's wedding in late October, there was Brandon on the dance floor with a beer in his hand, naturally being the center of the party.

His Facebook posts were amazing.  He'd post photos of himself preparing for his radiation treatment or in the "chemo lounge."  He allowed us to somehow be a part of this journey of his.  Sometimes he'd post that he wasn't feeling great or was tired, but it was usually a lighthearted comment.  He took a photo of his handicapped parking tag and posted that finally something good came out of all of this.  He now could get "rockstar parking."  That was Brandon.  Trying to make others feel better by making us laugh.

In the midst of his battle, he became a daddy.  Morgan was born in early December, and the first time I saw her was at our family Christmas party.  Two things struck me right away.  She was easy going and was a daddy's girl.

Of course, we all wanted to hold her, and she was being passed around from Kerkhoff to Kerkhoff.  She went along with it, no problems, no fuss.  And that's how Brandon was as a kid, easy going.

At some point during the party, Morgan heard Brandon's voice from the kitchen.  I think Nick was holding her at the time in the living room, but as soon as she heard her daddy's voice, she turned her head toward him and kept looking for him until he came over to get her.  She KNEW her daddy.  She was just a few weeks old at the time, and she was already a daddy's girl.

My son Nick holding Morgan (with Kasey looking on)

I don't think that I ever admitted to myself that Brandon may not physically survive this battle.  It just didn't seem possible.  It still doesn't.

Brandon's last day here was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever witnessed.  He was surrounded by love and laughter, silence and tears.  His beautiful and incredible wife, Christina, never left his side.  His parents, my sister and brother-in-law, stayed with their boy.  Holding his hand, talking to him, rubbing his feet and hands.  All of his siblings were there, too, telling great stories about him and always talking to him.

Someday, I hope to be able to tell Morgan about that day and what it was like from my perspective.  How incredibly blessed I felt to be allowed to be there.  Because Christina, Karen, and Joe didn't have to allow us to have those last moments with him.  I don't think any of us would have thought twice if they had wanted him all to themselves that last day.  But they welcomed us into his room.  Let us have time with him.

Morgan, your daddy's strength is stuff legends are made of.  But so is your mommy's and your grandparents'.  You will have trials in your life, but I want you to always remember who you come from.  In those moments when you don't know how you're going to be able to get through it, think of your daddy.  Think of your mom.  And think of all of your grandparents, great grandparents, etc. who were strong, too.  Their blood runs through your veins.

An incredible video created by my brother and Brandon's uncle, Eric

Update:  I want to add links to my sister's blog, A SorrowFull Mother.  Karen wrote an entry featuring this blog post about Brandon, Family History.  I am constantly amazed at my sister's strength and fierceness.

Brandon C. Gromada Head & Neck Cancer Foundation

15 July 2013--Here's the incredible thing about Brandon.  When you think you've written what you can and you think it's done, you realize that it's not.  You find out that he was even stronger and more amazing than you ever thought he was.  Brandon's darling wife framed this note and gave it to my sister Karen on Mother's Day, 2013.  Brandon wrote this about 11 months before his physical death.

7/14 (2011)

Gotta Stay Strong!
Can't Give In!
This is ridiculous.  The negative thoughts
just keep trying to creep in.  Can't let them
take over.  Must fight them back.
Sick of all the sympathy.

And then a few days after he wrote that note, he wrote this:

*What can I do as a cancer patient that
   I don't/others-people don't think I can do?
*How can I raise $$ for the ca cause?
*Cancer Can't Stop Me
*Inspire other young adults that they can
  still live their lives
*If I can help someone get out of the house,
  do anything they say you can't or don't need to
*LIFE with Chemo!  It's On!
*Help others going through chemo to fulfill a dream.
*Keep Living!
*You don't need to just sit around on a couch.

More Words From Brandon--A Sorrowfull Mother

I'm going to end this blog post with the words my sister wrote the day after Brandon died.

"Just want all to know that Brandon did not lose his battle with cancer - not even a tie. Yes, it claimed my beautiful boy's body but he totally beat it emotionally. Another 'spot' somewhere, he'd take a few days to regroup and then it was 'Chemo? Radiation? Uncomfortable tests or procedures? Bring 'em on and let's get 'er done!' He quietly dealt with side effects that affected what and how this gourmet cook and foodie could eat, but he adapted with comment but no complaint. It robbed him of energy, which affected this athlete's ability to run, kayak, rock climb, camp, etc but he adapted - kept doing as much as he could until with on/off low-grade fevers he just couldn't. He showed cancer it could take his body, but it couldn't take his spirit. He showed this f'n disease that it could NOT have his dignity, his humor, his vitality - it NEVER beat the authentic Brandon. And I do NOT want him to rest in peace - he's too active for 'peace' - but I do want him to move forward in Love..." 

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