RIP Raymond Westerdale (1924 – 2007)

My grandfather just passed away at 1 am today, Feb 22nd. I guess we all kind of saw this coming — he had been fighting hard with pneumonia in the hospital. He just had a hip replacement about a month ago and things went fine — then out of the blue he had trouble breathing and had to go into the hospital. Things weren’t going well, then they changed his antibiotics and he improved a little. Then it just ended.

Even though part of me was preparing for this moment, the recent improvements kind of disarmed me a little, and I feel taken by surprise.
From my uncle, on Feb 20:

Aaron,

Aaparently, they had Dad off the vent today for an hour and a half!

This is good… he was conscious to a degree…. and free of the horrid/wonderful ventilator for a period.

Sad to hear they had to put it back in, but you can imagine how perky you’d be after what he’s been thru.

Best

John

Then this morning, only two days later:

Bad news.

Dad/Grandpa passed away a little past 1 AM tonight.

He had 83 good years, and was an integral part of a great family.

He’ll be missed.

More to follow.

John

Right now, I’m listening to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, which seems fitting considering Grampa’s love of classical music. He also really loved Swing and Jazz as well. When I was younger, he used to make me cassette mix tapes with swing and classical music on it. I liked a lot of it, but I don’t think I understood it as well as I do now. In retrospect I’m really glad that he introduced me to all of that. In the recent years, I had been the one giving him music — I introduced him to Diana Krall’s music a few years back, with her “Live in Paris” DVD (an excellent Jazz / R&B performance), and that’s kind of been our “inside thing” every Xmas. He and Grammy took our family to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular when I was younger; I remember that being a lot of fun.

When he was in the hospital, and still conscious, my Mom told me that he was really scared. I remember a time when I was young, probably younger than 10, and we were visiting Grammy and Gramp in NJ. I was in bed in the upstairs bedroom and I was scared of something or other — I got scared of the dark and had a lot nightmares back then. Product of an active imagination I suppose. I was calling out for my mom, which was almost a nightly routine when we were away from home. I heard someone coming up the stairs, and I saw Grampa come through the door. He sat down on the white woolen sheets next to me, his face partially illuminated, or perhaps silhouetted, by the nightlight in the corner. He asked me what was wrong and I told him the usual spiel about being afraid of the dark, monsters in the closet, etc etc. Instead of the usual “it’s going to be alright” mantra, or telling me a story, as Mom and Grammy both did, Grampa told me something very different. This is a paraphrazation of what he said:

Many years ago, when I was serving in World War II, they stationed me in an abandoned city in Germany. They wanted me to stake out this area to watch for returning German troops. All I had was a rifle and my backpack, and the entire town was deserted. At night it was cold and dark. It was scary and I was scared, but I did it because I had to do it. And I was fine, nothing happened to me.

The memory of that night is very fuzzy, but I’ve kept it with me ever since.
To hear that the man, who once helped me address my fears, was scared, practically broke me down. It’s hard to see someone you’ve always seen as so strong in a moment of weakness.

Grampa taught me many things, particularly with games. He taught me how to play Checkers, Chess, Poker, and many other card games. He used to record me on his reel-to-reel recorder and microphone, my catchphrase was “Gobblegobble fish sticks”. I have no idea what that means or where it came from, but I think there are still some reels with that on them. He was always so supportive of me, particularly with my musical ventures. He really loved Benny Goodman — when I was (forced to) take up Clarinet in elementary school, he sent me a lot of Benny Goodman tapes. Apparenly the clarinet I had (a Bb clarinet) was the same type Benny uses. When I eventually took up percussion in 6th grade (because that’s what I wanted), he sent me cassettes with Jean Croupa. He bought my first drum stool and a floor tom, and several practice books for both snare drum and drumset. He bought me a calculus tutorial book / video because I was having a tough time in Calc in college.

He used to send me letters and newsclippings all the time about stuff. Some of them I would read, but I remember when I was living at home I would get so many of them that they would often pile up on the bookshelves in my room. I think in the past few years, probably partly because of his depression, he hasn’t felt very useful. I understand how he could feel like that, having been there many times myself, but it was far from the truth. He was a role model for me (and others).

Last year the whole Westerdale clan (18 of us in all) went to Cancun for a Family vacation of sorts. They had a jazz band playing down at one of the restaurants in the resort, so Grampa and I went down there by ourselves and had dinner together and just talked. It was really great to just hang out with him.

At the very least, I can be happy that he got to meet my wife this past xmas, that I spoke to him nearly every week, and that I had 27 great years with him. I’ll miss you Grampa.