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I wish grandpas never died

“And I wish even cars had truck beds
And every road was named Copperhead
And coolers never run out of cold Bud Light
And I wish high school home teams never lost
And back road drinkin’ kids never got caught
And I wish the price of gas was low and cotton was high
I wish honky tonks didn’t have no closing time
And I wish grandpas never died.”

These are lyrics from country singer Riley Green’s 2019 magnum opus, “I Wish Grandpa’s Never Died.” Dedicating this song to his two late grandfathers, Green credits them as co-writers on a track that has been streamed 130 million times in 2022 alone. If you haven’t listened to this song, please do. Because I guarantee it will at least bring up memories of growing up. For me, it reminds me of my grandparents.

Like many teenagers and young adults across the country, I grew up with grandparents who had a massive impact on my development as a child of God. And like so many other kids, I have helped lay my paternal grandparents to rest. I never met my maternal grandparents due to their passing before my parents’ wedding, but for 25 years, my grandparents never knew the word “no” when it came to the needs of their 11 grandchildren. Devoted, tireless and generous to a fault, Steve and Marilyn lived a life of service and integrity that is rarely seen. I miss them dearly and am grateful for the presence they had in my life and in the lives of others.

This week commemorates the second anniversary of their passing, as my grandpa Steve died eight days after my grandma, Marilyn. The namesake for both my dad and I, my grandpa Stephen A. “Steve” Viz was one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. Born to Hungarian immigrants in Dayton, Ohio in 1936, Steve’s father passed away six weeks after he was born. Forged by his mother, older brothers and the city of Chicago that they called a new home, my grandpa’s life was anything but uneventful.

Two weeks after being sent home from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of both my grandparents began to decline. After several more health scares, my grandma was sent to a rehabilitation facility for nearly five weeks. When she was released, health compilations would then arise for my grandpa, a man who had survived a heart coronary nearly forty years before. When my grandma would return from facilities, my grandpa would enter them. A frustrating process for both me and my extended family, the five months before their deaths were filled with the dread of hospital food, COVID visitations and healthcare worker availability.

But even through all this, we came to see our quarantined spring and summer as a blessing from above. A hard reset, it gave my siblings, parents and me not only the chance to catch up, but to care for the grandparents who had cared for us for the entirety of our lives. These months were filled with belly laughs, great meals and stories. The true story of a scar on my grandpa’s lip even came to light. He detailed that in 1946, the best thing to do for kids in the city on a Saturday was to participate in a “rumble” where unwatched neighborhood children would fight each other and place wagers on it. Amidst the anxieties of COVID-19, these were the best of times.

After weeks of in-home, end-of-life care, my grandma passed away on the morning of Sept. 20 2020, with my brother Thomas at her side. Her wake and funeral followed a Friday/Saturday format that following week, and I could clearly tell that my grandpa was hurting. To see your spouse of 54 years be laid to rest would suck the life out of anyone, but still, my grandpa pushed through. On Sunday, he wanted to accompany my dad and I on the drive back to South Bend. Our 75-minute ride back from the southwest suburbs of Chicago went by quickly, but as we listened on the radio to the Bears defeating the Falcons and conversed, all agony and dismay dissolved. Following an evening of Noodles & Company and Culver’s custard, we exchanged goodbyes. “Stephen, I love you and am proud of you” were the final words he mentioned to me that night. Those would be the last words I would ever hear him say.

The following morning while in class, a quick barrage of texts noted news I was not expecting. “Grandpa just passed away on the drive to Christ Hospital. Congestive heart failure.” I had no words. I was stunned. Shell-shocked. Befuddled. Discombobulated. Leaving that class, I told the professor of my next class that I wasn’t going to be taking his midterm, returned to my room and sobbed.

My grandpa’s funeral would be that following weekend, exactly a week after my grandma’s funeral. And while we yearned as a family to be anywhere but that funeral home, something about these services was different. No longer was my grandfather in a wheelchair accepting condolences for the loss of his beloved wife. Rather, we took solace in the fact that after only eight days apart, my grandparents were united again once more on the heavenly plane. My cousin, an Augustinian priest, sealed my peace of mind with his homily at my grandfather’s funeral mass. “Love and do what you will. If we can say that Steve and Marilyn did this throughout their Christian life, then there is no doubt that they are reunited today in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.” Two years later, this anniversary is not a solemn one, but a joyful day of remembrance that commemorates the beautiful lives my grandparents lived.

So, to Steve and Marilyn: May God give you rest, and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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