I’m not going to lie. I cried when I hugged him. And then I laughed when he grabbed his father and hoisted him off the ground in a bear hug.
Derek is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. No one picks him up – except his second-born son who is an inch shorter and considerably lighter.
Recently, we spent a week in Columbus, Ohio, with our son Alex, his fiancee Brooke and her 4-year-old daughter, Farrah.
We’d planned the trip months ago, hoping to arrive when our grandson was a few weeks old. Sadly, Ian was stillborn on Feb. 23.
I’d wanted to fly out immediately, but now I’m so glad we waited. Alex and Brooke needed that time alone to grieve, to rest and to begin to process the devastating loss.
Our first day together happened to be the one-month anniversary of Ian’s death. We spent time looking at some photos of the baby that we hadn’t seen. Holding the tiny hat he’d worn. Shedding tears over the impossibly light container that held his remains.
“Will we have another Baby Ian?” Farrah asked. “With chubby, red cheeks?”
“Maybe,” Alex answered. “Maybe.”
I was relieved to find how naturally Ian’s name was mentioned – that Alex and Brooke are able to talk about him. While their broken hearts will never be fully mended, talking about their son and his death shows they’re grieving in a healthy way and that will help the healing.
Of course, our visit wasn’t all sad. Derek got to meet Farrah for the first time.
After a few minutes of observation and conversation, she announced, “I love you, Papa Derek.”
The feeling was definitely mutual.
As planned, one of the first things I did was bake an apple pie for my son. It’s been four years since he moved from Spokane – way too long for a boy to go without his favorite treat.
While Brooke rested, and Alex and Derek caught up, Farrah helped me in the kitchen.
She giggled as I sifted flour into the mixing bowl.
“It’s snowing in the kitchen!” she squealed.
And when I rolled out the crust, she eagerly helped “squish” it.
The next day we treated Alex and Brooke to a date night, featuring dinner, a movie, and a long nap, and Derek and I earned our grandparenting gold stars by taking Farrah to Chuck E. Cheese.
When she was pizza’d and soda’d up, we took her back to our hotel for a swim.
Let’s just say Miss Farrah, Nana Cindy and Papa Derek all slept extremely well that night.
Then we hit the road with Alex for a day trip to Cleveland.
Our first stop was the “Christmas Story House,” the actual house where our family’s favorite holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed.
The home has been restored to its movie splendor, complete with the leg lamp, shining in the window. Visitors can pick up Ralphie’s official Daisy Red Ryder BB gun that’s tucked behind the Christmas tree, and climb into Randy’s hiding spot under the kitchen sink.
Alex, 25, handled the BB gun without shooting his eye out, and squeezed into Randy’s cupboard. However, he declined to taste the Lifebuoy soap that rested in the bathroom soap dish.
Having experienced his own soap-in-the-mouth experience as a child (Irish Spring), he didn’t feel inclined to risk soap poisoning again.
From there we drove to the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shores of Lake Erie. We wandered through several floors of exhibits highlighting the history of rock ’n’ roll and celebrating the artists who influenced its development.
My most pressing question (besides why Bon Jovi doesn’t have its own wing) remained unanswered until I returned home to Google it. Why is there a giant hot dog suspended in the middle of the museum?
Turns out the 15-foot flying frankfurter was used as a prop by the band Phish.
It must have wielded a strong influence over Derek. How else to explain why the following day he ordered the Big Dawg at the famed Thurman Cafe in Columbus? The 1-pound footlong Coney Island features the cafe’s Coney sauce – a secret family recipe that’s been homemade since 1942.
Yes, he ate the whole thing, and didn’t even have heartburn later.
On our last night in Columbus, I made Alex’s most requested birthday dinner – white chicken chili. The fragrance of garlic, onion and cumin filled the townhouse.
“When Nana Cindy’s cooking in the kitchen I am starving!” Farrah said.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye.
We had laughed. We had cried. We’d made memories.
I can’t think of a better way to honor Ian.
Alex on top of the “E” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.