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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Frnka

To Know Him was to Know Joy!

“Now there's a joy inside I can't contain but even perfect days can end in rain and though it's pouring down I see you through the clouds shining on my face.” -- Francesca Battistelli - So Beautiful


There are some moments, some memories, some people you want to hold onto for the rest of your life and the great news is that you can!


This past week was one of mixed emotions as Greg and I sent our last living grandparent to their heavenly home. On one hand we were both sad to lose him and have to say goodbye. Our grandparents played such a significant role in our lives. On the other hand, we were truly excited for him to be reunited with the love of his life, Grandma. How he missed her since her passing only 8 months ago. Our grandparents were not responsible for raising us, but they got to come along for the ride. They enjoyed every second of it and we enjoyed every second of them.


As we close the door on one of the most beautiful chapters in our lives we want to take a moment to share all the love and joy we experienced in knowing my grandfather. To know him, was to know joy!



He loved to visit. That was probably his favorite thing to do, as it was all of our grandparents. He is pictured here with my grandma, Edna. She is holding Jocelynn, our oldest daughter, on her lap. My grandmother on my Dad's side, Christine is to the right of Grandma Shimek and to Grandpa Shimek's right, my Grandpa Janecka (Joe). The four of them loved to visit and share stories about their lives with one another at all of our family events. I miss them so, but am honored to have been able to share so much of my life with them.


Grandpa Shimek's playful spirit was evident in the stories he liked to tell. Every once in a while when we didn’t look like we quite believed him. He would say “that’s for true” and sometimes he would turn to grandma and ask ‘Isn’t that right grandma?’” And, she would nod in agreement.


His face would light up like a Christmas tree whenever any of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would walk through the door. He and grandma especially loved the littlest ones. Here he is pictured playing with our oldest daughter, Jocelynn. She was his first great-grandchild.

Growing up, he taught me so many things, but one of my fondest memories is when he taught me how to whistle. “Jenna Mae, catch my whistle” he said as we were walking in the yard. I remember giggling much like I always did when Grandpa said something I didn’t quite understand. He said again “catch my whistle. You do know how to whistle, don’t you?” I shook my head no and so we stopped and practiced until I could make some sort of whistling sound and then he said “Okay, now I am going to catch your whistle.” I would whistle and then he would whistle. And, many times when he and I would walk together, drive together, or just be together he would catch my whistle or I would catch his.


Grandpa loved whistling, he loved sweet sounds, and was especially fond of music. He often played the harmonica or the accordion. Polka Time was often playing on the radio in the kitchen and sometimes he would play along on his harmonica to one of the songs. His legacy can be heard through the sweet sounds of so many of his children and grandchildren especially during Christmas when we gather to sing Christmas Carols. We are especially thankful for these five grandsons who sent him to Go Rest High On That Mountain on the day of his funeral service.


This is the way life was with grandpa sometimes visiting, sometimes whistling, sometimes singing, always joyful. He led by example and loved taking us along on the ride. So many slow drives we took down to Pin Oak and Sandis, so many slow drives to check on the cows or look for deer, so many slow drives to look at the crops or watch the geese.




Although grandma and grandpa were incredibly involved with so many organizations they took life much like they asked us to drive, slow. They were never in much of a hurry, they took their time visiting and spending time with their family and others. Sometimes they would teach us things and sometimes we would teach them things. They were always learning and growing and we were too.



My grandfather in many ways was a quiet and reflective man, so it seems appropriate that he would take his last breath on Holy Saturday, a day we frequently held our Easter Celebration on, a day when the entire family was present even as we grew. It was probably the day he and grandma held closest to their hearts. In addition, for over 20 years he coordinated a yearly mass celebration at his and grandma’s deer camp which grew in attendance year after year. It was a special time for our family.


He served as a Eucharistic Minister for many years. Faith and family were his priority. He treasured the relationships he had with people. He especially loved to recount his time in the military and the first years that he and grandma were married. Those were hard, but joyful times for them. We were proud to be able to honor our hero with a 21 Gun Salute and the American Flag to recognize his service to our country.


In addition, I think it appropriate that he would pass through the heavenly gates on the same day, April 3, as his cousin, Robert Shimek, who was killed in World War II. Someone he looked to, learned from, leaned on and yearned to see again. Our grandfather and Robert were a few years apart in age, Robert being the elder, but they had a deep connection. When Robert was killed in action my grandfather held onto their relationship tightly.


When Greg and I lived in Germany, my mom and I were able to take a trip to St. Alvod, France where Robert is buried. We took pictures of his headstone, the cemetery and the town to share with Grandpa. This small act seemed to help bring him closure and I was grateful to have had the opportunity to share this moment with him.


Just before Robert left for the war, he and Grandpa celebrated the 4th of July together. He left my grandpa with 4 firecrackers and the expectation that they would pop them when they were together again. 78 years later they were reunited and as a family we all were able to experience that moment together, as my uncles knelt down to light and pop two of the firecrackers. It was fun to see the mischievousness in their eyes, as they too had waited so long to pop those fireworks. A little of Grandpa’s playful spirit showed through each of them for a moment.


In addition to his faith and family, my grandfather especially valued life as evidenced in the beautiful faces of his family, his life as a farmer, and a life insurance salesman. For him, life seemed to be a treasure from the moment of conception until death. It was not a thing to be taken for granted, but to be lived, loved, and fought for.


And, boy did he fight- just this past December while he and I were talking on the phone he started coughing terribly hard. Then began wheezing. He said “Jenna Mae, I sound like a cat. You didn’t know your grandpa was a cat did you?” And, I giggled much like I always did when grandpa said something I didn’t quite understand. And, he said “Well Jenna Mae, I’d better go and get some water. I need to take care of this cough. I’m so thirsty.” We said goodbye and he told me he loved me much like he often did. I had a few window visits with him, often going with my mom, after he returned from the hospital in December. Due to COVID 19 restrictions phone calls and window visits were often the only way we could communicate with or see him. Some of the visits we would talk for a while. I liked to share with him stories about what was going on in our life and would hold up my phone to the window pane and show him a picture or two. He seemed to relish getting to see a glimpse of our lives. Some visits would be shorter because he was tired or neither of us had much to talk about. Nevertheless, we always told each other we loved one another and often blew each other a kiss.


The window visit that I will treasure the most was the one that proved to be the last for all of us.


Greg and I arrived right around 2 pm on Saturday, April 3 to TLC in Columbus. It had been raining for about an hour, but had stopped a few minutes before. My mom had text me the code to enter the gate to where his room was. This would be the first time I had a code to get in and did not have to wait on someone to come open the gate. There was so much water standing in front of his window and for a moment, I almost thought I would just stand back and wave to him, but then I decided there were enough dry spots that I could navigate and so I basically stood on top of the window. Thinking back to all those moments where he longed for water, I find it ironic that on the day of his death that outside his window just beyond his reach, there was so much water.


I peered into his room on my tippy-toes looking through the window panes. He laid at an angle facing outside. He was very clearly asleep. Next to him looked to be a bucket collecting fluid from him and I thought it looked fairly good, yet. There were two cups on his bed tray. One with a tiny pink sponge on a white stick that looked to be soaking in ice water. I thought “Well they must be giving him water this way. And, grandpa I am not sure how much time we have left, so we are going to pray.” I had planned to pray there silently at his window when for a brief moment he opened his eyes and I started jumping up and down, being careful not to splash water or behave overly dramatic, and waving “Grandpa, Grandpa!” I nearly shouted. I drew a heart in one of the top window panes and made a cross over his window screen.


I stood there silently alternating between tippy toes to see through the window pane and squatting to see through the screen. I was hoping to see him open his eyes again. Then I told him that I loved him and I stepped back to reach for Greg, kind of awkwardly because of the puddle of water. As I embraced him, there was a whoosh of air and almost like a white wavy curtain that passed between us. We stood for a moment and I cried. I told him that I didn’t want Grandpa to die alone. He consoled me for a moment. Then we walked to the car. The gate would not unlock, so we tried the code a few times. Then remembered that Mackensie had stayed sitting in the van, so we called her to come let us out. We left the parking lot at 2:11 pm. My grandfather’s time of death 2:09 pm. ❤️


After I thought about it a bit more, it turns out my grandfather’s analogy to the cat was not far off. For over 35 years he battled heart disease and fought for his life over and over again. There were a few times, I told him goodbye thinking I would never see him again, yet he would rest, heal and get stronger. Sometimes, it seemed even stronger than before. So, it seemed appropriate to think he might pull out of the situation he was in; although, it did not seem likely.


Much like cats do, in his own way Grandpa curled up right next to us and taught us how to love. For 67 years he fought for his family and worked to provide everything that we could ever need. He celebrated with us in our good times, shared his wisdom with us and comforted us when we were struggling. He led us to the water when we needed it and even made us laugh a time or ten. He lived life as it is meant to be lived - with LOVE- even as he passed to his heavenly home he let us know just how very much we are truly loved.


And, so it is fitting that in his final days he would sing Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art to help ease his pain and my cousins would send him on to Go Rest High on That Mountain. It is fitting that The American Legion would honor him with the 21 Gun Salute & my uncles would pop 78 year old firecrackers that my grandfather held onto with love. And, it is fitting that when he arrived at the heavenly gates he would stand ready to receive into his arms our grandmother, who he so desperately loved.


We will always remember him, our grandpa first, our angel forever.



If you are missing someone today, I want to encourage you to take some time in the next few days to write their story as you related to them. It may take time and there may be tears involved, but I am certain that you will find smiles and laughter through the tears and maybe even some healing too.


And, if you happen to be a grandparent, take a moment to call your grandchildren or better yet surprise them with M&M’s at their front door and give them a big ‘ol hug!


Ya’ll have a beautiful day!


All My Love,


Jen


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To Know Him is to Know Joy!

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