I remember the black-and-white movies I watched with my grandmother as a child. She was my best friend, a confidant who let me stay up watching old films with her long after my parents thought we were both asleep. Little did I know then, that the romance she shared with my grandfather far surpassed anything that could be captured on film.
They met in high school, where my grandpa was one year below my grandma, Audrey, in school. He likes to remind us of this fact — that she was a cougar — it always makes me laugh. Every lunchtime, instead of watching his friends drag race cars in the school parking lot, he would make his way to the gymnasium. There, students would dance to '50s hits, and he would spend his time trying to impress my grandmother on the dance floor, “the prettiest girl in the whole school.”
At 17, my grandfather left high school and signed up for the Air Force, hoping to make a better life for himself than the one he was born into. He had grown up in an orphanage as his mother could not afford to raise all of his siblings under one roof. About a year into his service, he stopped receiving letters from his beloved Audrey. Six months later, a friend wrote to him that Audrey was engaged. My grandpa has told us this story countless times, yet always uses the exact same words to describe his thoughts immediately after opening that letter: “That’s not right — Audrey was supposed to marry me!”
As fate would have it, he was right. When my grandpa returned home from the Air Force, my grandmother and her two children had separated from her husband. When they ran into each other at a Long Island restaurant, my grandfather surprised her by remembering her phone number off the top of his head. The rest is history. They would have two more children together, and a life full of memories, happiness, and love.
I recently asked my grandfather for advice on a healthy relationship. He told me no matter how hard it may get or how angry you may feel, never go to bed without saying “I love you.”
My grandparents were in a terrible car accident in 2013, which contributed to my grandmother acquiring dementia. At that moment, my grandfather declared her “Queen for the day — every day — for the rest of her life.” I have never seen someone fulfill a promise to the extent at which he did for her.
In late April of 2020, my grandma caught COVID-19. I remember the Zooms from her hospital bed as if they were yesterday. It’s hard to process grief and loss when the closest you can get to someone is a laptop screen 2,000 miles away. On her last day, my grandfather was able to enter the COVID-19 unit of the hospital to visit her. My grandma couldn’t communicate at that point; she could hardly breathe. Through a full hazmat suit, my grandfather entered her room and took her hand in his. He sat down and made one last request: “Audrey, my dear, could you open those beautiful blue eyes, just one more time?”
We didn’t think she could hear anything. There was the piercing noise of nearby ventilators; she hadn’t eaten in days, nor had she responded to any other requests the nurses had made of her.
She heard him.
Her eyes opened one last time, saying goodbye to her soulmate through frail yet piercing blue eyes. My grandpa — a true man of his word — said his final “I love you,” just as he had told me to do. I know they will see each other again, and I am grateful every day to have had such a love story to look up to.
I am honored to share her blue eyes, and every time I look in the mirror, I am reminded of the strong force of nature who took life head-on; a fighter who never accepted no as an answer. The world will miss her quick wit and sultry humor, along with her captivating beauty, inside and out.
KATARINA ULICH is a Wharton senior and 34th Street staffer studying operations, informations, and decisions from Malibu, Calif. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Remembrance Project allows members of the Penn community to pay tribute to loved ones lost due to COVID-19. To submit your own tribute, please go to bit.ly/DPremembrance.
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