My father-in-law passed away yesterday. It was expected, yet the sadness is very real. His role in this world is significant to me. He was the man my husband modeled himself after. He is the example of fatherhood that informs how my daughter is being fathered. The “goodness” of Greg Packard was palpable. If you knew him, you know what I am talking about. If you know my husband then you know it too. It is the strongest attribute that he passed down to his children and what I fell deeply in love with upon meeting Justin. Gratitude seems like too small a word to bestow. Indebted for always is more like it. I get to live in such goodness because of him.
We were lucky enough to spend the summer with him and my Mother-in-Law. I have always been sad that because of his disease, Audrey would never know her grandfather the way I did. Certainly not the way Justin did. And yet, for the last two months she got to see something really special. She got to know her Grandpa in his last physical presence of life. His kind eyes and his calm presence never waivered. Even as he stopped being able to speak you knew he was always listening. Listening was one of the things he did best, even as a man with a wide and varied vocabulary. He had no use for swear words because he always said that there were so many far better words one could use. In moments when you felt like cussing it was an opportunity to be creative or learn a new word. And yet even with all his “wordly” intelligence, he asked far more questions than he gave answers. Something I think we could all continue to learn from these days.
But this summer Audrey got to look on as this kind and gentle giant of a man began to move towards the end of his life with complete and utter grace. Leave it to a lifelong athlete and phys ed teacher to show us how to let the body die. Walking almost until the end and never losing his balance, he continued to navigate his physical space with precision and intention. It was amazing to watch. I would marvel at the moments when you could see his brain was struggling to make the connection and yet still somehow he knew how to maneuver. We spent the summer doing all the summer things that Western New York is ripe with. We picked berries and walked the Erie Canal. We went to Niagara Falls and swam in the lake. He wasn’t able to do anything more than sit or walk slowly, but he was there. We all knew it. It was especially apparent in the moments when Audrey would hold up her hand in the sign for “I Love You” in ASL and he would raise his own hand as best he could. Those were two things that Greg will always be remembered for in my mind. Accomplished in ASL and former teacher at the School for the Deaf. And saying I Love You all the time to those he loved. There is something about these two things that really exemplifies the goodness of which I speak. Here was this strong man who was raised amongst the blue collar factory towns of the north and yet gentle kindness was his MO.
What made these last months of his life so special, at least for me with the perspective of being his daughter in law, was watching my husband care for his dad in the very same way he was cared for by him. A quick witted joke was always in tow along with a "hey pal". Yet a gentle kiss on the forehead was commonplace as he fed him his food or held his hand as they walked the neighborhood. As a mom, knowing that my child witnessed her dad take such care of his own dad will always be something of a gift. In a world where toxic masculinity is all the rage, seeing these two important men in her life share such sweetness is invaluable. Not to mention in a time when we tend to be so spread out as families and rarely see one another but for big holidays, to have had this be our everyday for a moment gives me hope that it has landed on her. That it will continue to be the legacy she carries along because of the example of her own dad and grandpa.
Justin has already mastered it. As he wrote in his own words this afternoon, “more than anything, when I grow up, I want to be my dad”. I looked on this summer and saw that his wish has most definitely come true. He has become his own dad. Not in all the same ways as he feels quite the opposite about swearing. But in the goodness. I saw it and I know that our daughter did too. I know even more that every single day for the rest of her own dad’s life she will reap the benefits of this legacy. That because of her Grandpa, it will continue to spread far and beyond what we can even see. Floating around Brockport this summer, if I ran into anyone who discovered that I was “Greg Packard’s daughter in law” the first thing out of their mouth would be about how great a man he was. Often a story would follow about how he impacted their life in some truly profound way. Not because he moved mountains and did grand things. But because he listened and spoke with love, always. Because he gave people chances. And because he believed in the goodness and dignity of others. No one was ever "sir" or "miss". Every service professional who ever came into contact with him had a name and so he used it. If they weren't wearing a name tag, he asked them what it was. Everyone was an individual to him.
I am proud to be his family and feel as if I won some in-law lottery. My favorite memory of him will always be on the night of our wedding. We were the last to be married of the Packard “kids” and at one moment he pulled all three of us in-laws aside and told us he loved us and how grateful he was to know his children had such wonderful partners in life. He thanked us for being who we were for each of them. That’s how he did it. That’s who he was. And as the mother of one of his grandchildren and partner of his son, it’s what I will honor always. His legacy of goodness.
Thank you Pack. Truly. I Love You.
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.