I wrote this blog in memory of my grandfather shortly after he passed away on December 24, 2013. While it’s been 2 ½ years since Papa could share his stories and lessons with me from the head of the long kitchen table, my memories of him will always remind me to work hard and be kind to everyone I encounter. Working in the wellness industry is going to require hard work and patience from me, but the lessons I learned from Papa will help give me that extra push when motivation begins to diminish. Papa would have turned 78 last Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
My grandfather, Papa, or William (Mr. Bill) Cazzola, was the head of the Cazzola clan. The loud rambunctious group that is always either laughing or yelling at each other, getting looks from people whether we’re in church, at a restaurant, or standing in line for Heid’s coneys. He died nine months ago, and I’d like to dedicate this blog post to some of the lessons I learned from him.
Papa was always trying to teach us something. Going into elaborate detail and losing my interest somewhere along the way. He was a very passionate and good teacher, but the deliberate lessons usually focused on golf or history, neither of which I’ve ever had much interest in. The lessons that stuck with me are those that he didn’t even realize he was giving.
One thing I always admired about him was his serenity. In a big Italian family there’s always drama, yelling, and raised voices, but you could always count on him to be sitting quietly, taking it all in, and maybe even half-smiling to himself. He didn’t add to the noise, jump into conversations, or instigate further conflict. If needed, he might give you a sideways glance and a smirk, letting you know he just saw you do what you shouldn’t have been doing, but nothing more.
Papa was a simple man. He liked his routine, he had his priorities, and he stuck to them. Fish on Friday, pizza on Saturday, church on Sunday, no matter what. Love for olives, good Italian bread, dry red wine, nice gardens, family, and golf (among many other things). He loved his family, and each one of his grandkids equally, regardless of our accomplishments or mistakes. All he wanted was for us to get along and enjoy our time together. One day, when my family was about to leave after visiting for Christmas, Papa pulled me aside out front and told me to make sure that everyone still got together for family gatherings once he was gone. This was before we knew he had cancer, and I looked him at like he was crazy, but now it’s a moment I’ll never forget. And a request I plan to follow through with.
He was accepting. When I showed him my tattoo, his response was, “Can you get that taken off?” followed by his signature chuckle. Nothing more, just straightforward, wondering why in the world I’d put that on my body, but no second thoughts about what it meant about me. With 12 grandkids, there is bound to be a variety of interests and personalities, and Papa connected with each and every one of us. He followed our interests and pursuits and would check in on things I didn’t even realize he was aware of. Regardless of what they were, our interests were important to him.
Which takes me to the next lesson: being a good listener. I have a habit of choosing to listen to the things that interest me and tuning out everything else. Papa listened no matter what. When he was sick he had a hard time sleeping. I was convinced that a meditation program would really help him, even though it was way outside of his comfort zone. He let me explain it to him, show him the website, the app, the article explaining how it would work, and absorbed all of it. He may not have been interested in trying meditation, but he let me tell him about it because it was important to me.
I could go on forever talking about Papa and all of the things I admired him for and learned from him. He was one of the hardest-working, humble, and patient people I have ever known. And on the other side he was goofy, quirky (who else leaves a BB gun by their door to shoot squirrels?), and always ready to laugh. I miss him every day, but I don’t want to let this pain stop me from talking about him.
For those of you who don’t know, he passed away on December 24, 2013 after finding out he had stomach cancer in May 2013. It took us all by surprise, and while he fought as hard as he could, it was a fight that he couldn’t win. At his wake and funeral I met so many people whose lives he touched, and as a final lesson, I learned once again that how you treat people and carry yourself, really does leave a lasting impact.