It was a misty day in Kennebunkport, Maine — a place that has been a constant for my family. It’s a seaside town where my sister, Barbara, and I crabbed on the rocks and played hide-and-go-seek with our cousins; the waves hitting the coast was the soundtrack to our childhood.
It’s a place we were anxious to return to because of its beauty, but mostly to be close to our beloved grandparents. We all wanted to be in their glow. On this day, in June of 2014, we were there to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday. He knew how he wanted to celebrate: He wanted to skydive.
He had been in a wheelchair, unable to walk for the last several years, so our family was uncertain and anxious. He was resolute. My grandmother was worried — a little angry — and joked about the location of the jump, over our church: "Well, fine George, if you’re going to jump out of a perfectly good airplane if something happens, we will just bury you right there."
My Gampy had made the decision to jump as a tribute to his years as a pilot during WWII. In fact, the first time he jumped out of an airplane he was 19 years old, and it was 1944. His plane was shot down over the Pacific, so he was forced to jump. He hit his head on the plane but was later rescued. Two of the other members of his team didn’t live. He told me once that he jumps for them. He jumped because he lived.
On his 90th, we stood waiting below to see this giant of a man sail down to the ground. I was holding my daughter Mila and was so proud she was alive to see this — that she got to meet the grandfather I adored. He landed — a little hard! — but immediately thanked the man who led him safely into the arms of his wife and to the grandkids who rushed to him. And that was our Gampy: always thanking those who helped him, wanting always to be surrounded by family.
One night at dinner that summer my Gampy, at the head of our robin’s-egg blue table, leaned over to me and whispered, "Don’t forget to enjoy the game."
His voice was weak but he continued, "Jenna, don’t be scared to be in the ring, and don’t forget to enjoy every moment — to live every moment. I miss being an active part of the game."
And so today, seven years after the last time he jumped, I jump for him. And I will jump because I’m in the game, enjoying every moment, and feeling closer to him in the heavens.