Dealing with Loss on the Road: A Tribute to Norman Rainer

All I want to do is talk to you about love and adventure and new places to travel to.

Unfortunately, life isn’t always all fun and games. No matter where you are in the world, you can sometimes be hit with the reality of mortality in the worst possible way.

I would like to take a second to reflect on some memories and talk about about my grandfather. My Poppy.

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He was a man of many talents, many professions, and many jokes. He held PHDs, was an accomplished chemist for Phillip Morris for many years, a patent licenser, a champion swimmer (even in old age) and a uniquely talented underwater photographer. My Poppy was silly, nutty, and absolutely brilliant. Although my family could talk for ages about his genius mind and many professional milestones, I want to tell you about who he was outside of work.. and who he was to my sisters and I.


The Rainer girls grew up with a ‘Nana’ and ‘Poppy’ on my dad’s side. The Rainer family memories usually took place at Nana and Poppy’s house and involved playing on the parallel bars, shooting crossbows in the backyard, sneaking candy from the jar atop the fridge, and when my Nana was around… they always involved Lemon Lipton Iced Tea.

Always silly

My Nana passed away from a long health battle almost three years ago to the day. Memories with Nana included the penny game and lots and lots of “stories.” We miss her so much. She was the life of the party and really held the Rainer family together like glue. The lack of her presence is sorely felt each time we are all together, but I must say, my Dad has done a wonderful job of trying to keep the family connected for various get togethers. He puts aside the pain of losing his mother and makes sure the family still comes together when they can. My heart hurts for him knowing he is going through the agony of losing another parent all over again. I cry each time I think about his pain.

My Poppy couldn’t wait too long before joining Nana again. Nana always made his lunch, edited his photographs, and joined him around the world for dive after dive after dive. I know Poppy lost part of himself when she passed, and three years was a long time for this couple to be apart. The two of them traveled the world together, literally. They went to so many countries I couldn’t possibly count and when asked, there were very few places my Poppy said were still on his wish list. He had been almost everywhere, more than once. There is no doubt their stories from Fiji and Egypt and Paupa New Guinea shaped my love for travel and desire to visit new places.


My Poppy was a funny and quirky grandfather to have. His sense of humor was oddball and most of the time… confusing… but man he could make us laugh. I have so many favorite memories of my time with him, even though he was much quieter than my Nana. I will miss his voice and his jokes, although I know Brad will continue his spot on “Poppy Impression” so he will live on a little in that way.

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As kids, Poppy showed us how to play ping pong in his home gym and how to use the “flying machine.” We were never allowed to step on the ping pong balls… he was very sensitive about them being crushed. And we were never allowed to play with the dart board without his help… although we did all the time. Shhh!

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Ping Pong at Hanukkah circa 2008 (Natalie and Rebecca)

Poppy also showed us how to flick rubberbands at each other! I have a distinct memory of running around his house in a full-on rubberband war. Becca and I against Poppy!

As things like this usually work… someone (me) got hit in the eyeball with a rubberband and started crying. Of course this prompted Optometrist Dad to run in and stop the rubberband war. It was too dangerous, he said, no more of that. Although we still had rubberband wars with Poppy from time to time… but he made us wear safety googles.

Poppy and I used to love going to collect crickets from the backyard for the frogs! I used to be obsessed with frogs as a kid- seriously- frog stuffed animals, frog toys, and frog posters in my room. (Who the hell knows why). So when Poppy let me feed the crickets we caught to the frogs, MAN was it a fun day!  Poppy would also “let” us collect twigs from his backyard and throw them in the trash bin. HA. It was so dumb. He was having us clean his yard before he ran the lawnmower! We ran around in an intense contest as to who could collect the most sticks. But he would reward us by letting us look for “magic rocks,” (small geodes he had hidden around the yard.)


Poppy was famous for his Hanukkah slideshows.  Everytime the three Rainer boys and their children made their way to Nana and Poppy’s house.. (which was usually at Hanukkah) they got the special treat of sitting through a slideshow of Poppy’s underwater images. As I mentioned, he was an accomplished diver and would sit on the ocean floor with studio strobes and mirrors and wait for hours. He would wait for the tiniest crab he was looking for… or an endangered eel… or a colorful fish ONLY found off the coast of Singapore.  It was an amazing talent, but man as kids… asking us to sit through “one more slideshow” was so.. UGGGHHHH. My sisters and my mom and I would sit on the floor and color in coloring books while the slideshow went on for what seemed like hours. A literal slideshow guys… with SLIDES and a SLIDE carousel… no Powerpoint in Poppy’s house.

Man, what I would give for just “one more slideshow” now…

Holiday Slideshows!


Poppy and his grandchildren had a special tree. (In fact, I think it was a special tree with our Dads even before we were born, but let’s call it the grandchildren’s tree.)

There is a giant cedar tree in his front yard and he would trim the massive branches into stairsteps for us. He taught me how to climb trees and it is one of my favorite memories with him. I was such a tomboy when I was younger and you couldn’t keep me out of a “good climbing tree.” He kept the tree trimmed so we could climb up to the top, and even as an old man would climb up to the top as well!

When I was a little girl, Poppy put a dry-erase board in the top of the tree with a message on it that said something like “Hi Rachel, you made it! Love, the Squirrels.” He encouraged me to get to the top to find the message, but it took me years to get there. (This is a big ass tree.)

Kath and I in Poppy’s Tree

This tree was so special to me that when I first started dating my husband, I took him to meet my Nana and Poppy.. and to climb the tree. As she ALWAYS DID, Nana stood on the porch with a phone in her hand just in case she needed to dial 911. And Poppy stood at the bottom with tree clippers in case we needed those. And Brad and I climbed the tree. And I felt like I was sharing a secret club house with him. I’m going to miss that tree so much…

That first day Brad met Nana and Poppy, and we climbed the  cedar tree

Poppy was a champion swimmer. I was not. I was a terrible swimmer, but there was one swim meet where I got a blue ribbon!  Nana and Poppy had come to watch; I must have been about 7 or 8 years old. I was swimming the 25 backstroke, my favorite, and Poppy told me I would go faster if I imagined a straight white line in the sky as I looked up, and just followed the line. I swear to you, I did, and it’s the only time I got a 1st place ribbon. I remember it like it was yesterday. Thanks Poppy!

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2014, still kicking butt at swim meets!

Swimming, however, was Rebecca and Poppy’s shared passion. Poppy and I shared photography. My dad is really who got me interested in photography but once I was into it, it made Poppy very proud.  He stood by me in Art School even though he really hated conceptual “VCU Photography” ha and was even more excited when I started shooting landscapes.

Everytime I have seen him in the past four or five years he has sat down and looked at my website, or my instagram and stared at each image with great thought. He was blown away by our documentation of hiking in Utah and the West and always wanted to know what I was up to next. It was our shared interest, our bond, and I hope to continue to do him proud.

My Senior Photo Show from VCU

Two of my favorite memories with my Poppy were made even more recently.

One, was at my Dad’s recent wedding this past October. My dad was remarried which put all the Rainer brothers in the same room again! Poppy was so happy.. about all the family togetherness, about my Dad’s wedding, and about the grandchildren home to visit from various places in the country. He was so happy… that he danced. He seriously broke it down on the dance floor. My sisters, husband, in-laws, cousins and I formed some sort of natural circle and Poppy was dancing like crazy in the middle of the circle. We were laughing until we were crying. This is an 88 year old man who is as skinny as a bean pole and he is having the time of his life on the dance floor. It was one of the most fantastic and unbelievable moments that my sisters and I have shared together. The looks we gave each other were amazing and all-knowing and I cherish that moment so much now that he is gone.

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Uncle Mike, Dad (Bob), Poppy (Norman), and Uncle Russ

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The last, best moment I shared with Poppy was this past Christmas. Poppy had never been to a Christmas before! My Dad and Kirby have been inviting him over much more frequently since Nana passed away and extended the Christmas invite to him this year. As a Jewish man, he wasn’t sure what to expect, even though we told him it was NOT very religious and just a fun get together with family. He showed up in a red shirt and a Santa Hat- who knows where he got that!? Also, he must have done some googling before he came over because he walked in with an arsenal of Christmas cliches he whipped out all night, “Hey somebody wanna go check on my reindeer outside!?”

He was also very concerned about the fact that my Dad and Kirby had a real tree that year. He asked them if they were prepared for fires.. and just to make sure, he brought over his own half-wrapped fire extinguisher as a gift. Poppy was a hoot that night and really enjoyed watching us open gifts, fight over the pickle, and sing Taylor Swift songs to each other.


He was very amused with this Minions mask

I left in February for Europe and that was the last time I spent any real time with Poppy.

The hardest part about losing three grandparents in three years is the fact that we have been outside of the state EACH. TIME. My sister Kathryn has had to visit three grandparents in the hospital and grieve with emotional parents all by herself each time this has happened.

Becca and I talk often about how we desperately wish we could be there to shoulder the burden. If we can, we make it back for the funerals, but that’s not the same. My Nana died over a few months span and I wasn’t there to help my Dad with hospital visits. My Granddaddy died suddenly in a car accident and I wasn’t there to hug my heartbroken Grandmother in the hospital. And now my Poppy has been fighting for weeks, and once again, all I can do is send words of encouragement and hope. I wish so badly that when tragedy struck I could be there to visit, talk, hug, cook meals, help with paperwork, make arrangements, SOMETHING to be useful and helpful during a difficult family time.  If you asked me the hardest part about living away from “home” that would be it. Our family has gone through so much, good and bad, since 2012 and we haven’t been there much (physically) to share in the celebrations or help during the tragedies.

We can’t dwell on that though. All we can do is offer help to the rest of the family and hold on to the memories we have, for that’s all that really matters anyway.

So goodbye for now Poppy. Follow the Frank Sinatra playing and go find Nana.

She has been waiting for you for three years with a Yahoo and a bagel with lochs. We love you.


RIP Dr. Norman Rainer and the other loved ones mentioned in this post, Lynn Rainer and VR Parrish. You are so missed.




10 thoughts on “Dealing with Loss on the Road: A Tribute to Norman Rainer

  1. That Christmas celebration was so fun, and it meant a lot to be able to spend it with Poppy too. Having us all together was really nice. I only wish I had had more than just the few years I’ve known Poppy to grow closer to him. He and I shared a very deep, philosophical conversation one of the last nights he was lucid in the hospital… it was so very meaningful and impactful, and I’m so so glad I got to see him. We all miss you and have you in our thoughts ❤ Love you Rach!


  2. Rachel

    This is such a beautiful tribute. I love you dearly and I am certain many of Poppy’s stories being told are of his fond memories of you and your sisters.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rachel, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your tribute is so beautiful! A truly wonderful recount of priceless memories. You are a very wise young woman. He would be immensely proud of you, but I’m sure you know that.

    Love, Randi


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your tribute to your Poppy was beautiful and captured years of memories in such a loving way. I cried from beginning to end and found moments of laughter through my tears as you shared your stories. He was such a wonderful man and made the world a better, more interesting and funnier place because he was here. I’m so lucky to have known him and my world was better because of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just re-read this again. And yes I cried again. It’s about 12:30 and it’s another night that I can’t turn off my brain and go to sleep. The feeling of loss will dwindle over time, but now it is fresh. It is raw. It is palpable in every breath I take. I force myself to breathe deeply to clear my head. It rarely helps. I want to only remember the good quality filled times with my mother and father and that will come with time. Rachel, your tribute is lovely and I thank you for helping me remember good times with Nana and Poppy. I love you and I am so very proud to call you my daughter.


    1. Well, now you’ve got me crying! It will get easier, but not for a while. Unfortunately, Dad, I think you have the hardest part ahead of you when you have to start sorting through the house. We are all going to be there, physically or emotionally, and we are all gonna take baby steps to get through it together


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