I guess this is a season of change, not just in my own waking life, also in most other people surrounding me. Change is in the air. My grandfather died earlier this week, suddenly though it seems the family has been prepared for this awhile. He had moved into an assisted living home the end of March, his dementia had worsened to the point my grandmother could no longer care for him. They say that once in assisted living, your days are numbered, he lived about 7 weeks. My grandfather was a stubborn man, though he always seemed to have the perfect reason. He could take one look at a person and know exactly what kind one was. He was the wallflower that not everyone noticed, but every detail was cataloged within his mind.
As he was 60 years my senior, I mostly knew him in his retirement. He continued to keep jobs, as a gate guard at the state fair, or as a janitor at McDonalds around the corner. His other duty, as a writer in their basement, typing a weekly family letter that kept him busy during days spent at home. He and my grandmother loved to travel, they had a small camper for many years and drove around the country, went on tours of Turkey and Europe, even so, my grandfather rarely missed a letter. His sense of humor was apparent in his writing, dryly stating perspectives that he knew would get responses, some of my favorite thanksgiving dinner conversations were started with a simple statement that would get the table to explode in lively discussion on anything political or related to current events. Or the times when he would bellow “Now Pauline..” and they would squabble across the room until my grandma would get visibly flustered and talk to anyone else continuing with her “incorrect” story.
When it came to food, he was very particular, abstaining from red meat and anything he deemed fatty or full of cholesterol. He was always paranoid about germs, never shaking a hand or giving hugs and cleaning each individual plate by hand before placing in the dishwasher to be sanitized. Everything he did was methodical and he moved intentionally and meditatively, seemingly always deep in thought. He was the most empathetic human I’ve ever met, sharing a deep bond with all creatures great and small, my family’s old dog Beezus would sit and converse with him each time they were together, commiserating before he took her for a very long walk. He had a huge collection of clowns, McDonald’s toys and puppets, a particular one named Louie was a ventriloquist dummy that he would take around and perform at clowning events. The year he was given Louie for Christmas, my cousin Morgan was quite young and was convinced that the dummy was real after it shifted on the piano bench while sitting on it’s own. It became somewhat of a running theme in the family and Louie and grandpa would perform after coaxing from grandma.
After arriving in Minnesota a few days prior to the funeral, I spent Tuesday giving haircuts to a couple of family members and then dinner with my grandma and my aunt Deb. Understandably, I heard again the order of events leading to my grandfather’s death in each of their perspectives. I didn’t interrupt, only listened, wishing I too could have held his hand or spoken to him in person that fateful day. Through tears, my grandma says in the end he went so fast, she wished she could have had just one more day, I respond that she would always wish for just one more day. She agreed.
The hardest part of my family’s patriarch being gone is seeing the way they grieve. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my dad cry. When his voice faltered from emotion during the service, I couldn’t contain my tears and let them slowly trickle down my cheeks. Growing up I was amazed at their relationship, both pastors who value God and servitude above all else. They would have calm but intense discussions on church topics, even when they disagreed the volume level never rose. Personalities of practicality and stoicism, they are both solid foundations from which my family stands.
This week, I’ve learned more about my grandfather than I knew previously, he didn’t talk about himself much, but he wrote his own 14 page autobiography at 73 and his eulogy when he was 83. Both times he writes that he hopes to live a bit longer. I had the sense that he would outlive us all, he just kept going even when his mind was mostly gone.
And as I grieve, I also feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratefulness to be cut from the same fabric as a man who I deem as the greatest. One who upheld morals and values above all else. I leave you with his own final words, spoken from the pulpit in my dad’s voice. The greatest gift of all, the knowledge he acquired in his lifetime.