Although I certainly didn’t just sit on my duff all summer long, for I took lots of trips and was able to take care of a lot of house clutter, the pace of life has certainly picked up in the last week alone. School started. I got the stomach flu (which I’m currently still “enjoying”). My grandpa died.
Out of all those things, it’s the last one that has me reeling. I can handle hectic weeks. I can handle the stomach flu. But I always dreaded the time I’d have to say goodbye to my sweet grandfather. He was a good man who lived live with vigor. He beat colon cancer but suffered through countless intestinal issues from the mid-90’s until he died. Even through it all, he made sure to let those around him know how much he loved them, admired them, and he made sure to thank anyone who helped him.
Writing is definitely cathartic, and I sat down a day after my grandfather’s passing to write a tribute to him. I wrote it for myself, but I shared it on Facebook so that those who knew my grandfather could enjoy it as well. Now I’m sharing it with all of you. Even though you didn’t know him, we can all learn from the gracious way he lived his life.
When my grandpa was diagnosed with colon cancer in the mid 90’s, I always feared the day he would leave this earth because I knew I’d have trouble finding the words to accurately express the admiration I had for him. I have been fortunate not to have the cause for finding such words until much later, but now is the moment where I find myself digging through pictures on the computer and words and phrases in my mind trying to accurately craft a representation of the man named Harry M. who influenced so many with his generous spirit.
Five days ago, I stood beside a hospital bed and an oxygen machine that was alternately groaning and sighing. The bed was angled toward an open door that led to a deck that had been enjoyed for only a couple days by my grandfather before he fell ill. I thought for sure I was saying goodbye to my grandpa Harry. His breath was labored; he moaned; he had the “death rattle” that all of us had heard about. By the time I went home, I fully expected to get a call sometime during the night saying that he hadn’t made it.
By Saturday afternoon, my grandpa was coherent, eating, and had drunk a glass and a half of wine. I never did see him after that Friday night vigil. However, the last time I did see him, he opened his eyes long enough to recognize me and tell me he loved me. I held his hand for a long time, fighting back tears as I fought with the denial that this was the end. Although the end didn’t happen that night, that was the end for me, for I didn’t see him again.
After I learned of his passing, and as I went through the motions of attending my sons’ football practice and preparing for the first day of school the next day, I wanted to drive down the streets of my town and shout at the world about what a gentle, caring soul had just left the earth — and I wanted to implore everyone to care, dammit.
Harry was a beautiful soul. He was the kind of person that people talk about and admire but can never truly aspire to be like. He was quiet but caring; anal retentive but generous; resolute in his love for God but hesitant to judge the mortals who dwelled with him on this earth. One of his last thoughts involved his desire for people of all races to get along. He was sick and he was dying, but he still thought about his ideal world — the world he believed God intended.
During the many times Harry was hospitalized, he always made a point to remember the names of the doctors and nurses who cared for him, and this was still true in his final days. He could hardly talk, but he’d whisper a “thank you” to whoever was leaving the room. They’d never met a sweeter man, they said. No matter how much pain he was in or how miserable he felt, he tried his best to make sure to thank those who had helped him.
If you knew him, you are one of the fortunate ones. Those of us who knew him the best will remember several stories about him that are representative of his personality, like the time he set his cruise control to go around the mountains of Montana so that he could get the best possible gas mileage, making the rest of us sick to our stomachs as we rode on that very unexpected carnival ride; or how he would never let us kids cheat at any game because there were RULES and we would follow them; how he loved having everyone together and then proclaiming in the middle of it, “Isn’t this fun?”; how he would call family and strangers alike “friend”: “goodbye, friend” . . . “hello, friend,” . . . and you knew that he meant the term literally; how he loved to walk and exercise and keep track of exactly how long he walked and/or exercised (a pedometer was his best friend); how he used to sing in a big booming voice in church and all of us younger kids were embarrassed when people would turn around and look to see just who was belting out the hymn with such vigor; how he loved family pictures and would always have a big smile on his face for them; the bone-crushing hugs he would give his grandkids; the way Grandpa would ask everyone specific questions about life as if each person was the most important person in the room; how thankful Grandpa was for gifts that touched his heart. (He always made a point to thank me for the calendars I made him each Christmas, telling me how much he enjoyed looking at the pictures on them.)
There is a definite void in the world now — one that can never be filled by another person because the one who left the void was so unique and special. I was one of the lucky ones who had a grandfather who seemed like he was a storybook invention: he was kind, considerate, loving, supportive, and optimistic. Even in his last hours he proclaimed, “Today is going to be a good day . . . a really good day.” While August 20th will never seem like a “really good day” to those he left behind, I know it was probably a good day for Grandpa. He was able to leave this earth surrounded by loved ones after he had the chance to say his goodbyes to those who loved him. The rest of us will be lucky if we get the same chance.
Grandpa lived life deliberately and left a lasting impression on everyone he met. Rest in peace, Grandpa Harry.