He Died A Hero

Field of Sunflowers

This is the sort of post that requires music but what to play is something that is beyond me, or so it feels. I sit here in my chair fighting to come up with the write words to share about my grandfather. I sit here in my chair and try to make sense of something that seems impossible- grandpa is gone. Though I always knew that one day this would happen I find myself wondering if maybe this was just a dream.  Until today there had never been a time where I didn’t have grandparents to visit and talk to.

My grandparents were a constant force in my life and now they are all gone. Every…single…one has died and I find that the world is a little bit darker than it was. I shouldn’t be surprised. I have been down this path before.  This is not the first time that I have sat at the computer and reminisced about a grandparent. It is not the first time that I have shared some thoughts about talking with the children about death, but I hope that it is the last time for a while.

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I feel numb. I am in a place that exists somewhere between sadness and ambivalence. My grandfathers were my heroes. Two amazing characters who couldn’t have been more alike or more different. Such a contradiction but one that is filled with so much love. And now I find myself trying to figure out what sort of words I intend to share at the funeral. Now I sit here lost in thought and memory trying to find the write words to write about him. Chances are I will speak off the cuff. Chances are that I’ll share a few words and hope that I don’t sound silly. And no matter what I say afterwards I’ll kick myself for not sharing XYZ or for not talking about PDQ.

It is not a tragedy when a 97.5 year old man dies of natural causes . That doesn’t mean that we can’t be sad because I am. I am sad for a million different reasons but the biggest one is that my children won’t ever know grandpa the way that I did. They’ll hear stories about him and grandma. When they get older they’ll have a better appreciation for how incredible it is to be married for 75 years but they won’t know it in the same way that I do.

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One of my strongest memories of my grandparents is of them dancing. I close my eyes and I can see them gliding across the floor together. I close my eyes and hear grandma tell the 13 year-old version of me that if I learn how to dance as well as grandpa I will never lack for a date. I close my eyes and see them in their nineties sitting next to each other in matching recliners. They are both fast asleep but they are holding hands. I close my eyes and hear my grandfather tell me about happy grandma has made him. I hear people asking grandma what their secret is. She laughs, shakes her head and says she doesn’t know. She says that they have always known how to compromise.

Grandpa laughs and tells me that when two people adore each other they find a way to work it out and then he says that it doesn’t hurt to have a hot 85-year-old wife. Grandma blushes, smiles broadly and tells him to shush. I think of grandma as being a very proper lady. She doesn’t swear but she doesn’t have to. On the rare occasion she gets upset she has a look that causes plants to wither.

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Grandpa’s death certificate will say something about natural causes and that is ok. But the true cause of death is a broken heart. He missed grandma terribly and even though she was gone he used to talk to her photo. But it would be unfair of me to paint a picture that didn’t describe him as trying to live a vibrant and active life without grandma. She was his best friend but even in her absence he did what he could to get the most out of his days.

But no matter how fast we run time is always faster and it caught up to him.

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I saw him every day last week and noticed a steady deterioration so I made a point early in the week to tell him that I loved him. Even though he knew it, I wanted to make sure that he heard it.  Even though he told me that he was ready and that he wasn’t afraid I wanted to try and ease his burden any way that I could.

Yesterday afternoon I went back and found him fast asleep. His breathing was labored and you could see that he had to fight for each breath. They had given him some Morphine to make him more comfortable and consequently he was sort of out it. He stared glassy eyed at the ceiling and I hoped that it wouldn’t be long. Not because I didn’t love him but because he was very clear about his wishes. He had a DNR and had told us all that if there came a time where he couldn’t function on his own he wanted out.

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“Grandpa, I have to leave,” I said. I bent over and told him again that I loved him and that if he wanted to let go it was ok with me. This time I just couldn’t say goodbye, so instead I said “so long” and walked out of the room. Six hours later he was gone, but in my eyes he died a hero.

photo by: tfengreen

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