January 3rd, 2007Tonight, my grandfather died at 5:30 pm, at the age of 86. 15 months ago, he suffered a stroke that took away his ability to talk, walk, and feed himself. Tonight he returned to his Heavenly Father and was reunited with his departed family.
He was one of the better men I ever had the privilege to know and beyond that I was able to call him Grandpa. I was his first grandchild - at a young age he taught me to shoot and first and foremost to respect firearms and to be safe when handling them. He, at around 60 years of age, often took me up the side of the mountain with a knapsack of hot dogs and marshmallows to cook over a fire before we would shoot targets. I remember riding in his truck with him on errands to the store while he sang, "don't sit under the apple tree with anybody else but me" and "Over there".
When he worried about me being bullied in school when I was about 7 years old, he brought two pairs of his old boxing gloves over and taught me how to box so I could defend myself. As I child, when I saw his old Army Air Corps uniform, I was amazed and asked him if he had been an ace. He laughed out loud and said, "Yeah, only it was spelled A-S-S".
My grandpa was John Wayne to me - his deep voice, natural swagger, and crooked smile reminded me of the duke so much that once as a child I asked him if John Wayne was his cousin. He only laughed, but he was better than John Wayne to me because he was my grandpa.
I the 8th grade I once saw him cry - when I interviewed him about his time in WWII, while I was researching an English paper. He voluntarily enlisted and served as a gunner on B-17 bomber crew - they never were in theater but saw training casualties weekly, "One a day in Tampa Bay" referred to the air crew death rate in training, he said. He witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor, while serving as a missionary for his church in Hawaii.
When I was running track and x-country in high school - he came to most of my meets with his camera. He was a better marksman than a photographer - he would line up his shots, holding his camera as though he were in a pistol match. He would give me the photos in person and tell me how well I had performed.
He served many years as a district judge, he was politically active and a grassroots member of the NRA. He always told me that the 2nd amendment protected the rest of our rights. His service and willingness to fight for his country inspired me to join the military.
For almost 15 months, I've watched him lay in bed - unable to talk or even move his left side. I watched his eyes meet mine when I came to visit him in various medical facilities as he was moved around by my aunt and grandmother. He would try to communicate verbally, but only groans came out of his mouth. He would grip my hand tightly and often I would have to leave the room so he wouldn't see me cry. Sometimes I would visit him and he wouldn't open his eyes. Worse wer the times when he was in pain or distress.
Monday we were told he was close to death and we visited him only to find him in great pain. He was barely able to breath and the fluid filling his lungs made a raspy sound my wife identified as the "death rattle". I left that hospital wishing for death to visit my grandfather as a tender mercy from the Lord. Tonight I arrived ten minutes after his passing to find his body, growing cold, but at peace and free from pain.
If I were a drinking man, I would be raising a glass to him tonight, for he truly was my hero. God I miss him - it was his time to go, but that doesn't make me miss him any less.
Here's to you Grandpa - I have things I still have to do here but I can't want till we can go up the mountain, cook hot dogs and shoot targets again.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
It has been just over one year since my grandfather died. The night he passed away, I wrote down some of my thoughts on his passing. I later refined these thoughts to deliver them publicly when I spoke at his funeral, but there is something about what I first put in words - spelling errors and all... There is a fine line between dwelling in the past and preserving memories that shouldn't be purged from our consciousness. I think this bears being repeated - thanks for reading it: