Monday, May 26, 2014

Memories of my Grandfather on Memorial Day

My grandfather (affectionately called... Grandfather by me and my sister) was so proud of the fact that he was a veteran. He left high school at the age of 17 to join the Navy. I'd always been fed the charming lie that he somehow tricked the US government and lied to join the military, but the truth is much less exciting: he convinced his parents that he needed to join the WWII effort and they signed the paperwork allowing their son to join.

It's fitting that I'm sharing my memories of him on Memorial Day.

I still ache from missing him. It's been less than a month since he died. It's been only slightly more than a month since we called in hospice. We were closer during those last few weeks of his life than we had been the previous almost-30 years.

My grandfather was never an easy man to know. I grew up hearing stories from my dad about him, and about how he was so harsh with his own children. Despite having the means to do so, my grandfather never supplied his children with lunch money. If they wanted to attend a field trip through their school, they had to raise the money themselves. My father managed to pay his own way to France to study abroad in high school. There was never a question that they would help pay for college.

He wasn't like this with me, or my sister. We were definitely his favorite grandchildren. He didn't spoil us by any means, but he did go out of his way to show that we was proud of us. Every year at Christmas, he would give each grandchild $100 and each of his children $500. In the past few years, that number was decreased because of the stock market, to the point where he stopped giving anything at all to the grandchildren. Yet, he always snuck in a check for $100 to me and another for my sister, telling us not to tell anyone even our grandmother. He also contributed to my freshman year of college, which I was deeply grateful for.

Grandfather didn't attend birthday parties, graduation parties, or anything of that sort. When he died, I tried in vain to find a picture of us when I was a kid- and there are zero. The only picture I have of us together is from my wedding.

But- I knew he loved me. He used to tell me the best stories. As a child, whenever I saw him I would immediately crawl into his lap and ask for a story. I'm pretty sure he only had the one story that he told over and over with slight variations, but it was always new and exiting to me. I would sit in his lap and feel so loved and safe. I can still remember the way he smelled and how his curly white chest hair would peek out over his button-down.

A gift I gave him as a child. I was shocked to find he kept it.

I will always remember that he read biographies and played tennis, even winning championships in the senior league. He used to tell me that he won every single match, which I now am guessing probably isn't true. A stickler for rules, he allowed us to use his address so that I could attend a fantastic elementary and middle school. I would spend time with him in the morning and every afternoon. He had oatmeal for breakfast every single morning.

There's this book that was kept in their living room about the Great Depression. Before that book, I had never heard of it before and every Sunday when we'd visit, I would pour over that book trying to understand it. He told me that his birth was what started the Great Depression, and I absolutely believed him.

(Clearly I was a very gullible child.)

Then, there are the memories that aren't so pleasant. Like how he was mean to me during  my wedding, resulting in me crying in the bedroom. Or how to tried to pay my uncle's first wife not to marry his son because she wasn't "good enough." He had a strong disdain for social work, stating that he didn't understand why I bothered to study it since "anyone who can read and write can do that."

The last few weeks of his life, I tried to see him everyday. At first he could sit up in the living room for a few minutes, eventually excusing himself for a nap. Then it got to the point to where he was confined to his bed, but despite the amount of pain he was in, he could still have a conversation with you. He spoke to Mr. Skeptical about school (I got the impression that Grandfather approved of being an accountant); he recognized us for sure. The pain overtook him quickly and he would be in bed moaning constantly. It was extremely hard for me to see him like this, this man that was always so strong and sure of himself. The first time I saw him in this condition, I honestly couldn't handle it and for some reason grabbed his cat and wouldn't let go of her.

I came over one day, having left work a little early, and found my grandmother acting strange. She broke down after a few minutes and told he was only given a few weeks left. I had never seen my grandmother cry before.

When he was moved to hospice, I visited as much as humanly possible. I knew that any second could be the last. I would visit, see him for a minute and then leave to cry. I didn't want him to see me cry. What was really hard about hospice is that Grandfather was aware he was there, even waking up on his first day asking if he was dying, right then.

There was little I could do for him except be there. I held his hand a lot. I still miss the way his hand felt, always so soft and cool. When he was having a good few minutes, he could squeeze back letting us know he was there. And then, in the last 2 days, he couldn't even squeeze anymore. He slept most of the time and was out of it when he was awake.

I feel so good about being there. My sister and I were the only grandchildren that visited him regularly. Even though we didn't have a close relationship, I think the experience brought us closer together in a way that I can't explain. I saw and heard him do things that he never did before. I saw him kiss my grandmother. He asked for her sweetly. He told me and my sister we were beautiful. I heard him say I love you. It took him dying for him to really share that he loved us all.

Now I'm crying. I just wish it didn't take him so long. I wish the whole of my dad's family wasn't so removed from their emotions. I wish that I could have had a normal relationship with my grandfather, one where we actually knew each other and shared.

I miss him so much. I'm glad that he is not in pain anymore and that he is no longer experiencing all of the indignities associated with dying. But I miss holding his hand, waiting for the brief moment he might wake up and smile at me, recognizing me through his pain.

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