sometimes, no matter what people say or do to cheer you up, you just have a sucky day. i’ve had a lot of those lately because there’s something missing from my life, something that i always counted on to make things okay, to help me see the positive and to simply tell me that it was going to be okay: my grandpa. i didn’t have a typical relationship with my grandfather. i didn’t just see him on holidays and get a card in the mail on my birthday. he was present at every major moment in my life – well, everything that he considered major. those events included childhood basketball, volleyball and softball games; high school track meets; graduations; family meals; and any other occasion you can imagine.
my grandpa wasn’t just my biggest fan. he was the one to encourage me to dream bigger, to not fear failure and to always believe in myself no matter the task – and especially when others were telling me i couldn’t do it. he is the greatest man i know and he touched hundreds of people’s lives with his love, generosity of spirit and cinderella story background. he lost his parents before the age of 10 and never had a true father after which to model himself in his later life. that didn’t stop him from being a wonderful father to my dad and uncle, who in turn learned how to not only be great dads, but also to be great men just like him. he was entrepreneurial in spirit, mindset and work ethic – something i hope to emulate in my own life.
he was yet another soul to lose to cancer. last summer, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and liver disease. i remember when my parents sat me down to tell me that he had been given nine months to live; i felt frozen. the only words that came to my lips were “i’m so sorry, dad.” when my mom called two weeks ago to say that i needed to come home to say goodbye to him, i felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. how can you say goodbye to someone you aren’t ready to lose? how do you tell someone that everything you are and everything you’ve done is because of them? how can you thank them for the gift of your very life? i rushed home to his side, as did my entire family – a true testament to how loved he was and always will be – but i never got to have one last conversation with him. every time i tried, we were interrupted by a nurse, visiting family member or rambunctious great-grandchild. i never had the chance to tell my grandpa about my new job or apartment, to tell him how much i would miss him or to say that i couldn’t imagine life without him. i never was able to have that true goodbye with the man i admire and love so much. but when my aunt said that his wish was for each of his granddaughters to write a eulogy to read at this funeral, i knew that my grandpa had come through for me one last time. as my grandma said about their early dating life, he “just kept showing up.” as i wrote out my last thoughts to my grandfather, 23 years of memories flooded over me. i cried for sadness and for hopelessness, but also for the pride i felt in having known him and the joy i felt at being able to say i was his granddaughter. the end product was a letter to him. it felt more personal and i wasn’t ready to talk about him, when i suddenly could never again talk to him.
in each memory, sad or happy, my grandpa kept showing up.
in each person i greeted last weekend at his wake and funeral, my grandpa kept showing up.
in each story i heard about him, my grandpa kept showing up.
my grandma couldn’t have been more right about her husband: he just kept showing up. he never let anything block his path to success. he never let misfortune wipe the smile from his face. and he absolutely never let cancer take away his spirit.
my last conversation with my grandpa:
grandpa, it’s hard to know where to begin. i’ll start with the bad, because that comes to mind the fastest lately. i hate that twenty three years with you weren’t enough. i hate that you couldn’t see my career develop like i know you would’ve loved to do. i hate that i didn’t see you more often when you got sick. i hate that i didn’t call you every chance i got. i hate that you had to suffer when you’d earned more than your share of peace. and most of all, i hate that any future family i might have won’t know you: your love, your acceptance, your crushing hugs and your fervent belief that each of your grandchildren could achieve their wildest dreams in life. but there are a lot of feelings of love in my life lately as well. i love that, when you couldn’t speak to us anymore, you squeezed our hands so we knew you heard us surrounding your bed. i love that the last thing you were able to tell me was how much you love me. i love that you were there at every step of my life as i was growing up. i love that your spirit, your kindness, your compassion and your heart were apparent in each breath you took and word you spoke.
you’ve always been a wonderful example for our family. as a husband, you were faithful, showing your granddaughters how a true man treats the woman he loves. you loved the epitome of grace, strength and beauty – your childhood sweetheart – for 59 years of marriage. grandma – my heart breaks for you.
as a father, you were a role model of what hard work can achieve. it’s plain how much your sons admired you, as they bore the weight of the last nine months without complaint so they could be by your side to care for you. dad – i can’t put words to what i feel at the thought of losing you one day.
as a grandfather, you embodied encouragement and support. you understood that my dreams would carry me away from america, from home, from you. instead of convincing me of lesser dreams that would keep me near you, you helped me to achieve them and cheered for me along the way. for that, and everything else you’ve done for me, i can’t thank you enough. you might not be here to talk me through my future as you’ve done so many times before, but i feel comforted in the fact that you’ll be watching me from above.
you and grandma bore your sickness with more grace than i knew was possible. i’ve been blessed with a family that would move mountains for me, but i feel more blessed to have been loved so fiercely by someone like you, who i hold in such high esteem.
it may feel like half of my heart passed on with you, but i still feel whole because you left a piece of yourself behind in each and every person you touched during your life. i love you. i miss you. and i’ll never have a day when i don’t think of you.