I lost my grandfather on Sunday.
Or rather, I should say, WE lost our grandfather on Sunday, because he wasn’t just mine. I shared him with 16 other cousins, 17 aunts and uncles, and countless people he influenced over the course of his life, as evidenced by the overwhelming amount of love, support, and condolences our family has received.
Ever since I received the phone call on Sunday afternoon, I’ve felt like I’ve been in some weird trance, and I keep expecting to wake up any minute. I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet. None of us saw it coming, and it happened so quickly. The rational side of me says that I’m in denial, and that I need to snap out of it; the irrational side of me wants to slap the rational side and tell it to shut up, and let me prolong my wishful thinking for just a little bit longer. I’m hoping that by writing this, I’ll come to terms with the loss, because I’m flying home in a few hours, and whether I like it or not, I’ll have to face reality.
I know everyone thinks their grandparents are amazing, and I’m sure they are, but let me relish for a few moments in ways my grandpa was truly extraordinary.
Much of what he taught us came from his military background, I think.
He taught us to be genuine, generous, and hard working. If you’re going to do something, do it once, and do it right; live your life as though you’re leading by example. He raised us to believe that with the proper work ethic, compassion, and determination, anyone could be a leader, and anyone could make a difference.
He taught us the value of your word– if you say you’re going to do something, be somewhere, you better. On time, too. There is no excuse for tardiness.
He taught us to be presentable. That, although appearances aren’t everything, it’s important to show others you value their time by making yourself presentable to society. It’s weird to think that much of our society has lost touch with this idea. I mean, I’m guilty of this too– there have been far too many occasions in which I thought it was acceptable to leave the house in leggings or sweats, simply because I was too lazy or comfortable to change. Not my grandpa. Going out meant slacks and a collared shirt at minimum. He was old school dapper like that. Likewise, it’s important for your home and your life to be presentable and organized. There’s a place and purpose for everything– if there isn’t, it doesn’t belong.
He taught us to find our passion, and commit our whole being to it. He was. by far, the most patriotic person I knew, and he dedicated his entire life to his country. On a lighter note, he showed us that If you enjoy something, you should indulge a little. For reasons beyond my comprehension, my grandpa loved birds. Like, absolutely LOVED them. He has 3 clocks in his tiny home that all make various bird noises. On the hour. Every hour. Whenever I got a chance to call and catch up, he’d always tell me about the birds visiting his garden, where he and my grandma planted a plethora of birdhouses, birdfeeders, and bird baths. That’s probably the one and only thing I’ve ever liked about birds: they made him so happy.
Even after he turned 80, my grandpa was a force to be reckoned with. He could command the room like he was still a young Colonel in the army. (I wish I had asked him why it’s pronounced “kernal” and not “col-on-el.”) He had a naturally graceful way with words. He was an exceptional writer, and yet an even more extraordinary speaker. He never passed up an opportunity to express how happy it made him to see our family grow to be as strong as we are.
Growing up, I always thought that all families were like ours. The kind of family that would rather cram 30 people into a house than to spend a night apart in a hotel; the kind of family that eats dinner together every single night, regardless of how busy or stressful or hectic life gets; the kind of family that endures any and all challenges together, no matter how big or small. We are unbreakable. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized how uncommon this was, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. I realized that our family’s bond is in large part due to the sacrifices my grandparents made, the strength that they have exhibited, and the love they’ve shared and fostered for the past 60 years.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my grandpa, it is this: to be truly happy, you have to build a good home for yourself. Not in a literal or materialistic way, of course. At the end of your life, it won’t matter how much money you made, how big your house was, or how many cars you owned. You’ll only remember whether or not you spent as many days as possible with the people you love; if you had a place that made you feel safe and supported and free to be yourself. I think that’s what we appreciate above all else about my grandpa: he fostered this family– this home– for all of us. He’ll forever be the glue that holds us together. We are his legacy. (And a damn good looking one, at that.)
The night that my grandfather passed, my cousins and I all swiftly changed our Facebook profile pictures like the true Generation XY that we are. One cousin wrote “it’s not a goodbye, it’s a see ya later.” It’ll be weird being all together and not hearing his barreling laughter fill up the room, or his sassy, sarcastic comments when I say something stupidly corny and laugh to myself, but I find great comfort in knowing that he’s in a better place now, and that one day we’ll be together again.
Until then, I hope he’s happy wherever he is, and that he’s proud of the everlasting legacy he’s left behind.