(Inside: A granddaughter grieving the loss of her grandpa.)
My grandpa recently passed away and I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that he is gone.
What a loss.
He was 94 years old and for many years his mind had been sick with dementia and his body tired. His slow regression gave me plenty of time to prepare for this moment – it wasn’t a surprise.
But it still hit hard.
I felt a unique and special light left this earth.
My emotions bounce back and forth between feeling sad to feeling grumpy. In this mourning process, my grandfather has continually stayed in my thoughts. I hear his voice, see his smile and feel his warm hands envelope mine. When God took my Grandpa home, he left a piece of him in my heart. My memories of him and my grandmother, who passed away years ago, will always be with me.
I will always remember our road trips to visit my grandparents. Our car would pull into the thin alley behind their home and park off to the side of the detached garage driveway. My grandparents always greeted us with big hugs at the back door; I knew they were anxiously watching out the window for us.
I would peek my head into each room, greeting their home with as much love as I greeted my grandparents. The living room held their two blue lazy boy chairs, the nine framed pictures of their grandchildren above the couch (which my grandmother called a d’van), and the television cabinet my grandfather had beautifully hand-crafted. In the office sat my Grandpa’s desk peppered with handwritten post-it notes that included addresses, phone numbers, passwords, and reminders. In the bedroom, their bed, tall dresser, and a vanity were all pushed up against the mint green walls. The kitchen was tight with a sink, dishwasher and short counter space on the left parallel to the stove and refrigerator on the right; the strawberry wallpaper and my grandmother’s spoon collection made the small space feel cozy. A long table surrounded by antique chairs with flowery needlework seats took up most the dining room. Three shelves that held my grandmother’s plate collection hung on the wall and behind the table was a door leading to the upstairs.
I was always anxious to check out the big upstairs room where my family would sleep. There was a divider that split the large room into two sleeping areas. My parents stayed on the side with the double bed covered by a colorful quilt. The walls displayed my grandfather’s needlework and my grandmother’s glass bottles sat daintily on a small shelf. Three beds formed a rectangle on the other side of the divider. I always slept in the bed covered with a purple, wool blanket perpendicular and to the other two beds. My sister slept in the bed underneath the long rectangular shelf my grandfather had made. I loved to look at all the knick-knacks the shelf held. My brother claimed the bed parallel to my sisters covered in a warm, brown bedspread.
My siblings and I spent hours upstairs. We would settle comfortably on our beds and read books or play board games. We would explore the adjacent walk-in storage closet filled with old keepsakes and treasures, including my grandfather’s diaries from WWII.
As a family, we played cards around the dining room table. We listened to my grandma tell us about the latest book she was reading and what her sewing circle was making. We ate warm homemade dinners and went out to Whitey’s ice cream for dessert. We would watch the Cubs play on TV. We took walks, often to the HyVee Store to pick up more milk and eggs. My grandpa would proudly show us what he was making in his woodworking shop in the basement.
We took day trips to the Amana Colonies where my grandpa would whistle as he measured out the furniture their store displayed using his arms to give rough measurements of the width and his body the height; he mentally stored all these measurements and ideas for possible future carpentry projects. It was on one of those trips that I pointed out a small nightstand I liked. He later made a similar nightstand for me as my graduation from high school gift, a coffee table as my graduation from college gift, and various shelves and a tall floor light just because I asked him to.
Just as often as we came to visit them, they would visit us too. My father was military and we lived all over the world. My grandparents loved to travel and even flew to Keflavik, Iceland where my dad was stationed as a rescue helicopter pilot. My grandparents had a tradition of taking each grandkid on an individual special trip, and we were in Iceland when it was my turn. We flew down to the Vestmann Islands and explored this small volcanic island for the weekend.
My memories with them are strong and vivid, but what I learn from and what stays in my heart is the characteristics they displayed.
My grandmother was gentle, kind and loyal. She loved to bake Christmas cookies, read, sew and crochet. She would wrap her arms around me, kiss me on the cheek and tell me she loved me. My grandfather was courageous, adventurous, outgoing and loved people. He fully embraced life. He set an example of living life to the fullest to the very end, when, at the age of 85 and after my grandmother’s death, he remarried.
He was an artist, a carpenter, a needleworker, a writer and a photographer. When it came to emotions, my grandpa was the strong-silent-type, so I would take great joy in provoking him by hugging him, kissing him on the cheek and telling him how much I loved him. He would always reply, “You’re a good kid.” There were only a couple of times that he actually said, “I love you, too.” But he didn’t need to say it – he always showed me how much he loved me by his actions. My grandparents were honorable, loving and family-oriented.
Their characteristics and hobbies are what I take with me daily as I continue through life, such as my love of reading, writing, photography, travel and being with family. I draw from the courage they showed to meet life head on and make it into what you want it to be. Their example of loyalty and the importance of family and good friends stay in my heart. Just like them, I want to live life to the fullest up until the very end.
It is in these thoughts that I realize, though my grandparents are no longer on this earth, they will always be with me. Their traits will be passed on to my children and my someday grandchildren, even though they will never know my grandparents.
The idea that people live forever in our hearts seems less cliché. It makes me wonder how far back these family characteristics and traits go, which one of my long past relatives passed them on to my grandparents. I see how each family member stands on the shoulders of the family before, how we are all connected and how each person is important and how, until we meet again in heaven, our hearts are always linked.
Though this doesn’t make the ache any less and doesn’t decrease the longing for my healthy, strong grandparents to be back on earth, it does provide me with some comfort.
Grandpa and Grandma, if God lets you read my blog while you are in heaven, please know how much you are loved and how deeply you are missed. And, thank you for always loving me. You will live in my heart forever.
Cheryl is a mom of 3 boys, wife, speaker, high school teacher, and author of Empowered Moms & Kids. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and is passionate about learning and teaching. On www.empoweredmomsandkids.com you’ll find inspiration and encouragement for moms raising tweens and/or teens. Read more in the “about” section of this page.