Don't cry for Grandpa

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Grandpa might be getting old.

He’s 93.  He’s getting up there, I guess.  I just never thought of him that way.

When I was little, he was huge: big, strong, hard working.  There was always the work.  I remember talking to him once about the time he had his heart attack in the 60’s.

“I got up and got ready for work,” he told me.  “I felt a little funny, but I always went to work.”  Grandpa said this, not with pride, but just as a statement of simple fact.  Grandpa has never been one to be prideful of doing things he feels he’s supposed to do.  Later that afternoon, he grudgingly went to the hospital.

I take him shopping now and then.  He hunches over his walker with stooped shoulders.  It took him a few falls to realize he just couldn’t bend over and pick up something.  It landed him in the emergency room the first time.  I had sat at his bedside as he awaited his turn.  He was stoic as usual.

What else could he be?  Married twice, his first wife, my Grandma, died of cancer in 1986.  His 2nd wife, Miriam, died of a heart attack in 2005.  And before all that, in 1965, his youngest son, my father, died of leukemia.

Never once did Grandpa feel sorry for himself.  I remember seeing him cry only once, as he said grace at dinner a week after Miriam died.  He has always considered himself the luckiest man in the world.  He mourned the loss of his precious wives, for sure, but more than that, he was grateful for the time he had with them.  He thinks of all of the wonderful grandchildren he is blessed with.  His friends, his family, his faith…the joy in his life has always burned bright, even in his darkest days.

I sit with him sometimes.  He talks about his childhood, when he ran and played in the Missouri countryside with his beloved cousin.  Or he might reminisce about his days in the Marines.  He speaks in his dry old man voice about the brother he lost in the war, or how he met Leva, my Grandma.  His faded blue eyes seem to look at nothing, and everything.  I’ve heard these stories before.  I never get tired of them.

As a child, I mourned the father I never knew.  As a man, I realized my father was with me all along.  Grandpa fulfilled that role.  He has always been the yardstick against which I measure my worth, not only as a man, but as a human being.

I kiss his grizzled cheek and hug him gently as I leave.

“Be careful, son,” Grandpa says.  He waves, grinning from his easy chair, as I close the door to his apartment.  He is tired.  He is frail.

But Grandpa will never be old.