Last week I went to the nursing home to visit my grandpa. He is 99 years old and is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. He is dying. And even though I have slowly prepared myself to say goodbye, it's hard. But I remind myself we all are dying- some of us are just closer to our last breath then others. His body is wearing out, after a long, happy life. It is so hard to watch him slip away, but I cherish every day we have had together.
So much of who I am has been shaped by my family. My grandpa taught me that you are only as good as your word. If you are at your lowest point, with nothing in your pocket, all you have is your word. That was how he started a business- on his word. He was truly a skilled craftsman- his hands provided him with a skill to barter to ensure his survival during the Great Depression and his handiness was an asset on the home front during World War II keeping him out of harms way.
I am sure it seemed only natural then that he would start a construction business. All he had were a few tools and his determination. He started small, was true to his word and his work was always high quality. That is the secret to any successful business.
To be honest, I don't remember my grandpa owning the business. My dad had taken over by the time I was old enough to be overly curious about careers and what people did to earn a living. Clearly, our family business inspired me. My grandpa's work ethic inspired us all.
I was so excited to tell him I was keeping with family tradition and starting my own business. I think I might be the first female to do so. I want to be successful to make him proud.
Just as he was getting the business off of the ground his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in her early 40s and they had five young children. Sometimes history repeats itself in the harshest of ways. My grandpa's mom died when he was very young. He spent his childhood bouncing from one family member's house to another. Occasionally he was with his siblings, but often he was alone. I think he felt like a burden to whomever took him in. When his wife died with so much life left unlived, he vowed that he would do anything and everything to keep his family together. And that is exactly what he did. Looking back I am sure that is the accomplishment he is most proud of. Family is everything.
I can only imagine the pain of losing the love of your life but knowing you cannot pause long enough to mourn. Deep in his soul is a sadness no one knows. But we are all like that I suppose. We all have our own cross to bear. Some are heavier than others.
My grandpa was so grateful for his family and friends. For his customers who hired him and recommended his services to their friends. For the community that rallied around him when he was in his darkest hour after his wife died. No kind deed went unnoticed. He was a man of deep faith and his faith sustained him.
Several years later my grandpa meet a woman he would fall in love with, who fell in love with him and more importantly fell in love his children and treated them like they were her own. He always said how lucky he was to find her. I agree, she was a wonderful grandma. They were very happy together. When she died eight years ago he was ready to go with her. The days, weeks and years since she left him have been hard.
When I was in second grade he was a handyman at my school; his was a very active retirement. I vividly remember running down the hallway, jump into his arms and giving him a big hug every time I saw him. This is how I want to remember him, the man volunteering his time and helping others in need.
It was as if he was driven to help others as he could never do enough to repay those who had helped him when he needed it most. That is how he'd want us to remember him. He'd want to erase my memory of the weak man lying in bed who can barely open his eyes. A life is not a life if you can't help people.
With the trying times he lived through, including the loss of his mother and wife, I think he buried his feelings away. To this day he has never told me he loves me, but really there are very few who love me more. His love is a fact to me like the sky is blue or December has 31 days. It sounds so cliche but actions really do speak louder than words.
Love is a feeling. You express it in the way you treat people. If that is the view finder you see the world through, I am pretty sure my grandpa loves everyone he has ever met. And so this Thanksgiving I am so grateful for all of the life lessons he taught me, what was said and what was left unsaid, through his words and deeds. If today is his last day, I know he lived an amazing life at the intersection of gratitude and hard work.
(My grandpa died on Thanksgiving after I wrote this. I know he is smiling down on us today, happy to be reunited with my grandmas.)