Monday, May 26, 2008

A Special Memorial Day Blog

I am not a big celebrator of Memorial Day or Veteran's Day, or any other of the government holidays. Do not get me wrong, I honor and respect our soldiers, past and present. I appreciate the sacrifices our military men and their families make on our behalf. This Memorial Day has special meaning for me, however.

Two weeks ago my grandfather passed away from a heart attack, the day before his 84th birthday, and on his wife's birthday. We had the service two days later, the minister did a good job. She talked to us that morning, and was able to sound like she knew him, though my grandparents had left that town 60 years ago. She even got a couple of laughs out of us during the service.

I went to the viewing the night before, took my daughter with me. I went to support my grandma and mother. I had no real desire to see my grandfather after his death, it was hard enough to see him wasting away in the hospital. The man in the hospital bed did not resemble the man I knew and loved. A, my daughter put it best after the viewing, "Mommy, I didn't like that. He didn't look right, he was all empty." I didn't make her look, I gave her the choice. I know the viewing is suppose to let you say goodbye, but I'd prefer to remember my grandfather as he was for all the years I knew him. It makes me more sure that I want to be cremated.

The man I knew had what I can only term as the "Frontier Spirit". Maybe it was living through the Great Depression, the service in the Merchant Marines, the death of his brother in a war, or his Irish heritage. He was a stubborn, proud man. He didn't give up on the things he wanted or that he wanted for his family. He was mostly quiet, not one to say "I love you" a lot. He and my grandma always made sure my sister and I had shoes and school clothes. They got me a car, which they intended for both of us, for college. Let me work for them to help pay for my schooling, I even lived with them for the first year of college. In some ways they were more like parents to me than my own. Helped a lot when things were tight,whether it was to help fix my only car or help pay the rent so the great-granddaughter would have a place to live. Working two jobs through college to pay the bills, but couldn't work when doing student teaching. When we were kids, my grandparents were the ones that took us on most of our family trips.

He loved to paint, garden, and was a work-aholic. He retired and kept working, even after the doctors told him to stop. I think one of the saddest moments for him in recent years was when we had to take out his garden. Some of his spark seemed to leave him that day. The highlight of his last few years has been his great grandchildren. My grandfather hated being ill, both he and my grandmother had living wills. He hated being confined to a hospital bed, his death ended his suffering.

My grandmother is of the same tough stuff. She is moving to town once the death certificate is ready, but refuses to move in with any of the family. My grandmother seems to be dealing with his death better than my mom.

He is my first grandparent to lose. It's funny, but I accept death as a part of life, so most of the time I am fine. It's natural that he went first, though I'll miss him. Sometimes it will hit me out of nowhere, someone was playing the song "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and I practically lost it. Christmas will be hard for me.

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