Today would have been my Grandfather’s birthday. He passed away suddenly on December 20, 2003. Not a day passes that I don’t think of him.

After age eight, he and my Grandmother were the only grandparents I really had. My Dad’s mother had died and his father became estranged for a very long time. My grandfather was a mighty man. He grew up on a farm and came from a family with little wealth. He fought in WWII. His first child was born to my grandmother while he was at war. He didn’t meet her till she was three. He came off as a tough guy. As his grand daughter, I knew better. When I was young he was magical to me. He always sang and declared You Are My Sunshine our family anthem (who has a family anthem?). His hair was always a buzz cut. I found great joy in rubbing my hands over his white hair. It was so soft and yet a little prickly. He loved it. He would tell us wild stories form his war days. Somehow he made it sound like a grand journey. It was not till later I would learn how painful the experience really was. And how he mourned the deaths of his fellow soldiers every year on their death dates.

As I grew older, he grew increasingly more proud of me. I am not really sure why me. He had seven grandchildren, but somehow my brother and I seemed to get favored. Admittedly, his favoritism is not so admirable. Regardless, he saw something in me. He thought I was great, and that made me feel great. As the youngest grandchild, I was the last to graduate from college, and by then others had gone on to grad and medical school and yet he seemed most proud of me. And all I had was a B.A. in sociology. Shortly after graduating (as in about a month) I moved to North Carolina where I was starting a job as a wilderness therapy counselor. Needless to say, I hated that job and ending up running back home…no job, no place to live, feeling like a failure. But he was so proud of me. He would always say, “You know what you want and you make it happen.” In this case he was proud that I left the job and state that I was so miserable in and came home to make a new plan.

About a year later I had a plan to start grad school. I had (still have) a ton of debt form undergrad, so I decided I needed to manage a way to not pat for grad school. I found the school I wanted, and got a job there, so that I would get free tuition. My grandfather thought this was ingenious! He’d tell people, “e. is so motivated, she got the University to hire her and now they WANT to to pay for her education.” Like I was some special case, and no one else recieved this benefit. I later finagled a Graduate Assistantship which permitted me to work part time, attend school full-time, and of course have it all paid for. This he could not believe. I must have been the smartest person to enter that University if THEY wanted me to go to school full time, work part time AND get it all paid for.

I think he was most proud when I was assigned to a research project on suicide prevention that was conducted for the president of the University. He could not believe that I was in some way influencing the president. Little did he understand that I was just the peon doing grunt work.

Upon graduation, A. and I had grand plans to move across county, but by then my grandmother was dying and I needed to be semi close to home. We moved about three hours from my family. I had a hard time finding work in our new town. This turned out to be blessing. It afforded me the time to spend with my grandparents and be a part of my Grandmother’s end of life care. I would travel three hours and spend two to three nights a week at their house. My role was to help my Grandfather care for my Grandmother. Which really meant both of them, but we tried to empower him as much as possible. She was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and would wake and wonder at night leaving her frightened and disoriented. I helped her back to bed. Through all of it, he was the only person she wanted. As confused as she was, she remained connected to him on some level. It was truly one of the most amazing displays of true love I’ve witnessed.

It was during these times that I realized just how sensitive he was. He would comfort her and help her calm down after a night terror. He was always calm and always took what ever time was needed, no matter the time of day or night, to help her feel safe again. He did the hard work.

She passed away at home early in the morning that August while surrounded by family. My Grandfather could not imagine life with out her. And yet he mustered all his strength to ensure she received a beautiful funeral service. This was also the morning he sent A. to the liquor store at 9:30 to buy Jack Daniels, he was a good ol’ Irish Catholic. And, I loved A. for doing it. Some how we got through the next several days.

He quickly slipped into a depression after she died. He’d lost his will to live. For years, his sole purpose was to care for her, and with her gone, he was alone, empty, and purposeless. He and my mother spent a lot of time together during this period. She was never close to her mom, but she loved her dad more than anything.

You’ve heard me rant about how A. and I do a ton of traveling around the holidays (we’d be seeing A.’s family the following weekend and then back to mine for Christmas) so it’s mystifying why we chose to make the trek to visit him just two weekends before Christmas, but we did. He was so depressed, but happy to see us. We decorated two small Christmas trees, one to be planted at my Grandmother’s grave the other at his house. We also put up his Christmas tree. He did not want to have Christmas with out her. We tried out best to cheer him up. Before we left that Sunday I hugged and kissed him, told him I loved him, and rubbed his prickly head, one last time.

The next weekend we traveled to A.’s family (a five+ hour trip). We’d been there about 45 minutes when the phone rang. It was for me. My Dad was on the other end, I’m sorry to tell you, Grampy died. My response was lame, because I thought he meant his Dad, who I had no relationship with. It never occurred to me that my Grandfather had died. When he clarified, I lost it. He fell the night before and had severe brain damage due to internal bleeding. A. and I left the next morning for my family’s. The days that ensued remain cloudy. We pulled together a funeral and then had to endure Christmas. Tons of family came to town. It was the worst six or so days.

He didn’t have to have Christmas with out Grammy. But he did leave the most meaningful gift under the tree. He was so excited about the gifts he’d bought for all seven of us grand kids. It seems like this was one project that helped distract him from his pain. We all received a mahogany desk clock inscribed with our names, Merry Christmas, Love Always Grammy and Grampy, and one of the seven stanzas from the first verse of You Are My Sunshine. As the last grandchild, I had the last line, please don’t take my sunshine away. As my mother gave them to us, she recalled how excited he was to give them, he could not wait to see the expressions on our faces. I still cry when I hear this song, it will forever spark the love I carry for him.

I am so grateful that he was my Grampy and even more grateful for the time we had during my Grandmother’s last months of life. I miss him so much. We was a magical man.

Happy birthday, Grampy, I love you. You are still my sunshine.

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