One Last Good-Bye, Grandpa

We said our last goodbye to my Grandpa a little over a week ago.

Grandpa had Alzheimer’s for several years now – so in many ways it’s been a long, slow goodbye.

But, as one friend put it so beautifully, “even with slow good-byes, there is fresh pain at the end.”

And there was.

We shed many tears as we shared memories.

Good memories. Sweet memories.

Memories that brought back the Grandpa before Alzheimer’s, the strong, gentle man with the big smile and even bigger heart.

I have snapshots of Grandpa in my mind.

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He was a farmer.

His wardrobe consisted of overalls or blue jeans with a blue cotton work  shirt.

And a smile. He always had a smile.

I can see him coming in the farmhouse for dinner (at noon), going into the washroom off the porch and changing from his dirty outside overalls into a clean pair and “washing up”. He’d come to the table with damp hair, his overall buttons open showing his BVD’s and a big grin.

I can see him sitting there at the head of the table, in one hand a big slice of bread (which was on the table at every meal) slathered in butter, in the other hand his fork.

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I can see him standing him in the doorway greeting us as we drove in the yard to visit.  Then, since I was terrified of Smoke the dog (who was the biggest, gentlest, oldest dog ever) he would go and tie up him up so I would get out of the car.  He did it every time and never once told me it was silly to be afraid of dogs.

We were important to Grandpa.

Later in the afternoon, I can see him sitting beside us at the table for “lunch”  (this is the meal served mid-afternoon after dinner but before supper). He would distract us and then take our bowl of Schwan’s ice cream and hide it under the table.
I can still see his twinkling eyes as he told us not to drink that root beer because it would put hair on our chests.
He loved to tease.

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That’s the picture I see most often in my mind – Grandpa’s great big grin and his twinkling eyes.

Grandpa loved us. I don’t ever remember hearing him say it. But we knew it. He showed us in so many ways.
He loved Grandma, too.

Most of my memories of Grandpa, like my memories of Grandma, are intertwined. They were such a team.  He was a bit of a character and Grandma balanced him perfectly. He would start something and Grandma would watch with a smile.

Even after 71 years of marriage as they were sitting in their wheel chairs at the nursing home…

Even after Grandma’s heart was weak and her breath shallow and Grandpa’s mind was gone…

Even then they held hands.

Even then they would look at each other with love in their eyes.

Even then.

And that is my favorite snapshot of all.

So this is one last goodbye, Grandpa.

Thank you for bringing us laughter and love.

For showing us what a strong and committed marriage looks like.

For being strong and gentle, tough and tender,  and fun.

I love you.

We were so blessed to have you in our lives.

Merry Christmas, Grandpa

As I was writing Christmas letters this week, I came to Grandpa and Grandma’s address. After a moment of sadness that Grandma was gone and wouldn’t read it this year – I thought of Grandpa.

He’s spending his first Christmas alone without Grandma in over 60 years. I wish I was closer so I could spend some time with him. I wish I could bring him home with me for a few hours on Christmas Day.

But most of all – I wish he remembered me.

Alzheimer’s is cruel.

But if Christmas wishes did come true – and I could give Grandpa a hug in person and have his eyes light up in recognition, this is what I would tell him…

Hey Grandpa!

It’s me, Melinda. I’m one of Shirley’s girls. Remember me? I’m the one who drove the car into the side of your granary.

I just wanted to say thank you for making Christmas at your house so wonderful.

From the moment we drove in, you made me feel loved.

You remembered how scared I was of dogs so you tied him up before I got there. You didn’t want me to be afraid to get out of the car. Poor Smoke – he wouldn’t hurt a flea, but you wanted me to feel safe.

You were the one to open the door – standing in the cold Iowa winter to greet us. “Merry Christmas! Come on in! Did Santa come last night?”

A tickle, a tease, a hug and we were swept inside.

That old farmhouse was warm and full of noise and activity. Aunts and uncles and cousins filled the table in the dining room and spilled out into the living room. And there you were – larger than life in, the middle of everything, teasing,  laughing, loving us.

Christmas at Grandpa's

When the meal was over – you took your self-appointed place at the kitchen sink and washed the dishes.

Every dish. And with a smile on your face.

When we were really young, it seemed like dishes took forever and kept us waiting to open presents. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to understand that the act of washing dishes was a present – a sweet and priceless gift you gave Grandma every Christmas. And I loved you even more for it.

I can still see you standing by that sink, Grandpa, wearing your good bib overalls with the sleeves of your shirt rolled up, your hands deep in the soapy water.

A picture of love. Commitment. Sacrifice.

I remember your small living room being literally covered with family members. All sitting around your tiny silver metallic tree, dwarfed by all the gifts.

You and grandma sat side by side as you announced, “We need to pass out some presents!”

I looked forward to opening your gift every year, Grandpa. I know you picked it out – Grandma always told us. The two of you would go to Dralle’s Department Store in Greene and you bought us clothes – real store bought clothes. For kids whose mom made all their clothes – from swimsuits to snow pants – your gift was such a treat! And you have such good taste!

My all-time favorite was the rainbow striped sweater. It was a sad day when I outgrew it.

You really knew how to give gifts, Grandpa. I think that’s because you have such a big heart.

Christmas presentsI miss you Grandpa.

I thought of you when I took our Sunday School kids to the nursing home to perform our Christmas Program. I hoped there were kids at your nursing home who sang for you.

When the singing was over and I walked around the room greeting the residents, I missed you.

As I looked in their eyes, took their hands and said “Merry Christmas”, I prayed that there was someone holding your hand this Christmas.

Someone looking in your eyes and saying “Merry Christmas”.

Someone to make you feel special.

And loved.

The way you made us feel – every year.

I love you Grandpa.

Merry Christmas.