Today as I changed the date stamp that I mark all the incoming mail with, it occurred to me that today is my Grandfathers birthday. Had he still been alive, he would be only 72 years old. Unfortunately, he passed away 10 years ago this past February after a nasty battle with Emphysema and COPD.
For many years I was angry at him for dying because I believe that had he stopped smoking he never would have had to suffer with, and eventually die from, the side effects of this addicting habit.
I also have held a grudge from his death because it changed my mother forever. She had finally gotten her father she so desperately longed for growing up, only to lose him 15 years later. Plus, she had the worse possible decision in the world, she had to decide to whether or not to remove his life support. She has been in turmoil ever since. Mom says it is her youth that made her the way she is, I think it was that decision that broke her spirit completely.
The day he died my life began to make a drastic change as well. The camels back was broken in my marriage when my now ex-husband wouldn’t let me grieve and couldn’t understand the importance of it. We separated 6 months later but had become light years apart the day the phone call came.
I had made peace with my grandfather the year prior when I had this gut wrenching dream that he died. I awoke and immediately sat down and wrote him a very long letter. In the letter, I told him my frustrations with his smoking, but mostly I told him how much I loved and admired him. He was my hero, my role model, my knight in shining armor. He was the reason I joined the Navy. I also talked about one day naming a future child after him because he was everything to me.
I can still remember the trips I took with him to the base in Gulfport. I felt so important at the age of 12, walking into rooms and having people in uniforms show him such respect. When he walked in any room you couldn’t help but notice him. He was tall with dark eyes and hair. He looked like a Native American with his strong cheekbones and dark complexion. He was so handsome.
He was also incredibly active until he began slowing down to the diseases that plagued him. He was a member of the Shiners’, VFW, and numerous other organizations. He volunteered his time driving sick children to Memphis to the St. Jude’s Hospital for treatment. He worked in his yard and loved to travel. Having spent more of his life outside the U.S. traveling with the Navy that he couldn’t sit still for long.
I always loved looking at the photographs on his walls. They were pictures of him at various points of his career, shaking hands with someone who looked really important. The pictures we along side autographed photos of Ronald Reagan, who was someone he greatly admired.
Paw-Paw also had a great love of westerns and the culture of the South West and the Old West. His living room was decked out with lots of knickknacks of this admiration. Most of which I received upon his death. He also loved movies with John Wayne; I too inherited this upon his death and see my grandfather every time John Wayne appears on the TV screen.
Now, 10 years after his death, I am finally beginning to forgive him for dying. Forgiving him for not being here to watch his great grand children grow, including the one I named after him nearly 7 years ago, the same one that sleeps at night with my grandfathers “cowboy’s and Indian’s” decorations.
I am learning to let go of the anger and regret that I have held in terms of my mother and her permanent change and downward spiral since her father’s death. This is the hardest part because it caused my mother to finally break after being so fragile emotionally because of her childhood.
As I sit and write these words I am reminded of something he used to say to my brother, “Hang loose mongoose.” I still chuckle at that. Living in Hawaii for so many years rubbed off on my grandfather.
I miss him today, hell I miss him every day, but today especially. So Paw-Paw, “here’s to you, wherever you are. Hang loose mongoose. I love you and happy birthday.”