Losing My Hero

It was a long, hard week so when I finally got to Friday at 4:00pm I thought it would be smooth sailing. I had one more quick task and then I could hit the road. I’d promised the family we could go out for tacos at our favorite hole-in-the-wall and after that I was committed to only two activities: changing into comfy pjs and falling asleep on the couch.

Hopefully in that order.

So, when I got a group text from my mother telling my brothers and I that my grandfather was unconscious and wasn’t expected to make it through the weekend I felt the blood drain from my face. Somehow, I managed to compartmentalize the news long enough to finish what needed to be done and drive home. I kept it tucked away when my parents and brother told me about their last visit with him. I kept it tucked away when my mother called this morning to tell me he had passed overnight. I kept it tucked away all day as I saw Facebook tributes and ran errands that needed to be run.

I kept it tucked away until now.

My grandfather was a constant in my life. He was there the day I was born and he spent the rest of his life telling the story of my birth and my unlikely survival. Growing up he was there every Sunday telling stories of business, while I sat on the floor playing with the toys my grandmother kept for us in the closet. When the time came, he was there packing me up in his Crown Victoria and driving thirteen hours to settle me in college. He was there to take the first picture of my husband and I, walking in his coveralls around the farm where he grew up looking for a picturesque spot for two young people in love. He was there when I put on my wedding dress in his house and he watched me say my vows from the front row. He was there to hold both my children when they were babies, and he was there to watch them grow to be taller than me.

He was a part of every significant moment of my life and many thoroughly ordinary ones.

In every single one of those moments my grandfather was my hero. He was smart and driven, wrestling with challenges and problems without letting it wear him down or wear him out. He was humble, giving credit for his success to fortunate circumstances and treating everyone with respect from the lowest busboy to the highest executive. He was authentic, proud of the community where he was born and the life he had lead. And he was grateful, amazingly and consistently grateful for the gifts he had been given and the people with whom he shared them.

For as long as I can remember I was desperate to be like him. I desperately wanted to be worthy of being liked by him.

Hero worship is hard. No one is perfect and there were times when I failed to live up to his example. The feelings of inadequacy would weigh me down but somehow I would find the energy to drag myself through his front door, down the slate walkway and into his bedroom. I would sit across from him and confess imperfections, my heart filled with dread. He would sit across from me listening, providing wise and thoughtful counsel, his heart filled with love.

Over the years, those chats with my grandfather are some of my favorite memories. I would go over there for a quick task and come home three hours later because we got wrapped up in a conversation. There was never a topic too mundane — or too electric — for my grandfather. He reveled in sharing my trials and tribulations, my joys and celebrations, never getting enough of it. My heart is aching today because I won’t ever be able to sit across from him again and just chat.

I take solace in the one letter I have. He wrote it to me when I was seventeen and I’ve carried it around for 26 years. I pulled it out today so I could feel him and try to understand how I am going to find my way without him in my life. The scrawling unmistakeable handwriting offered two messages today that I needed to hear.

First, he reminded me of my endless potential and that I will never be alone.

Now I know you are wondering what brought all of this on? It started when you sent your beautiful card from Washington. This card was not written by an awestruck, flighty teenager. This card was written by a loving, perceptive and exciting young lady who has learned the meaning of essence. With your strength of character, soundness of mind and abundant energy the world will be your oyster. Never forgetting grandma and I are always with you, too.

Second, he asked me to keep pushing new thinking in a world of constant change.

There is one request I do have. Please, please don’t stop bouncing your ideas and thoughts off me. But when you do let me challenge them. I think it’s great to have give and take because Melissa I’m not always right. Also, change is always with us, things change, customs change, life changes. So don’t every stop questioning, exploring, and learning. Just remember the Ten Commandments, always!!!

As I was reading his letter it struck me that he is still a constant in my life. I’m smart because of the intellectual curiosity he passed onto me. I’m driven because he told me the world was my oyster. I’m humble because he showed me how to carry success without arrogance. I’m authentic because he didn’t need artifice to make friends. I’m grateful because he taught me the joy of a thankful heart. He may not be in this world, but he will always be within me, especially when I am at my best.

And he’ll always be my hero.