Last week, I took a break from this new blog. It was on Friday, April 20 that I got an urgent text message that led to a frantic phone call about my 87 year old grandpa. I got on the first plane out of Houston to get up to Connecticut to see this guy. You see, this guy is one of a kind. We call him Grandpa Ray "Rambo". It was unexpected. I already had my plane tickets booked to go up Mother's Day weekend, but I forget we are not guaranteed time.
I make no apologies for sharing this picture. My grandparents have been married 63 years. In those 63 years of marriage, they had 3 children, 6 grandchildren + 1 great grandchild. They have seen 4 grandchildren married. Breast Cancer nor Parkinsons Disease could separate these two. As soon as my flight landed, I went straight to bed + braced myself for a hard day.
My grandpa had been in a rehabilitation hospital for a month or so and suffered a heart attack. They revived him, only to keep him breathing on an artificial lung + absolutely unresponsive. As a family we had to make the hardest decision. This photograph will always be a reminder of what love looks like at the end. Moments after pulling life support, my sweet and faith-filled grandma went to his side and said " I love you Raymond". My grandmother, as strong in her faith as she is in her will, said that even when he was laying in bed of the rehabilitation, unable to move his arms, he would look at her and whisper "I love you".
For me, the hardest part of this whole weekend was seeing him on life-support and non-responsive. As the first to arrive on Saturday morning, I had a few moments with him. As I looked at my grandpa, I knew that it wasn't long until he could be with the Lord. I cried. I couldn't stay around watching him breathe his last breaths. I didn't want to remember the man who laid before me. I wanted to remember Grandpa Rambo.
I wanted to remember summers at his pool. He would showoff for all us grandkids with his acrobatics and strength. He was well into his 60s and had the stamina of a 20 year old. He taught most of us how to swim. He saved one of us from drowning. He would let us use his snorkel, even when he really didn't want to. He loved his speedos, tanning & summer. He loved his grandkids. My cousin said it perfectly at the funeral, "He wasn't just our grandpa, he was our life."
I wanted to remember all the times he'd let me sit with him in his chair from the time I was small, until I was taller than him. He would read to me, we would share oreos, we would nap there, he would teach me how to fix a watch. Most of all, he was a man who would share his time with any of his grandkids.
I wanted to remember his love of laughter + humor. He loved to make people laugh. He used humor to deflect the most awkward moments, even when they were at his expense. About 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease. If you know anything about Parkinsons, you know it is a debilitating disease that affects motor skills. The grandpa who used to do handstands could barely walk without falling 20 times a day. No matter how many times he fell (or lost fingers), he would always look at us and smile and make a wise remark.
I wanted to remember moments like these.
His love for life, outdoors and his family was what I will cherish. Since moving to Texas, most people don't understand where my love for outdoorsman/country living comes from. It comes from this guy. It comes from the man who taught me to shoot a bow and arrow. He trusted me enough to shoot at the target that faced the busy street. I still have no idea how I never hit a car with the lack of skills I had.
When I watched an 87 year old man breathing his last few hours alive, I didn't look at him with sadness because he was going to die. I looked at him with sadness that not enough people got a chance to get to know him. I will tell stories of this man to my kids. They will hear legendary stories of their great-grandfather. They will hear of the time their great grandad, Rambo, pulled two teenagers out of a burning car. They will hear of the time he won Archery trophies at Sikorsky Aircraft. They will hear of the wild times he had hunting & deep frying his wild turkey, while his wife had a butterball baking in the oven "just in case". There are many pieces of mementos that I will take from his workshop & life. Besides the great memories, I will have a buck hanging in my apartment. Back around the time of my wedding, I got on the phone with my grandma and asked to speak with grandpa. I said, grandpa.. for my wedding, can I please please please have your buck head thats hanging in the family room?. Of course he told me yes. Of course my grandma thought I was crazy + and silly for that request. Instead of the man I saw on life support, I will look at the deer head and think of Grandpa Rambo, out with his bow and his homemade slugs to catch my buck!