The Man He Once Was

This past weekend was a good one – I got a lot of stuff done that’s been just nagging me: got my car inspected, weeded the gardens, mowed the lawn, filled the bird feeders, fixed our sidewalks. But the single best thing Shari and I might have done all weekend was go to see my grandfather. And that one thing paid in spades: because I got to see the man that I had known most of my adult life again.

Over the past 3 months (well, longer really), my grandfather has been a shadow of his former self, a shell of the strong-willed and foul-mouthed man that I grew up around and who has been a solid part of my life. After ending up in the hospital with an aortic hernia, he spent many months recovering from the brink of death, but mentally was never quite there. Even after he got to go home, his memory and personality was fleeting – more often he was somewhere else, sometime else.

But on Sunday, he was THERE – mentally and physically. He was still a bit weaker than a year ago, but he was mentally with it and talkative, knew who everyone was, gave jabs like the old days and listened to what we were saying. There was little to know trying to compensate for his confusion.

But more than that, my grandfather was living in the moment. He normally has always gone into mini-rants when you get him started, railing on the liberals, the welfare people and other groups that he sees as the problem with America. Bigoted, yes, but I understand where it comes from even if I don’t agree with it (and tell him so). But on Sunday, he was making sense and talking in a way that I have really missed. He called out my uncle, telling him that he needed to learn how to laugh because he was too sad. He gave my other uncle a hard time for treating him like a kid.

For us, however, there was chastisement wrapped in grandfatherly advice – something he’s not as apt to give without a bit of emotional shrapnel. He talked to us, telling us the things that he has learned, a cascade of emotions and parables from his own life that he hoped we would listen to. He wasn’t talking at us – he was talking to us as he gave us heartfelt admissions of his own mistakes as he tried to guide us against making the same ones. At times, he seemed completely emotional as though he was ready to come to tears – something I have only seen once, when my grandmother died. In some ways, it was a different man than I had known – a more unprotected and giving man (though he’s always been generous to Shari and I). He revealed more emotional treasures to us in one afternoon than I think he has in the entire time I have known him previously.

He was trying to get his message out — you could see in his eyes that he realized that he might not get another chance. And for us to receive this bounty was more valuable than I could have hoped for when we left our house to see him. Sure he gave me hell for bringing him cannolis (“kid food!”) instead of a sandwich (Shari got bonus points for making him an Italian hoagie), but it was a kind-hearted jab of a type that I’ll miss when he is inevitably gone.

One never knows when these days will happen, and all too often I think we miss those chances. I can only be happy that this time, we didn’t miss that chance. It’s a day that I’ll always remember, a day when my grandfather took the time to give us his meaning of life.


3 Responses to “The Man He Once Was

  • I am so glad you got to see him acting more like himself — and that he opened up more than usual. That is fantastic. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and it was so hard to see her in that state of confusion … but as you said you never know when there’ll be a good day, and those are something to cherish.

  • my grandmother on my mom’s side hit the dimensia waves towards the end of her life, seeing her come ashore during visits certainly did help us a lot to remember how sweet she is/was. apertome and you both have it right, never know how many you’ll get, just be thankful when they arrive

  • Thanks to you both. It was definitely one of those moments that I’ll remember forever — and I’ll be eternally thankful that I didn’t miss the opportunity. And a BIG thanks to Shari, who was a trooper and went with me despite the beginnings of her kidney stone episode.

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