Goodbye to Grandpa

Lone hot rod. © Cheese Curds and Kimchi

OK. I promised a post to catch you all up, but that would be a freaking novel. So, I'm breaking this up into pieces.

First, I told you a bit about The Man's father, Grandpa. I have written about him HERE and HERE. It was about 4 1/2 years ago when he was first diagnosed with dementia and the progress of his disease was swift.

The Man's mother was amazing through this whole process. Grandpa had always taken care of the bills, autos, driving, etc. As he lost his ability to do those things, Grandma took on the added responsibilities, in addition to caring for him.

One of the most impressive things she did, at least in my view, was learning to drive. She could drive, of course, but she learned to drive Grandpa-style. He had a passion for traveling and could drive 10 hours or more a day without fatigue. They traveled all over the country in their motorhome for years. He took care of everything car-related in their household. Up to the point of his illness, I don't believe Grandma had even filled her gas tank before.

When it became apparent that Grandpa should no longer drive, Grandma picked up where he left off. She learned to drive in inclement weather. She navigated mountain passes. She drove all over Washington and Oregon to keep up with visiting family. And for two summers she made the 2,000 mile drive between Washington to Wisconsin so we could continue our annual summer visit tradition. He loved being on the road and she wanted him to enjoy that as long as he could. Her dedication to him and ability to tackle new things (keep in mind, she's 70-something...) was awe inspiring.


We found out the day before Thanksgiving that Grandpa wasn't doing well. He'd been living in a memory care facility for the past 11 months. His disease had progressed to a point that it was impossible to care for him at home anymore, although Grandma continued to spend her days with him at his new home.

The Man headed to Washington right away, and I followed with LM four days later. We ended up staying there for two weeks.

December 3 was Grandpa's last day with us. He died the day before his 75th birthday. His final days were spent surrounded by family, all sharing stories about our years together. I know he would have loved that. Perhaps that's why he took his time leaving. He always did love a good party.

For me, one of the hardest moments was bringing LM into Grandpa's room. Grandpa was unconscious by then, and LM was a bit confused why this man was laying down and not talking. It was the first time that the two had met. The Man held LM near Grandpa, and LM reached out to pat his hand. I wish Grandpa could have seen what a great father his son is. He would be so proud.

When Grandpa was ready to let go, he went gently and quietly.

We are doing OK. Although we all saw this day ahead of us for months, it still catches you by surprise. It's the finality that shocks your heart. The knowing that you won't see him again, hear his laughter again. Acknowledging our loss is what makes this so difficult. But knowing that he is at last at peace, no longer tormented as the memory of who he was and his family faded from his mind.

It's also difficult not to be able to share the greatest joy in our life with him. I never really thought about how much it means to share your child with others. But watching your parents create a relationship with your child changes and deepens your relationship with them. I wonder what LM and Grandpa's relationship would have been like? 

In the days since his passing we were busy planning for his memorial service. Grandpa was a well known person and beloved teacher in our small home town--we surmised that the small church he attended may not have enough room to hold all the attendees of the service. We were right. Nearly 400 people crowded the high school gymnasium for his memorial service. It's the only building in town big enough, and it's also a place where Grandpa spent countless hours cheering on students for the past 20 years. He was a high school sports supporter to the core and continued to attend every basketball and football game, and a fair amount of wrestling matches, long after his children had already graduated from high school.

The service was lovely. Both of his sons spoke, and we had a sharing time where people came and told stories about him. A difficult proposition when you are feeling the sharp pangs of loss, but it was a wonderful tribute. He was a very funny man, and it was interesting that the stories his sons and others shared were filled with lots of humor.

He would have liked that.


  1. I'm preparing to say goodbye to my grandfather, who has Alzheimer's. Your point that you know it is coming but it still catches you by surprise - yes, I'm understanding that.

    It's never easy to say goodbye, and being unable to share something so fantastic with him is hard, but how wonderful that he was surrounded by all of you during his final days. Hugs, hugs.

  2. Hugs to you. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss, I understand the sadness in the finality even when it is expected. Praying for peace for your family.


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