There is courage in living the life you don’t want to live and in facing the death you don’t want to die. That is what my grandpa had: courage. A gritty resignation to face his life every day, even though it was not the life he dreamed. He suffered physical and psychological ailments that bound him, body and mind. And yet, he could laugh as heartily as he could cuss, and his laughter somehow reminded me that the struggle doesn’t have to steal your smile, even if it takes your strength. Every morning, he would wake up with legs as heavy as concrete blocks, and mustering all his strength, swing them one at a time to the edge of his bed while working to pull himself into an upright position. With sweat forming on his brow, he’d grab a metal pole that had been installed from the floor to the ceiling of his room right next to his bed, to help steady himself. Then, with a series of heaves and self-motivating talk (or sometimes curses, or sometimes prayers) he would propel himself into his wheelchair and roll from his room into his day. He lived alone and insisted on independence for as long as he could. Parkinson’s was not kind to him, but he accepted it; sometimes grudgingly, sometimes with a calm and quiet resolve. He had a keen sense of justice, even if the world was not always just to him (and believe, it was not). His childhood, a time filled with laughter and lighthearted days for most, was punctuated with sadness and egregious wrongs. He was misunderstood, judged. And yet he grasped on to life and to the moments that mattered. Holidays especially seemed to be a time my grandpa would come alive and reach out to share just a small amount of joy, to bring out a smile.
His lifetime spanned 86 years. I was lucky to get to know just a few encapsulated moments; life stories he’d share when I’d come by to tidy his house. I feel so lucky to have had that chance, to see my grandfather as more than just a grumpy old man. He died in a Hospice nearby, after lingering awhile. Again, he met death in the same head-on fashion he met life with…acceptance of his fate and a resolve to do what needed to be done, even if deep down he was afraid. I am honored to say that in those final days, when his hands were too unsteady to hold a razor, my grandpa trusted me to shave his face. I’d gather the necessary supplies; a dishpan of warm water, a razor, shaving cream, and a towel, while making small talk about the weather or the state of the world. I’d wet the towel and place it gently over the shadowy stubble that covered his chin and neck, and after applying a layer of shaving cream I’d begin the task, always gingerly. I wonder if he was as worried as I was that my most careful would not be careful enough. So many memories. He was humorous and philosophical; religious and agnostic; powerful and fragile; elderly, but young at heart. He was not perfect by any means, but he tried. He was, in the end, the human-est of humans. One of the bravest, showing me that courage is facing the known unknown…the moment you are in and the moments to come with dogged determination and tenacity of heart and with hope, by God with hope that something better awaits.