Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Greatest Man who Ever Lived - or one of Them.

It was about a week and a half ago that I heard my Grandfather was sick.  Sure, he was 87, had some Parkinson's symptoms, but really was a relatively healthy 87 year old.  I was told (and I'm still not sure 100% of what ended up actually happening) that he had a bowel obstruction, a pseudo-typical older person problem that can usually be resolved without surgery.  I know from my experience as a nurse that worse case scenario you go in for surgery, have part of your bowel removed, and you recover and are on your way in most cases.  About a week later, he died.  He got really sick while in the hospital and the decision was made to move him out of the ICU and into another wing for hospice care last Wednesday morning.  Surgery was not an option. He passed Thursday night with much of the family around him.  He was loved, respected, and deeply admired as a man by those who knew him.

He and Grandma have lived in the same yellow house for a million years in SmallTown, USA.  They were often holding hands over the last 66 years they were married (and I'm sure before their Big Day too).  They walked around town, stayed active and were involved in their church.  He was a World War II veteran, one of the few remaining in our county where I'm from.  The only time anyone can remember him ever crying was when my brother Nick graduated from boot camp at Parris Island, SC and officially became a Marine.  He retired 3 different times and had a work ethic that you don't just find these days. As mentioned in his funeral service, "he would rather go to work sick and get paid than lay at home in bed sick and NOT get paid".  He instilled his values in his four children and the trait has been passed down through our family.  When I learned of his passing when I woke up Friday morning for work, and went, my co-workers told me I was crazy for being there. "You don't understand", I said, "I'd be told I was being silly and there is nothing I can do now.  I may as well be at work".  Those were my words and I shed some tears with people who did not even know him in my work unit that morning.

Grandma and Grandpa were simple people.  They didn't have fancy new cars, a big screen TV, or go out to dinner except when invited by others (or got a gift card for Christmas, Bob Evans was a big hit). They gave what they had and did what they could by giving of their time.  They delivered mobile meals to people younger than them and Grandma still quilts with the church.  They raised four wonderful children who have hearts of gold and are all caretakers in their own rights.  Glen cares for his wife, Shirley cares for everyone but also helps her daughter care for her husband with ALS, Angela kept close eyes on Grandma and Grandpa from just across the street where they live, and my step-dad Paul takes care of my mom and helps her manage her MS.  They are all mild mannered, kind people who couldn't have all gotten those traits biologically but were raised to be good people.  The apples don't fall far from the tree.

I came into this family as a "bonus" child - my mom and now step-dad moved in together when I was 4. I got a new brother 11 months older than me out of the deal who I didn't really like all that much to start.  We ended up in the same grade and went through school together.  There are definitely drawbacks to divorced families but the way I see it is I got 2 moms, 2 dads, lots of cousins, aunts, uncles, and 4 sets of grandparents.  Pretty lucky girl if you ask me.  I was accepted and loved in the Thompson family from the very first meeting.  I don't remember the very first time I met them, but I do remember on December 4th, 1998 when my mom married my step-dad that Grandma and Grandpa Thompson were there.  They got married at the court house and we ate at Bob Evans after.  Nick and I were in the 6th grade and had to ask the Principal if we could still go to our first middle school dance that night despite missing school because our parents were getting married.  He let us, and I know I was thrilled.  In the next few weeks came Christmas and I got a gift from Grandma and Grandpa of a jewelry box with a note inside that said "for our Granddaughter, even though you always were, now it's official!".  Pretty lucky girl.

I spent time with my family at the funeral home and church for his visitation and funeral services.  There was so much love in the room it was palpable.  The line to see Grandpa one last time and to hug Grandma was out the door for a good amount of time.  It was as if the whole town, church, and beyond was there to pay this great man their respects.  At the cemetery, the county honor guard was present to pay respects to Grandpa and to present Grandma with the flag from his casket.  I held it together pretty well until then and to see multiple other veterans present and saluting gave me chills.  What a great honor for the greatest of men.

At the end of the viewing hours when all the visitors had left and the family was getting ready to leave, everyone sort of made their way over to say goodbye; to touch, and kiss him one last time.  My heart shattered into pieces when Grandma went and touched him, looked hard at him, and with her voice cracking she said "we can go".  66 years together.  Their entire lives were together and the love they shared was infectious.  Very few people can make it to that milestone and we should all be so lucky to feel and be loved like they loved each other.  True love exists.  True love lasts a lifetime.  Theirs did.

All stories have a beginning and an end.  While this may be the end of Grandpa's story ours continues.  There will be Thanksgiving and Christmas soon.  Grandpa's birthday is the day after Christmas and we always celebrated the two together.  There will be an unimaginable void at the table.  The prayer will have to be said by someone else (Come Lord Jesus, be our guest.  Let thy gifts to us be blessed. Amen) and I'm sure there won't be many dry eyes at either dinner.  He was just that great.  He was a rock of solidarity and a beacon of what defines a man.  He cared and loved his wife deeply, he took care of his family, his country, and his community.  Everyone should have a Grandpa like him.

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