This one hurts

My grandpa passed away on Saturday. He was 80 and his health had been declining for several years, but still it hurts.

My grandma wishes to have the services as soon as possible, for closure and her own well-being, and I completely understand. Our home leave travel plans are for us to depart this coming Saturday but we can’t get home in time for his funeral, and it hurts.

My grandparents let us live with them during our R&Rs, home leaves, and maternity med-evacs to Ohio. They welcome our loud, busy family into their home for weeks and even months at a time and offer us housing, food, a car, their cell phones, pretty much anything they can to make our stay a little easier. Talking to many other families in the Foreign Service, we know how lucky we are to have such a strong family support system whenever we go home. I am beyond grateful that we were recently home with them for over three months during my pregnancy med-evac and I spent a final Christmas with my grandpa. I have photos of him holding both of my babies when we brought them home from the hospital, and I have this picture of him holding them both at Christmas. I’ll cherish it forever, but it still really hurts.

My grandpa believed in hard work and teaching us the value of a dollar. He went with me to purchase my very first car, a 1992 Honda Civic (my dream car!). I think it cost around $3500, and I only had half of that. He paid the rest up front for me, and then went with me to the bank as I took out a small personal loan for the rest. The man was generous to a fault, but it was also important to him that we all worked hard and learned that nothing comes for free. My mom loves to tell the story that he made her build – like literally from scrap – her first car. When my sweet Civic had a flat tire and I was clueless on what to do, Grandpa was my first phone call. And while he happily changed my tire for me, he also insisted I sit right there beside him to learn for myself. He could make a teachable moment out of just about anything. I’m grateful for the many life lessons he shared with me, and though I’ll carry them with me always, knowing he isn’t here to do the same for my kids, hurts.

My grandpa was a proud U.S. Army  Veteran and served in the Vietnam War as a Green Beret. He was assigned to Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, in Vietnam. As he was riding in a helicopter on a resupply mission over enemy territory, the helicopter was hit with several rounds of antiaircraft fire, burst into flames and crashed. He was shot and severely injured with burns all over his body. Despite his injuries, he led himself and two surviving crew members to safety. For his strength and bravery he was awarded the Silver Star and a Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster. He was still hospitalized when he received his medals and had no recollection of it. In 2011, when we told his story to Senator Sherrod Brown, he graciously hosted a Medal Ceremony for him in our hometown. In addition to reading his citation and officially repinning him with his medals and awards, Senator Brown presented my grandpa with an American flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in his honor on September 11, 2011. It was such a special day for my family and gave us an opportunity to thank my grandpa for his service and sacrifice.

 

Grandpa spent some time in the hospital this past Christmas, and for a few weeks he was in a transition care unit as he regained his strength. I spent a few afternoons with him, just talking and playing checkers. I wondered if it was appropriate to let him beat me, but then that wasn’t an issue because he beat me twice. I think he might have cheated. Grandpa loved telling jokes, often at the listener’s expense (read: me) and he had such a deep, happy laugh. I can hear him saying some of his favorite phrases like “Bullshit” and “Aww Hell No!”  He was funny, loving and kind. He was unquestionably the head of our big family and someone we all turned to for advice and wisdom. I knew this day would come and yet I can’t believe it happened.

I’m so proud to be his granddaugher and of the wonderful life he lived, and I believe he is in a better place now. I’m thankful that he knew how much we all loved him but still, this one is going to hurt for a while.