My grandfather was one of the strongest men I’ve met. His name was Francis, but everyone around him called him Fritz.
I could say many things about the type of person he was. He was a survivor. He was a veteran, having been enlisted during World War II (and received an honorable discharge due to illness). He was a stubborn man, a proud man. He was also a forgiving man. He loved Westerns; there was usually one on every time I went over to my grandparent’s house (which was often). He loved coffee, and passed that love down to me. “Just a sip,” he’d say. “Don’t tell your mother.”
He had six children and his wife, Viola. He worked at a car factory for thirty-odd years. He did the best that he could to provide for his family. He loved, deeply and compassionately, though I wouldn’t say he was the type to show it very often.
As a child, I thought he was the biggest man I’d meet. Imagine his surprise when I outgrew him, a fact he also mentioned every time he saw me. “You’re taller than me now!” he’d laugh. He still seemed bigger than me. He seemed full of life.
Until he got sick. I was twelve when he was first diagnosed with Alzheimers. I can clearly remember checking out books from my middle school library to see what would be happening him. What I read terrified me. Alzheimers is a terrible, unforgiving disease that strips away a member of the family far before it kills them.
But, for years, he was still my papa. Entering high school, he still remembered me, though that memory became fuzzier and fuzzier the more time went on. I was probably around eighteen or nineteen when he’d finally forgotten me completely. Though, sometimes he pretended to know me. “Oh, yeah. Emily. How are you?” He was still him, though. He retained his wit, his cleverness.
Until, he didn’t. Until the disease had wiped away much of what was left of my grandfather. When he passed on the 11th of September, it was only a shell of him.
That doesn’t make it any easier, knowing that I couldn’t be there to say goodbye.
I don’t want to focus on the negatives, though. I want to spend the next couple of days, months, remembering the man that he was. Remember that laugh. Remember the smell of coffee on his breath as I kissed him goodbye. Remember every time he told me that he was proud of me.
And there’s a small, ever-so-hopeful part of me that hopes that if there is somewhere else, somewhere after this, that he’s happy. And that he can finally remember everything he lost.