In a stark room with the lights turned out, I sit alone thinking. In all of my years I have always had stability. There have been no drastic changes in my life. There was the endless time when my mother had breast cancer, but somehow I knew she would pull through, so it did not really phase me. Now I am encountering a situation that is sure to change my life forever. The one person who never questioned my intentions, always knew my thoughts, and always knew the right words to offer is going to leave me because of a terminal illness. As I wonder how I will ever survive without my grandpa in my life, I place my head in my hands and cry as memories and stories begin to flood my mind.
The first memory I come across is swinging with Grandpa on a hill overlooking a beautiful lake at sunset. Grandpa has his coffee in his right hand while I am snuggled up close to his left side. I recall using times such as this to have heart-to-heart talks with the sole person who understood my every thought. He talked to me as if everything I had to say was of great importance, regardless of the topic. As I reflect more on this memory I realize my grandpa is a lot like the coffee he always had in his hand. The coffee provided him with warmth and comfort. In the same way, Grandpa was my source of warmth and comfort. He was always there for me in little ways. The days when Dad forgot me at volleyball practice he was there to take me home. He was there to take me shopping when I desperately needed a new outfit. He did not like to shop, but he went for me. Small things such as these gave me comfort. I knew Grandpa would always be there to help me if I was in a jam. This stability I felt was one of the most comforting thing in my life. My thoughts travel deeper into the subject I am contemplating and I realize there is yet another similarity between my grandfather and the coffee he loved so much. Many coffee drinkers are addicted to coffee like I am addicted to my grandpa. They feel insecure and incomplete without their daily dose of coffee.Like the habitual coffee drinker I am going to have a horrible time withdrawing myself from that ever-constant source of love and stability in my life. I know that it will not be easy, but it will have to be done in time. My mind begins to wander as I try to recall other memories of my grandfather.
The image of Grandpa and Grandma’s house on a snowy evening materializes in my mind. My sister and father are there with me, and we are eating with my grandparents. The smells of Grandma’s cooking are so real that I feel as if I am really there. We sit around the table laughing and telling of our days. Grandpa interjects his off-the-wall jokes into the conversation, which keeps us from dwelling on our lives. My sister, Cheryl, once commented to me that “Grandpa has this ability to make me laugh at the stupidest things.” After dinner my sister and I venture into the living room and beg Grandpa to tell us a story. His stories were always the best. Sometimes they were fun and exciting, and other times they taught us about the history of our town or family. My crying subsides as I discern Grandpa’s motives in telling his stories. He wanted us to carry on his legacy to future generations so everyone might know what life is like through the eyes of a loving optimist. The scene of the living room fades and I am met with yet another memory of my grandpa.
It is the last volleyball game of my sophomore year. Grandpa has come wearing a tie because he is going to represent my parents who are unable to attend. The announcer’s voice booms “sophomore, Carol Russell. Escorted by ‘Grandpa Earl’ Russell.” As we walk out in front of the crowd I glance at him and see him beaming because he is escorting his ‘little girl,’ of whom he is so proud. I am almost begin to laugh aloud when I make the connection that no matter what I did my grandpa would always love me. I would always be number-one in his eyes. Upon realizing the depth of Grandpa’s love for me I have a new sense of self-confidence. Yet another memory fades into the depths of my mind.
The memories come and go, and I learn a lesson with the passing of each one. Perhaps the most valuable message conveyed by my Grandpa came in a letter to my cousin. In it he wrote
“Sometimes life can be painful, others rewarding. Too bad we can’t
bypass the painful times. It seems to me when we have problems we
need to remember the prayer that goes something like this: ‘Oh Lord,
give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the wisdom
to change what can be changed, and the foresight to know the difference.’
It also helps to know you have people who love you to help you through
the tough times. Always remember that I love you.”
The life-long lessons such as this that my grandpa not only taught me but lived himself are treasures I can carry throughout my life. I am still sitting in the same stark room with the lights out, but somehow it seems brighter. I think now about how lucky I have been to have a Grandpa who has taught me so much. I know what it is like to be loved unconditionally because of the love of this magnificent man. Knowing that there are people in this world who will never have the privilege of having a ‘Grandpa Earl,’ I bow my head and pray that everyone would be as loved as I have been.