To My Grandpa

My grandpa passed away last week. His health had not been great. Though not a surprise, it did not make his death any easier. There have not been many impactful deaths in my life yet, but my grandpa’s has been tough.

When I think about the reasons why it has hit me this hard, it is difficult to put into words. From an outsider’s perspective, it may look like we were not close. He was on my dad’s side of the family, and after my parents’ divorce, my interactions with that half of the family diminished. In recent times, I have only seen my grandpa once or twice throughout the year, usually at a birthday party for my nieces or nephews. Despite that, I still feel a strong connection with him.

It is important to note that my dad has struggled with addiction for my entire life. It was a factor in my parents’ separation when I was young, and it played a large role in growing distant with his side of the family. Many of my memories back then are broken and filled with sadness. The deep wounds took years to overcome. But in all that, there are still great memories, many that involve my grandparents.

My dad’s family would meet at my grandparents’ house for cookouts and other family gatherings. I can remember my grandpa grilling out near the front porch, a large white grill, smoke wafting off in the breeze from the lake. He was famous for his ribs. As kids we would play games in the large yard. My favorite was a game that involved tossing and catching a ball in plastic scoops. It was often a fight for who would get to them first. There was also a dangerous game of lawn darts that was kept out of reach until we were old enough to be safe. The house was on a lake, and we would swim or go fishing. Down the shore was a public beach, and the sounds of laughter drifted across the waters enhancing the atmosphere of fun.

My grandpa kept the yard in pristine shape. There were beautiful flowers planted throughout the area along with cool statues of various sizes and shapes. Running around to find all the gnomes, turtles and other ornamentation was a blast. The lawn furniture was big and sturdy, the padding bright and fun. They were not typical lawn chairs, but big wooden seats that could be adjusted, perfect for laying out in the shade. I idealized the house. In my head, it was the perfect place. That image is largely because of the warmth that my grandparents brought to the setting. They loved each other intensely, and their love carried forward to all those around them.

Perhaps my grandpa’s love was best seen in the last decade of his life. My grandma’s health was deteriorating. Her mind was going, and apart from long term memories, she could not retain what was happening around her. I was married and then divorced during that time, and my grandma never remembered my wife when we went to visit. It was hard. Despite a failing heart, my grandpa devoted himself to her care and well being. His life was her life. It was motivating and heartbreaking all at once. To see his passion for her playing out in everything he did was a moving experience. When she passed away four years ago, I was certain that he would follow within a year. With his health already fading, his primary reason for living was gone. He lasted longer than anyone expected.

Now that my grandpa is gone, my mind is flooded by great memories, by his devotion to the ones he loved. Visits to the house as a child always meant candy in kitchen drawers and dishes throughout the place. The most vivid of those dishes was a container shaped like a large nut, the handle was a small squirrel. I loved it as a kid, and when visiting my grandpa to say my last goodbyes recently, the dish was filled with M&Ms, a treat that three generations of the family shared together on that melancholy night.

As a kid, I remember watching bowling on the old television in my grandparents’ dining room. The TV set was fascinating as a kid because it had an old dial for switching channels, a bit out of date but still working. My grandpa would bet with us on the bowlers, choosing our players at random. I always came out on top, since it was his money that we bet with. Other times we would bet on race cars or golf, whatever sport was on at the time. Even when my players lost, I still seemed to come away a winner. Walking away with a couple dollars from my grandpa each time made me feel on top of the world.

The yard always had animals and birds nearby, due to my grandpa’s devotion to feeding them. You could watch the ducks come into the yard like clockwork, knowing he was there to provide for them. As kids, he would hand us loaves of bread to bring out to the shoreline and feed the fish and ducks. It was something my brother and I looked forward to on every visit to the house.

When I purchased my first vehicle, my grandpa was there to cosign the loan. My parents were unable to help, and even though he had already cosigned for several other of his grandchildren, my grandpa did not hesitate to step in. He wanted to help anyone that needed it. After getting the car, I would visit the house regularly to play cards or Rummikub with him. It was never competitive. We enjoyed each other’s company, discussing our lives. There were countless conversations. We talked about God, about unsterile conditions of getting tattoos overseas in the military, about whatever was on our mind. While we talked and played, we would eat, usually something like pizza and then cake for dessert. The memories are something I will cherish forever.

There was a theme of love and selflessness to my grandpa’s life. He was a great human being and one of the best people I ever knew.

Raymond Brose, grandpa, you will be deeply missed. I love you.

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