Grandpa died today. It was my privilege to be with him when he drew his last breath on this earth- the first time in my life that I have witnessed death first hand. What a sacred honor- as strange as that may sound- to be watching over him as he began his new life in the presence of Jesus.
Sissy was there with me, and the two of us were “catching up”, as cousins who have long been separated tend to do. We had been talking about our families, events from the past few years, and water under the bridge. Small talk, memories, and things that seem trivial now.
Suddenly, we noticed that the green line on the monitor which tracked the beating of his heart no longer moved in the familiar peaks and valleys, but held a straight, flat line. The oxygen machine that helped his otherwise shallow breathing became steady instead of randomly intermittent. Grandpa’s shallow breaths were no longer promoting the oxygen output. A pat on the hand, a stroke on the face had not been sufficient to rouse him from his sleep since sometime the day before, nor did he respond to it now. Gone- was it possible? Had he really died so anti-climactically?
I think it’s fitting that he left this life the way he lived it, without a lot of fanfare or drama. Grandpa was a central figure in my life when I was growing up, because he retired when he was in his forties. Since he and Grandma lived right “down the road” from us, we saw them often. Grandpa was always there, content to take a back seat to the kids and chaos.
The story goes that he met my Grandma as a young sailor when he and his buddy hailed a taxi for a night of shore leave in Lake Charles, LA. Grandma was a young widow with 5 children under the age of 12, trying to keep her family together during the depression. She was driving a taxi to earn a living. Grandpa and “Uncle Frenchie” asked their attractive driver to show them around town and the rest, as they say, is history. He and Grandma married, and he adopted all five kids when my dad was 12.
He was always a little bit of an oddity to us growing up, at first because we saw him so seldom. He continued to work in the merchant marines and was away sailing the seven seas for months at a time. There was always a festival atmosphere when Grandpa came home for leave. The family gathered, he would take us all out for pizza and pitchers of root beer. Exotic gifts from ports around the world would be pulled out of packages and exclaimed over by everyone. This was a time to celebrate! Grandpa was home, and life was good. Grandma was happy because he was home and safe.
As I got older and Grandpa retired, I realized that part of the reason he seemed to be a bit out of place in the family was because he was NOT a native son of the South. Grandpa had been born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He grew up sneaking into Dodgers baseball games and hanging out on the streets of the city, which seemed like an alien world to this little country girl. He remained a Dodgers fan till his dying day, and I heard from my aunt that he was a fairly decent player himself as a young man- enough so that he was scouted for a professional farm team at one point.
It’s not often that I meet someone my age with a grandparent who is still alive. He was 93 years old, and still had a sharp mind till the last days of his life. It’s a milestone that few people reach. I could share so many memories of evenings at Grandpa’s house (where there was always ice cream in the freezer), barbeques and boat rides, playing with cousins, and Boxers named Sundown.
Instead, I’ll just share a picture with you of the man who will always live in my heart as one of the bravest men I knew because he was willing to risk everything for a young widow who was the love of his life. He laid his life down for a family that probably scared him spit-less, and wasn’t always glad to have him at first. And he was willing to defy his family to make what he knew was the most important decision of his life- they eventually grew to love us as much as any great-grandparents ever could!
Rest in Peace, Grandpa Stu.
P.S. If you are a family member, or knew Grandpa Stu, I invite you to leave a memory or story about him in the comments.