John Graves died last night. It was not unexpected; he was 93 and has been on “any day” status for quite some time. Quite some time. He passed away quietly in his sleep. He was a tough old bird, and has lived a long and full life. He was my maternal grandfather and my last surviving grandparent. A lot died with him.
He and those few left of his generation are living history… of WWI, the great depression, WWII, the beginning of the cold war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War at it’s height and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. He was present for the boom period of the Industrial Revolution, the shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy – the population shift from the farms to the cities. The automobile replaced the horse. The digital revolution was the last epoch for him. He witnessed the cultural revolutions of almost 100 years – a significant portion of this nations history was shared with Granddad.
Much of that died with him. I regret not absorbing more than I did from him. Often are the times that the magnitude of the opportunities missed are only realized in retrospect – and tragically, all too often it is too late. I don’t know if he is “in a better place,” no one who went there ever came back and told me. However, based on the quality of his life toward the end, it would be difficult to imagine a worse place.
There is a silver lining to this story – a tale of fate that would be difficult to predict, never mind orchestrate. It came in on the heals of this country’s worst natural disaster and in a name – Katrina.
Granddad was living in New Orleans at an extended care facility. My Aunt and Uncle live nearby and were able to care for his needs in his twilight years. All escaped Katrina safely and compared to many others, relatively unscathed. However, Granddad had to be evacuated for an extended period of time. It was during the immediate aftermath of Katrina and my Aunt and Uncle were not well positioned to care for him. My mother and father stepped in to care for his needs at a similar establishment to what he had in New Orleans, not two hours from me in California.
Even a year ago, he was very frail and, honestly, at an age where anything could happen. Although he could not see, hear or walk very well at all, he still had a sharp wit. It was, however, all hearsay combined with memories from two or three years prior. I had no regular, first-hand interaction – until Katrina.
He was able to visit on Labor Day weekend last year. It was an occasion in which my whole family (sister/hubby/three kids – brother/s.o. – parents and Granddad) got together for the day at my house for my middle son’s 18th birthday. It was a rare occurrence and one I’ll always remember. Granddad was alert, but tired. Not tired sleepy, but tired of the aging process. He offered some advice to his great-grandchildren (six were there!)… “Don’t ever get old like me.”
It spoke volumes. I remember him better when I was a child and the family get-togethers were more frequent. He was a giant. He had an airplane and flew it! He had power windows in his car (don’t laugh – most cars didn’t have them back then). He had a car phone before cellular was even invented – real James Bond stuff! He let me drive a forklift. That was cool. From what I understand, he took chances that sometimes paid off and sometimes didn’t. He was a maverick.
At 93, I guess it’s a job for a younger man.
Rest in Peace, Granddad.