This Week We Say Goodbye

It’s been a hard week for our family.  Some of us were fighting off colds and flu, which is in itself bad enough, but that’s never how these things work, is it?  Read with us as ComputerGuy offers a last tribute to his Grandpa Al.

This week we say our final goodbyes to my grandfather. The past few years of his life have been marked by the slow decline of Alzheimer’s. A veteran of the Korean War, his service included full military honors. It occurred to me that the ceremony associated with his military service is probably the highest recognition and honor he ever received. Posthumous as it may be, it’s the true recognition of a man who humbly loved and served his family and friends.

As a child, I remember feeling pride in knowing that my grandpa worked at the local hospital. He worked in the maintenance department. Nothing glamorous or earth-shattering about that but it filled me with pride none the less to know that he was there every day making sure everything worked like it was supposed to. I remember watching helicopters land on top of the building bringing critically ill patients for treatment and thinking about how he had a hand in making that possible.

During my college years, I worked as an electrician to put food in my mouth and gas in my car. I don’t remember him ever saying “I’m proud of you,” but I do remember him giving me a thermometer that had been his at the hospital. No, not the type to test for fever, but the type to test refrigeration systems to make sure they’re cooling properly. He even showed me how to calibrate it, and at the time I thought it a strange way but assumed he’d done it before and it made sense. I also, shamefully, remember feeling a little disappointed.  I wasn’t an HVAC guy, after all, I was an electrician.  Incidentally enough, I remember later on in a college Physics class, learning the theory of Thermodynamics that explained why a water/ice mixture will also stay at exactly 32* and thus make it possible to calibrate a thermometer. I’m not sure Grandpa ever knew the theory of Thermodynamics but he certainly knew the application of it, and I’m pretty sure he was proud to have a grandson doing the same type of work he did.

His life was never marked by fame or riches or great accolades that would garner community applause. He lived in the same simple 3 bed, 1 bath house in which he and grandma raised their 4 kids. Sitting at the funeral home writing his obituary was more difficult than I could have imagined. What great and awesome things could we put down? He certainly was those things but not in any way that anyone beyond his family would know and appreciate.  To everyone else, he was an average guy. Sure, he liked to travel, he loved to tinker with things, and liked to do crossword puzzles, but that also describes a lot of other people. What makes him unique, special, unlike any other? He was husband, dad, grandpa, and great-grandpa to us. That’s what.

As I’ve reflected on all of this, I’m reminded of the importance of the simple, everyday experience of life and family. Sometimes I feel like I want to change the world, I want to be a household name, I want to be famous for doing something incredible and worthy of respect for the world to see. But Grandpa’s memory reminds me that my family needs normal, average me. They need the me that loves and serves them and prioritizes them above all else. It’s the simple things, the little moments with my wife and kids that I’ll leave behind some day. They won’t care whether or not I changed the life of people around the world, they’ll care that I changed theirs.

This past weekend, my refrigerator was acting up and I needed to test the temperature inside to see if the thermostat was working correctly. I had a little thermometer for that. I took it out, put it in a water/ice mixture to calibrate it and set out to do my testing… all the while smiling as I remembered Grandpa giving it to me as a gift. Little did I know that just over 24 hours later, he would take his final breath.  And so here I sit with my thermometer and Grandpa’s wise instruction on how to calibrate it. And memories. Memories of a simple man who loved and served.   A man whose widow received a flag presented to her on behalf of a grateful nation, but at that moment, it will represent so much more than just his military service.


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