All My Love Forever: Lessons I Learned Through My Granddaddy’s Life and Legacy
May 14, 2015 marked the start of a new chapter in my life, and quite honestly, a chapter which I was not ready or prepared to begin. Granddaddy was there for every Grandparent’s Day, birthday, school play, Senior Night, Prom, graduation, the morning I left for college, and so many other ordinary days in between. I always imagined him being there on so many other important days, but I am incredibly thankful for the 20+ years I had him in my life. I’ve found pieces of him in red and white wines in France, in the ruins of Rome, in mosaic elephants in Spain, in coffee shops, newspapers, cameras, BBQ joints, flowers, and football games. It seems that just about everywhere I go and everywhere I look, I find a piece of him there. The lessons he taught me through his life and legacy will remain with me rest of my life. So it seems appropriate that today on his birthday I write this as his gift and drink a vodka tonic in memory if him. Missing you today and everyday. Love you. Always.
- Family isn’t always blood: You would never have known my grandfather was not my biological grandfather unless you put together that my last name and his last name were not the same. If you know my family, you know that we’re an eclectic bunch comprised of a little bit of everything. We’re stepchildren and grandchildren, full siblings and half siblings, American and a little Middle Eastern, but Granddaddy loved us all the same. He showed me what it was like to love someone by choice, not by obligation. I did not have any blood relation to Granddaddy yet his influence in my life extends far beyond that of any genetic traits or characteristics.
- Photograph the little things: Growing up with Granddaddy was much like growing up with the paparazzi. There is probably a photo somewhere that he took of the first time I tied my shoe. To most people that is a fairly insignificant moment in comparison to the first time your grandchild learns to walk, but to Granddaddy, those small moments were incredibly important. He bought me my first DSLR camera when I was 17 and to this day I take it almost everywhere I go. My love for photography began with Granddaddy and it has since grown into a job and small business. Photography isn’t just a hobby for me anymore. It is a vital part of life and shapes how I view the world around me. It is integrated into nearly everything I do, just as he is.
- Handwritten notes are a timeless treasure: In the 21st Century where texting is the generally preferred form of communication, Granddaddy gave value to the lost art of handwritten notes and letters. He and Grandma would come to visit for a couple of weeks. Then on the day they were leaving he would leave each of us a note, always written on legal pad paper. About six years ago, I realized how much sentimental value these notes held and how much I would cherish them as I got older. I knew that there would eventually come a day when I would no longer receive letters from him. Over the last six years, I have saved and collected about 50 notes from Granddaddy. Although the dates range, one aspect of the letters always remained constant — his valediction. At the end of all his letters he always wrote, “All My Love Forever, Granddaddy”. There is comfort found in reading back through his notes and knowing his love extends beyond life and death.
- Grieving is hard: People don’t talk about grieving the way they should. I never thought grieving would be easy, but I also never realized how all consuming it would be. People don’t tell you that you might find yourself unable to speak, unable to move, unable to function. They don’t tell you that you might spend some nights on the bathroom floor physically sick and mentally drained. They don’t tell you that you might have to completely place your trust and well being in another human beings hands. People don’t talk about it. Everyone grieves differently and I learned that I am a selfish and introverted griever. I don’t want to talk about how I’m feeling — I would rather write about it. I was not good at comforting the people I love because I was so afraid of breaking down. I have always prided myself with being tough and having a guard. I’m terrified of having that taken away. When people started talking about him and getting upset, I would mentally block them out and tell myself to tough it out. I didn’t even know how he passed until a few weeks after his death. I wanted to just talk about how funny he was and the good memories we had. I wanted to pretend like it didn’t happen. I didn’t want to come to terms with the reality that he wasn’t just at the office and he wouldn’t be walking through the door at some point. Even a year later, most days everything is fine but there are days when the pain hits like a truck. Missing someone never gets easier — it just becomes more normal.
- Dogs can heal any heartache: Three weeks after Granddaddy’s passing, Steve and I got a dog. It was something we had been considering for a while, but we had not found the right time or pup. Steve picked me up from class and told me he had found a place that had a litter of German Shepherd – Husky puppies. The second we walked in the room, my heart began beating faster because I knew we were leaving with one. I picked up a little girl and Steve picked up a little boy. We played with them and instantly realized rather big differences in their personalities. The little girl was sweet, cuddly, and calm. The little boy was sprinting around, picking up my phone with his teeth and throwing it, biting my shoes, and antagonizing the cats that were also in the room. If you know me, you know which one we came home with — the wild wolf puppy who we named Denali. Denali was eight weeks old when we brought him home and every day since June 11, 2015 has been nothing short of an adventure. Raising Denali has been one of the most gratifying experiences I have had thus far in life. If you’ve never had a dog, I can’t adequately put into words how therapeutic they are. There were a lot of days when I was sad or upset and a much smaller Denali would try to climb up on the couch and them tumble off. Now, if he senses something is wrong, he lays as close to me as possible and or on top of me. When I’ve been sick, he has sat on the bathroom floor with me. He has sat with me while I have written this and licked the tears from my face until they are gone. He is my best friend and loyal protector. There is nothing like the love of a dog.
- Alabama football is a way of life: I’ve often joked that the first thing Granddaddy said to God when he got to Heaven was, “Howdy, howdy! Do y’all get the Bama games up here?” I learned from Granddaddy at a very young age that Alabama Football is not just a sport, but rather a way of life. It’s a passionate love he instilled and passed down to everyone in our family. It’s something that brings us all together and has provided us with countless, priceless memories. Granddaddy loved Alabama Football so much that I wanted to drive to Bryant Denny Stadium and sprinkle his ashes across the field. Instead, we buried him in an Alabama cap, a houndstooth sport pullover, and red elephant khaki pants. That’s what would have made him happiest. We sang the fight song at his grave and everyone put red and white roses on his casket. People were laughing and crying at the same time, and I’m certain that is exactly the way he would have wanted to go out (We wanted to sing the fight song at the funeral but the pastor of the church wouldn’t let us. I still think it would have made Granddaddy laugh to do it anyway and see the horrified pastor’s face.) This past January, Alabama Football won it’s 16th National Championship for their 2015 season. I know that he was somewhere up there drinking a vodka and tonic, contesting calls, and cheering the whole time. Bear Bryant once said, “If you want to walk the Heavenly streets of gold, you gotta know the password, “Roll, Tide, Roll!” If that’s the password to Heaven, I’m convinced that no one has ever been able to enter those pearly gates as quickly as Granddaddy.
- Love furiously: Granddaddy’s funeral was held on a Tuesday morning when most people were working. Somewhere around 400 people circulated in and out of the visitation room, lingered to talk with my family, and attended the funeral. There were so many people at the funeral that the church could not accommodate them all. People were standing in the side aisles and in the back of the church because all of the seats were taken. I had never seen most of these people in my life, but they were his friends. Granddaddy made friends everywhere he went because after knowing him for just a few minutes, he made you feel like you had known him for a lifetime. He loved to make people feel loved and he made his love for us known. There’s a line from a Mumford & Sons song that says, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. And where you invest your love, you invest your life.” Granddaddy will live on in our lives as long as we all are on this earth because of how he chose to invest his love — in us.