Eight years ago my family and I took a trip to my grandfather’s home. My grandfather had grown older and he decided it was time to move out. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and he had some trouble walking without falling. He had found a senior apartment nearby and decided it was time to leave the house he had lived in most of his life.
For the first 28 years of my life I made frequent visits to my grandparent’s home. My grandmother had passed away 5 years earlier. Every room and item in the home had memories. He asked us all to come and take what we wanted from his home. We (my wife, my kids, my mom, dad, sister, uncle, aunt and cousins) spent the weekend going through his home and making piles of the items that we wanted to keep. It was hard to do. My grandfather sat in the living room and watched us pick up the belongings he had collected from his life.
I found a box in his closet that had patches from German and French solders from World War II, pictures of my grandmother, and other items he carried while away at war. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded when a bomb exploded and shrapnel cut into his knee. There was a bell that hung on the wall near the kitchen. I remember being a small child looking up at that bell and occasionally someone would take it down and let me ring it. It now hangs on the wall in my kitchen and I tell my children how important the bell was to me as child. We brought home my grandmother’s quilts that she spent hundreds of hours making. They are now on our beds and are used to keep my family warm while we sit on the couch. Grandpa showed us his timber saw and told us it had belonged to his father. My father took the saw and has it hanging in his home. I did take a lot of other items from his home but these items seemed to be the only items that really mattered to me. The items we did not take were later sold in an estate sale.
My grandfather then moved into the senior housing apartment. I visited him there several times. He had kept the basics in furniture and had added several bird clocks that would sing at the top of the hour and a train clock that would sound a rumble and a whistle. When he decided it was time to move to a nursing home I became the owner of these clocks. They all hang on my walls now and go off on the hour as a reminder of him.
Nursing home visits were hard to accept. Each time I visited his health was declining. His mind was as sharp as a 20 year old but his body had aged and by the end he could no longer talk. My last visit to the nursing home was a five day vigil with my family holding my grandfather’s hand as he was dying. We made sure that someone was with him the whole time. We spent hours sitting around his bed reliving memories and sharing the stories. One of the strongest memories of my grandparent’s was sitting around their table in the evening. My grandmother would set out coffee, apple bars and cinnamon rolls a few hours before bedtime. We would all sit and talk and enjoy her coffee and cooking.
I no longer have to ask, “What is the meaning of life?”
After my grandfather died I drove 9 hours home. My wife and two small children had left before he died and they did not attend the funeral. When I got home and after the kids went to bed I talked to my wife and cried. I told her about holding my grandfather’s hand while he took his last breath. I told her that I now understood the meaning of life. It is not found in money, fame or possessions. It is found by sitting around a table drinking coffee, eating cinnamon rolls and apple bars and making memories with the people you care for. It is that simple. Maybe that is why my father drinks so much coffee. He too knows the meaning of life.
by Tom Carlson, VP