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I haven't been down to the veterans' cemetery where my grandfather is buried since the day of his funeral. Grandfather was a strong, stubborn, obstinate, mean man. He had few friends and was blessed to have had a woman who loved him for the better part of 25 years. My grandmother and he divorced when my mom and her sister were in their late teens, but my grandfather had stopped being their father long before that. As a matter of fact, it's hard to even believe that my grandmother and grandfather were even in love and married at one point. He could be so hard and critical and at other times do something so kind and genuine it would knock our socks off. Take for instance the summer he dropped by our house with a brand new air conditioning unit. Our house didn't have air conditioning and my parents couldn't afford to buy a window unit. They never said anything about it to him. Buy my grandfather came for a visit and saw the need. He just dropped it off one day and said, "It's for the kids - they need it."
My mother's relationship with her father grew over the years, thanks to having my brothers and me. She wanted us to know our grandfather. She and my father also started following Jesus Christ. If Christ could offer her forgiveness, then she could forgive her father and try to move on. Christmas was "his" holiday. Every year he and Miss Carol would come over dinner. He'd tell the same war stories and each year they got a little more outlandish. He always talked and we always listened. He never asked us how we were doing or what was going on. We always asked him and that would set us up for a two hour one way conversation (his way) with occasional comments thrown in. Then we'd exchange gifts - he'd whip out the pen knife from his vest pocket so he could carefully open the wrapping paper. Half the time he didn't like what we got him and told us so. We finally learned that you couldn't go wrong giving him good old country music and some socks.
At Christmas 2007, things changed. He didn't talk so much. We carried the conversation. He had a hard time breathing, standing up, sitting down, walking. It was that Christmas that made me wonder how much longer he would be with us. In January we took him to the hospital and the doctors said he had a couple of blood clots, prostate cancer, and congestive heart failure, but they were confident he would be all right. By March we knew it was only a matter of time. After being in a nursing home for rehabilitation, the nursing home unfortunately accelerated his illness by giving him the wrong medication with the incorrect dosage. We brought him to his home and had the most wonderful hospice nurse walk us through his final days. God used that time to prepare us, to heal past hurts, and help us move on. What a better way to forgive someone than to serve them. I am so happy I was able to spend time with my grandfather during his last days. He passed away on Good Friday last year with the entire family - literally everyone who loved him - by his bedside.
I never told him that I appreciated him serving our country. This morning, I went to the veterans' cemetery where he is buried to honor him. I arrived just in time to see their Memorial Day ceremony. I felt pretty overwhelmed with gratitude for him and for the other men and woman who fought so I can worship, vote, and speak as I please.