A Brief Memorial

It’s June 16, and my grandfather’s funeral just took place on the other side of the continent. He was a kind and loving man. He outlived his siblings, his first wife (my maternal grandmother), and so many of his peers that all went to World War II together, never to be seen again. He was a child of the depression, a voice of frugality and common sense, but was the first to help me chase this weird career I’ve had.

His is the last generation without color photos of their childhoods. The war is at this point abstract — some newsreels and photos, faded monuments to the fallen — dangerously forgettable, and gently drifting away as his mind did in the last few years. In his most lucid moments it was the stories of being a bomber pilot instructor that always came to the foreground. Wings dangerously close to falling off, engine failures over the water, and terrified crewmen unable to do their jobs. His brothers died and continued to die from the impact of the war’s most brutal memories. He was a lone survivor. I can’t imagine that sort of loss, or what closing his eyes must have replayed in his head.

I’ll remember him bringing me a John Deere tractor for my birthday, and the joy I felt come from him as he lifted it out of the back of his Cadillac. I’ll remember his endless fascination with clocks and archaic mechanical instruments, something that courses in my veins today. I’m not sure I ever understood him as someone who had faced great loss until he began to fade away.

I’m struck by the duality of love and loss that he endured. My family has been incredibly fortunate relative to many I know, and at his passing I think it’s important to reflect on the unseen sacrifices of those who came before us, trying to survive and make a better life for us. It challenges me to see others experiencing war and enduring deep trauma today with compassion and kindness, for we will be their children someday.

Published 16 Jun 2018