My grandfather died peacefully Tuesday morning in his sleep – he was 85 years old. His health has been very poor since a stroke he suffered from last May. I feel incredibly grateful to have had seven more months to be with him, always being fully aware that this visit might be the last. On Christmas his kidneys began to fail and he fought still to hang on for several more days. He may be the strongest man I have ever known.

I saw him Sunday night and had the most wonderful moment with him. He was on morphine and sleeping, but he woke up when my grandmother said “Renee is here”. His eyes opened and he smiled at me in recognition. I held his hands and said hello. He managed to raise one of his hands to set on top of mine, so he was holding my hands in return. We smiled, said we loved each other, and I kissed him on the cheek and said goodbye. I think we both knew that was our final goodbye, so we just looked into each others eyes and smiled one last time.

I will always remember my grandfather as one of the people who shaped the gardener in me. His garden from last year is pictured above, always tidy and always prolific. He was traditional and very quiet, but he used to say you can’t learn anything if you never listen. Gardening was always something we could talk about together. He delighted in my getting chickens, learning to compost, and my interest in heirloom vegetables. Despite his conservative views, he became more open-minded over time. The sight of me, a woman, using power tools became less unusual to him. My career and independence was something he was also very proud of.

He and my grandmother lost their daughter Terry when she was only 18 years old. Despite losing a child, they continued on together in a 60+ year old marriage. When my grandmother became his caregiver, it was another testament to their commitment to each other. They were in this together, just like everything else.

I’ll miss him terribly, but I know he’s in a better place. He is no longer in pain and no longer needs to keep fighting. He is now finally reunited with Terry in a place I can’t yet follow. And I am so very thankful for having had him in my life.

The picture in this post is the way I will always picture him – a strong man, but not too proud to roll in the grass with his grandchildren and their new bunny. That’s me in the diaper :)

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Written by Renee Wilkinson