My grandfather was a stern and stoic man. He was so Scandinavian that it was nearly a comical caricature of what the old school Scandinavian stereotype is. He was not unkind. In fact, he might have been the most generous person I knew. But he was reserved with his judgments just as much as he was with is affection.
It wasn’t until my grandmother died that I was hugged for the first time. Well, it was the first hug I can remember. It felt strange. This was a man I had known all my life and his affection was not physical… ever.
But even in the absence of physical affection, there was not much doubt that he loved me and all of his grandchildren. With such a large family, he tried so very hard to be at as many of our big milestones as he could, no matter the miles of travel it meant.
He was a world traveler, who laughed through his teeth, making a sound that I always imagined was how snakes would sound if they laughed. He was once bitten by a Grizzly Bear and lived. Which is not something that happens often. He was a man who had worked hard all his life and his face and hands were visual reminders of that hard labor.
He was never sick.
He was never too tired.
He was never one to stop or slow down.
He continued to speed in his giant pick up truck regardless of what we said. And in a strange way, I honestly believed he would live forever. And while that might not be possible for anyone, if anyone was going to do it, it was going to be my grandpa.
He was healthy as an ox. Strong as ever. And one day, he just collapsed. He suffered a massive stroke and was paralyzed. In the days that followed, we all waited to hear the news of how he was doing, half a world away and unable to help. The helplessness was the worst part. Knowing I couldn’t be there, I couldn’t get there in time.
They were concerned he had a bleed. That’s why they couldn’t put him on blood thinners to prevent any more clots. And two days after he collapsed, it is believe that he threw another clot.
My grandpa died. The last strong hold in my belief that people could live forever. The last stoic man in a Scandinavian family made up almost entirely of women now.
It is stupid at thirty years old to believe that anyone can live forever. Having lost so many people in my life, if nothing else, the lesson that life ends was there to be learned. But he was different. He was stubborn and firm and yet secretly tender. He may not have hugged me often, but I never doubted his love.
His quiet demeanor, his upbringing, never allowed him to be flashing with his affections. In fact, he was often visible uncomfortable with all his grandchildren’s outward appearance of love. But he loved us. There was no doubt about that. And sometimes I saw in his eyes the desire to shed the way he was raised to be with his grandkids.
He was a man who could convey his hard headedness just as readily as his love for his family. With a single look, we all knew where he stood. He never raised his voice to us. He never scolded us in a cruel or mean or angry tone. Everything was done with a quiet disposition that only children can truly understand.
And it was his healthy heart, stubbornness, and quiet demeanor that were going to keep him alive forever.
But even stone can break.
And my grandfather, the last of the great generation that came before, succumbed to a second stroke. And maybe it was for the best. Maybe months of rehab and not being able to speak would have been too hard. Maybe it is what should have happened.
But half a world away, his family waited to hear the news knowing that there was nothing we could do for him. And I lost the last man in my life who I though would never leave this earth.