This is a total deviation from my normal blog posts, but I think you will understand why.
We went to visit my grandfather last night after he was released from the hospital following his heart attack. My grandfather was at a funeral when he had the beginnings of his heart attack. He is part of a rifle team that performs at local military funerals and does a monthly stint at Ft Indiantown Gap. They are constantly busy, and this is what got him through the dark times after my grandmother’s death.
We talked about a lot of things last night, including the picture on his mantle. I noticed it as soon as I walked in the door. The photo was striking. On the right side of the mantle was a photo of a beautiful woman with long silver hair and bold, dark eyebrows. The background was a bright orange-yellow, which made it stick out even more in the rather subdued living room. On the left side of the mantle was a a photo of my grandmother who died 2 1/2 years ago. This photo was to be expected; the first one was interesting.
After discussing his health, his outlook, the prospects of him rejoining his rifle team, and some housekeeping stuff, he brought up the woman in the picture. My mother had told me parts of the story, but I hadn’t realized who the woman was until he said something. Mom either left out some of the details or didn’t know them. Hearing Grandpa tell them made my heart break.
Grandma and Grandpa dated in high school. They had a fight and broke up. Grandpa started seeing Katherine and then was drafted and shipped off to fight in WWII. (His WWII story is one that will amaze anyone. We are trying to get him to write a book or at least speak in front of a camera, but he’s reluctant.) For four months Katherine wrote to him every day. In one letter, she told him that she’d like to get married when he returned. He wrote back to her and told her he couldn’t marry her. He was still in love with my grandmother. He told her he wanted to remain friends, and that she should never speak of marriage again. Katherine continued to write, but with less frequency. She wrote three times per week, then twice per week, then once per week, and then the letters stopped.
Grandpa returned from the war and married Grandma. They had my mom. Life went on.
Grandma had a stroke in the spring of 2010 and passed away shortly after that. (Another story for another day.) Grandpa was left to deal with his grief, and to try to find a way to get through life without her. He found this honor guard, and wanted to join. Due to arthritis he cannot fire the rifle. The men in the group wanted him to join them, though, so they decided he could stand in a salute while the fired. He learned to play Taps on the bugle, and that became his duty. He kept himself busy with the guys.
A little more than a year ago they performed at a local funeral. He never looked at the family members because he was afraid he’d cry. Two weeks after this particular funeral, though, he received a phone call from a woman. She asked if he had performed at so-and-so’s funeral at (unnamed location). He said that he had. She told him who she was. No kidding – she was Katherine, the woman he dated while on a break from my grandma. It was her husband’s funeral two weeks earlier. She saw my grandfather and turned to her sister to say, “Do you know who that is?” The sister said no. Katherine told her it was Charley. She said she didn’t know how she knew, but that she knew it was him.
They started talking on the phone. One day she said she might like to stop over to visit with some Christmas cookies, and asked if they could have coffee. Not wanting to “date”, he said that she could drop by but he couldn’t extend an invitation for coffee because his coffee maker was broken. On Christmas Day his doorbell rang. It was Katherine with a plate of cookies. They chatted for a while at the door, and then she mentioned that it was quite chilly outside and that she’d like to come in. He brought her inside, and noticed she brought with her a large box. It was a coffee maker. Now . . . he couldn’t take her into the kitchen to set it up because had a perfectly fine coffee maker there already. So he sat down and they chatted. They forgot about the coffee.
They continued to talk on the phone and see each other for several months. Over the summer she said that she had to return to Florida (where she had been living) to sell her house. At some point during these past few months, Grandpa mentioned that he liked this particular picture of her. (She was a “senior” model, doing some work in NYC here and there, and I am assuming this was one of her headshots.) Just before she left she gave it to him. She said it was something for him to look upon to remember her. At that time, the statement seemed unnecessary.
She flew to Florida. Her sister and brother-in-law lived there as well. She worked on selling her house.
One day Grandpa’s phone rang. It was Katherine’s brother-in-law. He told Grandpa that he had bad news. Katherine and her sister were in a car accident on their way to the gym (at 89 and 91 years old!). Some young guy stole a car and drove through an intersection, hit a box truck which spun around and T-boned Katherine’s sister’s convertible. Katherine was in critical condition.
The brother-in-law told Grandpa that she was in and out of consciousness, but was asking for him. He asked if Grandpa could come to Florida. He said he could, but that it would take him some time to make travel arrangements. The brother-in-law said there wasn’t time. He asked if Grandpa could be ready in 2 hours. He said he could be.
The brother-in-law owns some sort of company that manufactures munitions. Apparently he’s loaded. He sent his private Leer jet to HIA to pick up Grandpa. Upon landing in Florida, Grandpa was then picked up by the gentleman’s personal helicopter and taken to the hospital’s helipad where the brother-in-law was waiting.
By this time Katherine had slipped into a coma. The nurse told Grandpa to talk to her just like he did on the phone. He began to talk. He said that the longer he talked, the activity on the monitor increased. After a while she woke up.
They talked a bit. They reminisced. She knew her time was nearing, and she told him what she wanted done. She asked to be buried beside him. He was hesitant. He planned to be buried beside my grandmother. She pleaded with him, saying she didn’t want to be buried beside her deceased husband because they were not in love. He said, “What will I do with her on one side and you on the other?” She said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of things when I get there.”
They talked a little more. He was sad that they had just been reunited only to have her be taken from his life. She told him not to worry, that everything was fine. She was happy he was there and was ready to go in peace. She closed her eyes and passed.
He told us last night that his mother always said that whenever someone asks for something on their death bed you must give it to them.
I’m tearing up just writing this. I can’t even go back and edit this, so if there are grammar mistakes, I’ll live with it.