A man o' words, but no o' deeds, is like a garden full o' weeds. - Scottish Proverb (my grandfather's favorite)
Alzheimer’s took my grandfather from me years ago. It was tough. Man, it was so very tough. While I often try to “do” something about Alzheimer’s (donations or volunteering), I rarely speak of it.
My grandfather was the one who taught me about being a gentleman - that a real man holds the door open for a lady - that a real man takes responsibility for his actions and his family - that honor is not just a word. – and that, sometimes, a real man must fight for what he believes in. He was probably a lot like your grandfathers. He taught me how to fish and took me for rides in his boat or tractor (he lived on the Rock river in northern Illinois). He was a farmer. He taught me about the simple pleasures in life.
When I was eleven, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was one of the hardest things to endure - to see him deteriorate over the years. He was my greatest hero.
By the time I was fourteen, our family was debating moving him to a geriatric center. He rarely knew who I was anymore. He once threw a tape recorder through a glass window of his house, pulled me to the ground and yelled, “grenade!”. He thought he was saving my life. When I asked one of his friends about it, he said that my grandfather had done such a thing in WWII. Memories of the past were beginning to bleed through into his perception of the present.
But it was through this awful disease that I saw the real man behind my idol worship.
On one Sunday afternoon, he pulled me out of the living room where everyone else in the family was sitting after dinner. He looked me in the eye and called me by my father’s name.
“Bill, now you know I don’t have much to give you on your way to college, but I want to give you everything that I can. Here.” He took his watch off of his wrist and handed it to me. “Take this. Sell it when you get to Boston or wait until you need it in an emergency. It’s not worth much but it might help.”
I thought, Oh my god, he thinks that I’m dad and going to Boston U. He thinks this is 1963.
His voice grew more forceful. “Take it, son.” I took the watch. “You’re the first one to go to college. I am so very, very proud of you. Your mother and I…Your mother and I just wish we could give you more.” He gave me a hug and there were tears in his eyes.
At that point, I lost it and tears streamed down my cheeks.
After we went home, I told my dad about it. He was stunned and told me it all had happened exactly that way.
And while Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, it gave me a chance to see my grandfather in a different light - and made him even more of a hero in my eyes than ever before.
Happy Birthday, Grandpa. I miss you.