"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Grandpa

This started out as light-hearted post filled with details about how I said farewell to 2016 and ushered in the first weeks of 2017. That's what my mind intended to write about, however, my heart had other ideas. 
Photo credit: Barry Christiansen
Both my mind and heart are still trying to sort through my emotions around the recent death of my grandpa, Charles Christiansen. He died on December 28 at age 92. I was fortunate to be able to spend several hours with him during the last four days of his life. As I sat next to grandpa as he slept in his recliner, and then the hospital bed that was brought into his living room, I reflected back on the memories of time spent in that house with him and my grandma. For all of my 46 years grandpa has been a constant in my life, always just a short drive away from wherever I've lived. When I was born my parents lived in a basement apartment just a block from my grandparent's house. For the last 19 years I've lived a quick five minute drive away from grandma and grandpa's house. 
Me and my brother Ryan on grandma and grandpa's laps.
Life without Grandpa Chris, the name he was affectionately called by all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is going to be different. His presence, along with his home, has always been a touchstone in my life. Both grandma and grandpa Chris represented comfort, acceptance and security in my life. Their home was my safe haven, a peaceful place I always knew was there for me to take shelter in when the storms of life overwhelmed me. 

On many of the Sundays during my childhood my family would visit grandma and grandpa. Their backyard, always beautiful and perfectly cared for by grandpa, was where we would often gather for family parties, birthday celebrations or just to eat a bowl of grandpa's homemade ice cream on hot summer nights. I remember rolling down the slightly sloped hill in the yard with my brother and cousins, racing each other to the bottom. During the years grandpa and his sons ran their river guide business, Mountain River Guides, we would spend hours in the backyard jumping on the big pontoon boats like a trampoline while all of the river trip supplies were being inventoried and loaded. There were countless Easter egg hunts held in that yard. I was even married to my first husband there. It was rare to visit grandpa without taking a stroll with him outside to see his garden and to pick a supply of whatever was growing at the time to take him and enjoy. 

Grandpa wasn't an overly affectionate man, yet I never once doubted his complete, unconditional love for me. He took his responsibility as a grandparent seriously, and always made sure his grandchildren were taken care of. After my parents divorced, grandpa was there to help in any way he could. One summer he drove all five of us kids from Utah to our mom's home in Colorado. He bravely made the nearly 600-mile journey with five rambunctious children and a camp trailer in tow, stopping along the way to visit my maternal grandma in Grand Junction, CO to spend the night. I vividly remember stopping at the Continental Divide on I-70 and grandpa taking a picture of all of us in front of the sign marking the location. Grandpa was always interesting to talk to, and even on that trip as a teenager I remember being entertained by his running commentary about the places and landmarks we passed through.

Grandpa had an inquisitive mind and was always curious about how things worked. Even two days before he died, with a mind foggy from pain and heavy medication, he was asking questions, curious to know what the SMS indicator on his iPhone meant. I didn't know and had to look it up! The next day I told him that it meant Single Message Service. He looked at me blankly and I knew my answer didn't satisfy him. So I explained that it was an abbreviation for a type of communication service. I compared it to Morse Code language, explaining SMS was just another type of communication language. That answer seemed to satisfy his mind. 

He loved action and things that flew. As a young man just out of the Navy after WWII, he obtained his private pilot license. He never lost his fascination for things that flew. 
Grandpa on his 90th birthday, playing with his remote control plane.
After grandpa died many of my friends left me messages of love and sympathy on Facebook. One friend said it best, commenting that grandparents are like soul food. That's a good description of what Grandpa Chris was for me. His presence in my life was soul-soothing. I loved knowing that he was always there with an easy smile and his joyful laugh that remained youthful until the very end of his life. Three days before he died he laughingly teased me about serving him a slightly burnt piece of toast with his favorite raspberry jam. 

On the night I said my final goodbye to grandpa I left his home filled with sadness, but also a deep sense of gratitude. I had the privilege of being able to help care for grandpa during his final hours. I was in some small way able to give back to him the kind of pure love and caring he had always shown me. My goodbye to him was said with no regrets. I knew that he knew I loved him and how much he meant to me. His love for me was just as certain, and is something I will always cherish and carry close to my heart for the rest of my life. 
Grandma and Grandpa on their front steps with great-grandkids.
Grandpa with great-grandchildren Kash and Gillian.
Grandpa reading the Christmas story to the family on Christmas Eve.
Grandpa on his 80th birthday with his great-grandchildren.
Gillian and her great grandpa.
Gillian trick-or-treating at great grandpa's.
Me with my grandparents.
Grandpa and Grandpa with great-grandson Atticus.
Grandma and Grandpa with my brother Jon.
Grandpa visiting the traveling WWII memorial.
Photo credit: Barry Christiansen
Treasured time with grandpa - June 2015
Military honors for grandpa from the local V.F.W. Post
Photo credit: Gillian Chapman 
Photo credit: Gillian Chapman
Charles William Christiansen
August 27, 1924 - December 28, 2016
Photo credit: Gillian Chapman