Letter to my Grandfather at his Funeral

In honor of a man who delivered letters all his life, I thought I’d return the favor and deliver one to him.

Dear Grandpa,
How long ago was it: a child and a lonely mother received, then embraced, by your boundless heart—that first place I called home?

Twenty years: time in conception to my present. All that I remember seems founded on you. I think back to those first memories reclaimed in pictures: red wheelbarrow in a grinning spiral, plastic bowling pins chased up and down a stairwell, park swings advancing then retreating, and, laced within it all like a tapestry of rope, your tanned leather hands guiding forward my own.

If you were a sculptor, you’d have taught the clay to form itself. You had a gift of listening to the soul. I imagine you saw the heart as a quaint, sideroad shop full of antique clocks. In that garage-sale of life, you’d rummage until you found what bell was meant to sing. What each of us loved—and what we were becoming—was never lost to you, was never lost.

It’s ironic, really—attempting to write, to speak in the span of five minutes, that timeless image of you I’ve always known. In this moment, somehow it feels less human knowing when my time must end when that luxury was never afforded to you—to any of us. If only I could fit eternity in the breadth of page, memory and imagination might have made up for lost time, but I will try.

First, a thank you—for everything: mentioned or unmentioned, remembered or forgotten. Thank you for the endless number of hockey games you attended in support of my brothers and myself. How much rubber was spent on the road for us? What nameless miles now bear your name?

I will never forget seeing your face at my performance of Macbeth. Suddenly, those words have become real for me:

“Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player/
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/
And then is heard no more.”

I didn’t know what those words meant then. I knew only a scarce feeling of what was fleeting, but here, at the curtain call of your life, I am overcome. It is strange now: the stage all reversed. We’re equal now is some cosmic sense—we both watched each other die.

Time moves forward. How long ago was it: a kid just out of high school returning to that first home? Almost two years now.

I will always be thankful for the time I got to spend with you, especially while I lived with you. I cherish those small moments. Those mornings where I couldn’t pull myself out of bed, it was you down the hallway: “Hey Tyler, you awake?” Me, though definitely not awake: “Yes.” And always your answer: “Yeah right!”

It was knife-throwing, Spikeball practice, and Sunday morning breakfast. It was all the moments you sat and listened to my poetry when all you probably wanted to do was watch bull riding or, I don’t know, go to bed. It was when you showed me your favorite poetry: Charge of the Light Brigade or Gunga Din.

“Cannon to right of them/
Cannon to left of them…

“So, I’ll meet him later on/
At the place where ‘e has gone…
You’re a better man then I am.”
You’re a better man.

At the hospital on a thin piece of paper, they gave us the image of your final heartbeat: crest and trough—then silence. It is easy to read it this way. Left to right. Life into death. What I recognize, however, looking into the eyes of all those who love you, is that your heartbeat is not lost. It lives on in our collective memory and through your progeny. We read your heartbeat out of silence: flourish of life, beauty in the darkness, generations to come.

I will miss you.

Love you,

Tyler

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