Left with fond memories

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By Laura Hagan

It’s been three months, to the day.

On July 16, my grandfather passed away. He’s the first grandparent I’ve lost, and that day and the ones that followed are the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to deal with.

I come from a large extended family. My mom’s the youngest of six, and my dad’s the oldest of seven. It was his father who died.

Family has always been important to me, but it’s become more important since my grandfather’s death. In the first few days following his death, we were all together. Whether it was at my grandmother’s house, going through pictures and sharing stories or just being together, it helped. There was a lot of hugging, a lot of crying and lots of stories.

I heard things about Grandpa I’d never heard before during those days, and I still hear some on occasion. Before he passed away I never knew he’d spent time in the Navy, or that he’d driven a school bus when he was a high school senior. The story goes that the farthest family on the school route had to drive the bus, so when he was a senior he had to pick all the kids up on his way to school and drop them all off on his way home, and keep the bus at his house.

We heard stories we already knew, too, like the one he told all of us – his kids and his grandkids – when we were little. About how he’d fought a groundhog for hours and hours one day, and when Grandpa kissed the groundhog’s tooth, the fight was over. He’d kissed the groundhog’s sweet tooth, he’d say, and it killed the groundhog, because Grandpa was so sweet.

Recently, my family spent some time together for really the first time since the funeral. It was out on land in Taylorsville that Grandpa had bought for each of his kids to have. Now, part is owned by one of my aunts and another by one of my uncles. Some of my family camped out there on Saturday night, and the rest of us went out there on Sunday. My uncle was making burgoo – one of Grandpa’s favorites, using some mutton Grandpa had ordered but never gotten to eat. When it came time to eat, my uncle, Chuck, got the first bowl.

“This is Dad’s,” he said.

Grandpa played the harmonica, more so when I was younger. In search of pictures to display during the visitation, we found pictures of me – I had to be younger than three or four in each of them – watching as he played the harmonica. The pictures are in my living room, right by the picture that ran with his obituary, a picture taken at his church in one of his favorite shirts. He’s smiling his crooked smile, one that my younger sister has inherited.

Not too long before Grandpa died, my dad and I went to visit him in the hospital. He was having trouble breathing and doctors had told him he would need heart surgery.

He had been in an out of the hospital several times in the past year. He was tired. He was tired of not being at home, not feeling better. He told me during one of my last visits to see him in the hospital that he wanted to stay out of that place until he was at least 81. When my dad saw him after the open-heart surgery that we thought would make him better, Grandpa told him to tell me he’d make it to 81.

I don’t think I will ever forget that night, or the days that followed. It’s been hard for me to deal with at times, there’s still a song I’ve heard at church a few times since that I don’t want to sing, because it was played at his funeral.

I know he’s in a better place. I know he’s happy, and he’s not in pain anymore. He’s watching over us.

But it is still hard. And I don’t know when it won’t be. It’s hard to go to their house and see the brown recliner where he always sat.

It will be hard to go through our big family Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and not have him there to say grace.

It will be hard to sing “Twelve Days of Christmas,” our new family tradition at our Christmas party. He and my cousin Aaron were “10 Lords A’ Leaping.”

I wasn’t sure if I could write about him and what happened, and I’ve had a column opportunity since. But I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t easy to write this, but I felt like I needed to.

I miss my Grandpa. I think about him every day. It’s still hard to think that he’s gone, and I don’t think visiting the cemetery will ever get easier, at least that’s how it feels now. I have good memories of him – he always liked to hear from us, what we were doing, how things were going. The last time I saw him, in fact, he asked about how my job at the paper was going and read some of the most recent issue I’d brought for him.

This weekend is what would have been his and my grandma’s 50th anniversary. They’d rented the clubhouse where they live and planned to have everyone get together.

We’re still going over there on Sunday to be together. We’ll toast to their 50 years and know that even though it won’t be the same, he’s still there with us and he always will be.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer. E-mail us about this column at: