Grandfather Bench

Grandfather- Today I received some heavy and unfortunate news. My 94 year old Grandfather is not doing well and isn’t very responsive. It is very possible that his journey is coming to its’ end. I try not to be sad as he has lived a long and wonderful life, but I am still filled with profound sadness as any one would be with the prospect of losing a cherished family member. I left work as I wanted to make sure I got one last chance to see him. I’m at home now and I don’t know if we’ve shared our last moments together. However, I don’t want this post to be depressing, rather I would like it to be a glimpse into a man who has had a profound influence on my life.

My Grandfather is a French-Canadian man who grew up on the farm in Saskatchewan. He moved to Alberta shortly after he was married and ultimately settled in Edmonton, Alberta and to a career on the railroad. His life was his family and he dedicated himself to his children, their spouses, and their children.

The biggest attribute I have learned from my grandfather (whom I call ‘Pepe’) is the ability to try and find humour in any situation. His good natured manner has amazed me over the years, even today. While watching him lie unresponsive at his bedside, my Mother, Aunt, and Uncle were holding his hands and telling him we were all here. At one point my Mother said, “Dad, we’re here to keep you out of trouble.” My Grandfather grinned. I probably should have been more surprised, but that simple act was so true to his character that it was almost expected.

Another example of his humour in the face of rough seas came a few years ago. All of his children were out of the city either vacationing or living in other parts of the country. I was tasked with checking in on him daily and on one of the days he ended up in the hospital due to what turned out to be a hernia (which at 90 can be fairly serious). Much to his dismay, he had to spend the night in the hospital. I arrived early the next morning as I knew he would want to go home as soon as possible. When I arrived, the nurse told me he was cleared to go home. I entered his room and told him we could go and he shot up (as much as an 90 year old man can) and demanded I hand him his pants. He was ready to go. As I was pushing him out on a wheelchair we passed the nurse’s station. As we passed he turned to the nurses and said in a facetious tone “Goodbye, I hope to never see you again!” The nurses were a little stunned at first, but then began to smile.

The picture above of a statue of a grandfather and grandchild on a bench is very meaningful. My Grandfather donated a bench to the City of Edmonton after my Grandmother’s passing. The bench was situated on a man-made lake my Grandparents would walk around near their condo. He had the bench dedicated to his wife’s memory and would walk to it everyday (weather permitting) to feed the ducks. The years went by and walking un-aided gave way to walking with a stroller. Living on his own in the condo he had shared with my grandmother gave way to moving to a nearby assisted living facility. However, he never strayed from his daily ritual. The stroller evolved as well and my father made many modifications to support Pepe’s daily walk. Pepe liked to keep the bench and surrounding pad clean and the stroller was modified to accommodate brooms, dust pans, and other tools needed for his cleaning operations. The bench was not let un-modified either; my father installed a tube on the back to support Pepe’s umbrella. The impact Pepe’s daily walks had on our family were obvious- my sister was married at the bench and I proposed to my wife there.

About the same time I was diagnosed with MS one of my aunts was entering a battle with cancer. As a show of solidarity, my family wanted to symbolically walk to Calgary (where aunt lives) and back from Edmonton (about 600kms). Aunts, uncles, cousins, and Pepe would walk (or run) every evening and keep track of our kilometres and send them to my Mother. When the weather wouldn’t allow, Pepe would walk in his apartment (saying his Rosary) and keep track of his steps. We easily covered the distance in about a month.

This is the same time I started training for my first half marathon. I have no doubt that the combined strength of my family, guided by Pepe, was a huge factor in not only completing the half marathon, but in my continued success in fighting MS. I’m also happy to report my aunt is doing well.

It was only two weeks ago that I met my Mother, Uncle, and Pepe with my daughter at the grave sites of my Grandmother and other relatives. Every spring Pepe acts as the foreman for the spring cleanup of the graves. He likes them to be a certain way and he was never afraid to share his opinion if he thought we were doing a poor job. He also spent time trying to tease my daughter; good natured teasing was part of his personality. That was the last time I saw him before today.

When I look at my battle with multiple sclerosis, I realize I owe much of my progress to my grandfather. It was from him I learned to face tough situations with humour and grace. He had his share of rough times in his life (i.e. money was in short supply), but I know from talking to people he knew him that he persevered to provide for his family (he sometimes held as many as two part-time jobs on top of his full time position). His example is one I use to try and mould myself into a better person. Perseverance, humour, and grace- I hope I have learned these lessons from Pepe well.

If today was my last with my Pepe, I hope his journey into the unknown is peaceful and serene. I feel very fortunate for the time I’ve had with him as I know that time has made me a better person. I also feel extremely fortunate that my wife and daughter got to know him as well. They didn’t get as much time with him as I would have liked, but I am extremely thankful for the time they had. Even though Pepe and I may never speak again, I know I haven’t stopped learning from him.

6 thoughts on “Grandfather”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you Sean! I’ve thought of so many of these same moments today…and what an amazing man Grandpere is! THANKS!

  2. Avatar

    You are an extremely special man Sean and you have captured so much of Grandpere within your words. There was a depth to his caring and spirituality from which we will always continue to learn.

  3. Avatar

    I really enjoyed reading about your grandpa and his impact on your life. Hope you have this story saved with your family history information.
    I love this: “At one point my Mother said, “Dad, we’re here to keep you out of trouble.” My Grandfather grinned. I probably should have been more surprised, but that simple act was so true to his character that it was almost expected.”
    Also really touched by the bench story and how you and your sister both used the bench location to mark important times in your lives.
    This would be an awesome short story in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul” books!

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