Grandpa sat up and tried to put on his best smile as we came in. He never liked letting anyone know he was in pain, which is partially why the cancer went undetected for so long. He told me a story about when my mom was a little girl and brought home a kitten. The kitten disappeared and my mom cried and cried. Grandpa seemed sad as he told me that part, as if he still, after all these years, wished he could go back and spare my mom those tears. His expression changed slightly and he said, “Well enough of all this old stuff. I want to hear you play.” I expected him to close his eyes and embrace sleep as I had done countless times as a kid while my dad sat against the wall in the shadows of the room I shared with my brother, playing his guitar until we were asleep. Instead, Grandpa folded his hands over a pillow on his lap and listened.
In that moment music made perfect sense, saying all the things that I could not. As I packed up to go, Grandpa spoke briefly with my mom. As I passed by, I told him I loved him and hoped he felt better. He looked up with his crystal blue eyes and characteristic grin, now stained with pain and said, “I love you too.”
In the weeks following, the family met at Grandma and Grandpa’s house often. We had family firesides where Grandpa bore testimony and blessed his grandchildren. I spent many sad drives back to Provo with bleary eyes, struggling to understand why, of all things, he had to have such a painful, incurable form of cancer. Why such a good, innocent man had to experience such a restless end. As the merciless clock on the wall ticked on, speaking and eating became increasingly taxing affairs for Grandpa and family members took turns watching over him through the night.
In what were his final hours, we talked about serving missions, football and camping. He told some stories none of us had heard before about growing up down south and, with his final breaths before he fell asleep, he praised his angel of a wife. That night, the only intelligible words he uttered from unconsciousness were brief passages of a prayer to his Father in Heaven. Even with his final breaths, he showed his gratitude and allegiance to his Savior. Grandpa knew that even though it might not be the Lord's will to heal him, it was His will to save him and have him Home.
After Grandpa’s funeral, Grandma gave me his golden watch. No longer wound, the hands had stopped moving and stood where Grandpa had left them. Feeling an unworthy character to wear this great man’s symbol, I keep his watch in a special place in my room. Coincidentally, when I put it there, I placed it next to something else—my missionary tag with Christ’s name in large letters. I couldn’t help but think about the similarity of the two items, both meant to be worn in memory of a life lived so much greater than my own. I’m grateful for those examples in my life. I love you, Grandpa. I miss you.
Photo by my mom near our home in Sandy, Utah, 2009