His example made it easier for us to serve him when the time came and he needed it.
A few weeks ago, I sat with my grandfather, Rex Roy Lloyd, in his assisted-living facility room, while the California sun streamed through the window and the birds, perched outside, chirped a song. My grandmother, as she’d done for the last 64 years, sat next to Grandpa holding his hand.
It was one week before he died.
Grandpa was not himself, weak and frail. Black bruises snaked across his skin and significant weight loss plus confinement to a wheelchair made him smaller than I’d ever seen him. He had on his own clean clothes (my favorite was his “Freedom ain’t free” shirt), which my grandmother washed and brought back and forth to the facility each day. Perched on his head was a black hat with the words Korean and Vietnam Veteran scrolled in red and gold. He might have looked smaller than I’d ever seen him but his clothing made a grand statement about Rex Roy Lloyd: he was a person who loved and was willing to die for America.
For whatever physical discomfort Grandpa was in, his sharp wit and good humor was perfectly intact. My grandfather was a retired Master Gunnery Sergeant, the highest rank one can climb as an enlisted Marine, and my father is a retired Colonel in the same branch of service. Both fought in wars and have a tremendous respect for each other.
While we made small talk, my father asked Grandpa, “Hey, dad, do you need anything?” and my grandfather quipped, “Hmmmm, I’ve always wanted a Colonel to call me dad.”
Those are the kinds of funny things Grandpa said. He could make fun of someone right to his face but still make him feel they were the only person in the room. He had a million one-liners that rolled off the tip of his tongue, making everyone laugh.
My grandfather could fix anything. He could rebuild a car—including the engine—and make it look brand new. When I was a child he would visit our home and before he left it, he made at least 10 small improvements. Shortly after my mother married my dad, she learned he wasn’t handy like her father. She tearfully called Grandpa up one day when their car wouldn’t start, upset about the pricey realization. Grandpa said to her, “Kathy, I can’t fly a jet plane, but Dennis can; be happy with what you got.” My mom said she never complained again about the difference between the two. (Grandpa still fixed her car, though.)
The point is, Grandpa always said and did small things, things that didn’t seem that big, but really helped out others. He did them without fuss and fanfare but he did them nonetheless. His example made it easier for us to serve him when the time came and he needed it.
A few years ago, I attended the funeral of my cousin, Matthew, who died unexpectedly. My mom bought a grey suit with a purple tie—my grandmother’s favorite color—for my grandfather to wear. When it was time to get ready, Grandpa couldn’t get his tie on because his eyesight was failing, so he had to ask for help. Grandpa was a devoted grandfather to Matthew and he wanted to honor the life of this grandson he loved so much. If he needed help with his tie from my father, Grandpa was going to ask. He had his priorities, after all.
In the few days I spent with him at the hospital, every time my mother entered his room, he asked her for some water. His medicine made his mouth dry, so he was always thirsty. My mom would dart out of the room like she was running a race to fulfill his request. He was disappointed one night when he didn’t get dessert, so my mother marched to the kitchen and came back with everything they offered. Grandpa didn’t look up as he gobbled down those sweets.
“They’re good, Kathy,” he murmured as he ate. “Thank you.”
This is what I learned from my grandfather: it’s not the big moments in life that matter most, though those are important; it’s the small things we do that count. It’s fixing something around the house without being asked. It’s offering a kind word when needed. It’s helping someone with their tie when they can’t see. It’s filling their cup of water because their mouth is so dry. It’s holding someone’s hand while they die.
My grandfather lived an entire life of doing small things with great love. I hope my legacy is half as great.
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