In 1968, my Grandfather was told his Lupus was terminal. He was given 6-months to live. Rather than dying as the doctor had recommended, he told the good doctor to f*** himself and proceeded to outlive him by many years. He loved to tell that story, on occasion in extra-expletive detail.
Though he smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish for a good 80% of his life, he still managed to outlive all of his friends by decades. Even after several heart attacks and a quintuple bypass heart surgery, and numerous other near-tragic incidents, he kept defying the odds. But the odds caught up with him last week. He was 89.
I tried to be there with him when he passed. I was boarding the plane to take me to him when I got the news from my Mom that we didn’t need to rush anymore. He died just about in the manner he had always wished for. He was not connected to any “infernal machines”, he was surrounded by a handful of loved ones, and he was ready. He declined pain medication because he wanted to be of clear mind, this was not a time for inebriation.
My brother and a new extended member of our family had graciously cared for him for most of the last year so he could stay at home, the same home he’d lived in since 1978. His house has served as my legal home address for many years as I have been galavanting around the world “being silly” as my Grampa put it. He has been a central figure in my life since it began, and the only consistent thing in my world of change. He was a wise and grounded council with a wry wit, keen eye, wicked humor, and caring heart. I will miss him dearly, as will many.
I learned a lot about life from my Grandfather, more than just how to catch a fish and other traditional Grandpa stuff. I watched how he gave even when he knew better, I heard him stew over issues he cared about, I saw how he solved problems big and small, I felt how he handled his energy and his tremendous will.
My core philosophy of “Bet on the best, while preparing for the worst” is rooted in his wisdom. My sense of responsibility to family, and the importance of family, this came largely from him. Even my middle name came from him. People think my middle name of “Lennon” is after John, but no. It’s after Harold Lennon Thompson, my Grampa.
He told me several times in the last year that he’d lived a good, long life, enjoyed a beautiful family, and that he had no regrets. I don’t know if the last part is really true, but it’s the kind of thing he would probably say to make others feel better about his fading health.
I helped pull all the details together for the funeral and burial, but I didn’t speak at either. I sang Amazing Grace while my brother, who had cared for Grampa in his last days, played guitar. Afterwords, many stories and laughs were shared. Some tears, but not many.
May we all live so well, may we all be so lucky.