When I think of success, my grandfather was always one of the people who came to mind. He was a Marine veteran who used to box as a younger man. He was my first direct relative to graduate from college and he would go in to have a long and successful career in the corporate world. I always looked to him as the patriarch of the family. I always respected him.
He passed away today.
The last time I saw my grandfather was on Christmas Eve. We all met at my sister’s house. My mom and stepdad had given him a ride but asked me to take him home. The weather that night in Columbus was nasty. While we were at dinner, several inches of snow had fallen and the snowplows hadn’t had much time to get to the roads.
We needed to go all the way across Columbus from the southeast side in Canal Winchester to the northwest side in Dublin. Before we left, my mom had told me to make sure I walked him up the stairs to his condo when we got there. And before we left, my aunt had also told me to make sure to walk him up the stairs to his condo when we brought him home.
He had fought cancer for nearly three years, at times had been more forgetful, and there were some concerns about his balance. But none of us knew at the time that this was the eve of a major turning point in his health.
Even at the time, the whole situation was somewhat surreal to me. It was the first and only time I ever gave my grandpa a ride anywhere. In some ways, it felt like an honor. And while we were driving through the falling snow, I couldn’t help but think “I am totally responsible for this man right now. If I were to spin out or have any car issues, he’s my responsibility.” Several cars had gone off the road. The driving was slow. The snow, still falling. A ride that would have normally taken around 40 minutes took almost twice that amount of time.
When we got to the last couple miles of the drive, I asked if he could direct me the rest of the way (I’ve always had a terrible sense of direction). He had said a couple of things on the ride which were a little bit forgetful but when I asked him for directions, he was razor sharp. “You’ll go down about 300 yards to a stop sign and take a right.” And then “after about a mile, you’ll come to a light where you’ll need to take a left.” It struck me at the time how absolutely precise he was.
When we got to his condo, my my car was covered in snow. I pulled up next to his steps and got out of the car to clear it off. I was under orders to walk him up the steps. But seeing this man who I had always looked up to and who I had always viewed as a picture of strength, I decided to let him go up the stairs by himself.
If he had needed me, I was right there to help him. But as I cleared the snow off my car on Christmas Eve, I saw him walk himself up those snow covered steps and into his home by himself. For a man who had been a winner his whole life, I got to see him get another small victory in that moment.
That was the last time I ever saw him.