In 2017, at the celebration of my grandparents’ 60th anniversary, my uncle Mark asked what it was that they wanted their children and grandchildren to learn from them; my grandpa answered:
“The most important thing, no matter who you are, is not to be prejudiced as you grow up. Mind your elders. Be friends with everybody. You want love and friendship and that’s the way I am. I hope my kids and their grandkids find someone and they treat them how I treated Monette.”
I typed those words into the notes app my phone, trusting auto-correct because my sight was blurred by tears similar to those I have while typing this now, and was glad that my uncle had asked that question even though it alluded to the day that my grandparents would no longer be here with us; for Richard Diaz, my grandpa, that day has come.
My grandfather was the strongest man I have ever met; he taught me the value of honesty, the weight of wisdom, and the fact that, though we are flawed as humans, we can aspire to be better. His faith was the foundation upon which he built his life alongside my grandmother; it is because of them that his four children, numerous grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, were all born to draw breath on this earth.
It is almost automatic to feel regret at the death of a loved one; it is so easy to fall into the pattern of wishing things had been different, but I don’t find myself feeling that way despite this incredible loss. In the years while his health began to fail him, I wanted to make sure that I gave my grandpa the time I felt he deserved, and those years are filled with good memories between the two of us: sitting in the morning and having coffee with him and grandma, watching baseball and football games on TV, driving out to Crete, NE to get my favorite kind of beef jerky; these are just a handful of the most recent times we shared.
My grandpa always referred to me as his “buddy”, and he will continue to be an inspiration to me. He was my biggest hero, and my heart would lift when I learned we were going to “grandpa and grandma D’s” for the weekend. There was one time when he picked me up in his big ol’ Cadillac from school (he drove Cadillacs for a number of years and had his own vanity plate, as seen above), and when my friends asked who that was, I replied with pride, “That’s my grandpa.” He worked hard all of his life, whether as a star athlete in high school or throughout his professional career; despite all of his redeeming qualities, he faced prejudice against his faith and Mexican heritage, but he absolutely refused to back down in the face of adversity.
There was always a smile on my grandpa’s his face, and I can still hear the echo of joy when he would greet my family during our visits. He had a couple of key phrases that will always remind us of him; “ oh bologna” and “for shame!” were two of his favorite exclamations when listening to the crazy things going on in the world via the radio in my grandparents’ living room. He was also known to whistle along to the songs on the radio, as well as just when sitting and thinking or walking around; music was a part of who he was and he would naturally find the music in the world.
My grandma once told me about a time when they were at the grocery store and he was whistling as he browsed the shelves; a woman came up and said, “You must be the happiest man alive, whistling like that.” He paused for a moment and replied, “You know what, I really am.”
I have no doubt that he was.
I know that some day I may lose these memories that seem so close to me. I don’t remember what my paternal grandmother’s voice sounded like except for her laugh, and my paternal grandfather’s voice fades a little more with each year, but their lives and memories live on in their living legacies; their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
There is a little less color in the world today, as though a thin blanket of gray has been laid over everything; I have grieved before, but I was a child and then teenager at those times. There is a difference between knowing someone is dying and knowing they are gone; at a certain point we can only wish for a release from the pain of this earth and the hope that our love has been felt while he was here.
I am going to miss my Grandpa D; he was a guiding light in my life, and his impact cannot be overstated. My family lived with my grandparents a couple of times in the interim between moving from state to state, and one of these times I found a note he had written where he expressed what he hoped for in the next life; I hope he’ll forgive me for reading such a private thought since I truly wish it is what awaits him.
Grandpa, I hope:
You “find heaven a glorious blend of solitude and community,”
that you’ll “have the time to read all those books you could never get to and finish those half-done projects,”
that you’ll “listen to music that touches your soul,”
and “have time to bask in the presence of God.”
I love you, Grandpa, and I always will.