Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Saying Good Bye and Moving Forward: Lessons from My Grandfather

Early Thursday morning, my grandfather passed away at 74 years old. It was not a shock; he had been battling cirrhosis for months. Nothing, however, could soften the blow of seeing the casket shut for the final time, knowing that we would never see his face again. Of course, even in times of tragedy, we learn, and we grow. I know my grandfather would not want me to mope and mourn. Even on his death bed, he never shed a tear for his own mortality. He was a man who believed in loving life and humanity and was satisfied to pass on knowing that he was loved.

My grandfather was a good man. Though he was a skilled furniture maker in Greece, he moved to America with very little money and no knowledge of English to take advantage of the Land of Opportunity and became a union worker, doing construction jobs. He worked in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, for six months, living in a small apartment with several other men, until my grandmother and my father came over to join him unexpectedly. He took things in stride, found a place, and moved them to Brooklyn, where he slowly built his living and watched his family grow. My grandfather truly loved America and the things for which it stands. He told me that he would never have moved back to Greece. 

Though he worked hard, my grandfather never cared about money. He believed that if he worked with integrity, more would eventually come his way. He loved his craft, and he could be found whittling sculptures out of wood or carving masterful clocks and chests in the garage for many years until age took away his dexterity. At his funeral, I learned that some of his woodwork had been featured for several months in the Whitney Museum. He was contacted by artists and buyers who wanted him to do more work, but he refused. He never wanted fame, recognition, or money. He was an artist in the truest sense of the word. It was about loving his art and valuing his work. It was about making others happy.

Though he had very little education, leaving school in the middle of what we would call elementary school, my grandfather was a wise man. For one, he pushed my father and aunt to pursue higher education, though he had done fine without very much formal education. More importantly, though, he knew how to enjoy life. He held no grudges, was generous perhaps to a fault, and held animosity for no one. Every one remembers him dancing and smiling, always the life of the party. And he was a great story teller. He knew that the secret to happiness was not in possessions, but in connections, not in receiving, but in giving.

Sadly, I cannot bring back my grandfather, but in keeping his memory and his lessons alive, I believe that I can honor his life and do better in my own. If I can remember each day to appreciate life, to smile a bit more, to be good to my neighbor, and to write and teach well simply because those are my passions, I know that he will be looking down and smiling. If we all lived a little bit more like my grandfather, the world would be a better place.


dpaci said...

Thank you for this testimony, you were lucky to have him and I understand how you feel. It will always be a fond memory to cherish and live by. Nothing really sad about it after a while...

Lee Skallerup Bessette, PhD said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my granddad two years ago and it still feels very fresh. There is so much that he taught me, too.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.