Memorial Day: A Life Captured in Pictures

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I didn’t go to Grandpa’s funeral. We had a falling out eight years before he had passed away, and it was something that neither of us could get over. Would you believe it was over something as petty as a car? Yes, it was a car that did our relationship in, and it managed to erase over twenty years of history, but the memories are still there. Grandpa wasn’t my biological grandfather. He stepped in from day 1, and never corrected someone when they said, “Is this your granddaughter?” He accepted his role proudly, and was amazing.

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Grandpa, my parents, and me

I will never forget his war stories. He was a hero. He lied about his age in order to join the Navy for WWII, making 27 trips across the Atlantic and Pacific. He served on the U.S.S. Satterlee and the U.S.S. Lee Fox, where he stood ready during the landing of Normandy on D-Day, the invasion of Japan, and when Japan surrendered. He never spoke much about his experiences, but when he drank a little more than usual, the stories would come out. He saw a lot of tragedy, death, and loss. He would often end up in tears, which was always disconcerting; Grandpa was a big, strong man. What I remember most though, is his sense of humor, his passion for cooking, and his big heart when it came to family and animals (other than cats; he HATED cats). There are moments I regret not going to his funeral.

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 I went to visit Gabe’s grave site yesterday (for more backstory on Gabe, click HERE). I brought flowers, but had nothing to contain the flowers. I decided to dig a hole, but had nothing to dig with. I wished in that moment to have a stick to assist me in the digging, and with a gust of wind, a fat gnarly stick rolled right to Gabe’s grave, stopping at his head stone. I closed my eyes and said a prayer for him, and dug into the muddy earth, tucking the flower stems deep within. His short life completely changed so many lives. Who would guess that someone so tiny could do that?

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My friend, pregnant with Gabe

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I also visited Jill’s grave yesterday. It was the hardest journey for me. I had the best of intentions, but once I got to the cemetery, I couldn’t find her. After wandering around aimlessly for a long time (and knowing deep down Jill was laughing at me; I’d usually call her to help me get around and find my way) an old man in a pick up truck stopped and asked me, “Do you need help?” Maybe it was coincidence, but I’d like to think that Jill had a hand in that. I was about to throw in the towel when the man took pity on me, and pointed me in the right direction. I placed flowers on her grave, and her parents’ grave, located right next to Jill.

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Jill was funny. She always made me laugh, because she was so candid and so REAL. She hated having her picture taken, but somehow we managed to get some over the years. We weren’t as close in recent years, but the last big talk we had (shortly before her cancer diagnosis), she told me, “Grown-ups have their own lives, do their own things. That doesn’t mean you aren’t friends with someone; it just means you appreciate the time you spend with them when you get to see them.” We pissed each other off sometimes, but I’ll tell you this: She was a real friend, through and through.

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