The Greatest Gift My Grandfather Ever Gave Me Was Time

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It needs to be no more than three minutes.That was the gentle but firm request from my uncle to anyone in my family who wanted to speak at my grandfather’s funeral.

Last I heard, that number was 8 people and growing—and that was just family members. My sweet uncle didn’t want to leave anyone out, so three minutes it was. I knew there was no way I could limit my thoughts to three minutes, and so here we are.My grandpa, Stan (also Stan the Man, Gramps, and Spaghetti Head), died two days ago at the ripe old age of 87. The man battled heart attacks, strokes, Parkinson’s, and more for a lot of years and, as I put it to my daughter, his body got tired. Given that my body gets tired just from carrying said toddler up a flight of stairs, this seems fair.Death has a way of bringing about a sudden (and fleeting) burst of clarity, and I’ve found myself there for the last 48 hours. There’s an immense amount of pressure to figure everything out, because there’s no way to know how long this clarity will last.

I think this is the brain’s way of trying to make sense of such a huge loss—the inconceivable hole left by the absence of a man so vital to my life. No matter what direction my mind goes, I keep landing on the same thought, that the greatest gifts Grandpa ever gave me, or any of us, were his time and his interest.I was the child of a single mom, which meant that I got to spend a lot of time with my grandparents, much to my benefit. Grandpa stood at my side at all the ‘father-daughter’ events a girl typically has, and some of the more mundane tasks too.

A memory that keeps popping up for me is of us in his car, driving home from an after-school date at Steak ‘n’ Shake. I was quizzing him on my classmates–giving him the first letter of a name and asking him to guess, sometimes throwing in a hint that second-grade me thought would be helpful.

Why were we doing this? I have no idea. But I remember being absolutely tickled any time he got one right (and he got quite a few). How this man found the time to keep track of my elementary school friends is beyond me. But the underlying message—that I was important enough for him to have this information—was invaluable.There are endless words that describe my grandpa—driven, hardworking, smart, kind. He was successful in business and devoted to his family. And in the midst of everything he juggled—the jobs, the house, the investments, the golf, the family, the friends, the church, the charity—his office door was (literally) always open.

Smiling girl holding hands with grandpa in living room
Courtesy of Mandy Haury

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Me wandering in wasn’t ever inconvenient or a bad time; he made me feel as though he was absolutely delighted at the interruption. He even kept a Thomas the Tank Engine puzzle in his desk drawer—a testament to my childhood obsession.

I’d climb up on his lap and we’d put it together on his big, fancy desk and do our best to slid it into the box without the pieces coming apart. Content, I’d be on my way back to my other toys and books, or off to work on some homework.

That same puzzle sits on a shelf in my daughter’s playroom now and serves as a reminder of what his time meant to tiny me, and it encourages me to give the same gift to her.One of Grandpa’s favorite things was to take his grandkids aside, one by one, on family vacations or at family gatherings and talk about life. I both loved and dreaded these times with him. I didn’t have the answers to the questions he was asking; I didn’t know who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, or where I wanted to go.

I left more than one of those talks in tears, sure that I was destined to be a disaster of a human. But now, in my state of uncomfortable clarity, I’m also recognizing how much I needed to be asked those questions, because it made me think about the answers.

Questions about my future pushed me to think about what I wanted that future to look like. Our debates about the way the world works (and the way I think it should work) helped me learn to articulate my thoughts, and how to verbalize my dissent.

Did he know that by giving me his time he was helping me this way? I don’t know, but given that he always seemed about four steps ahead of everyone else, I think it’s likely.Grief is such an uncomfortable and necessary feeling; one that invites action but requires patience. It connects and isolates at the same time, bringing me closer to my family even while I know that none of us are grieving in the exact same way.I’m still figuring out what to do with mine, though writing this feels like a step in some sort of direction. It feels important to make sure the world has a chance to know my gramps, because anyone who had that privilege is surely better for it.”

Smiling woman sitting next to grandpa at sports game
Courtesy of Mandy Haury

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