My Grandfather died today.
He was 97 years old and I can’t imagine what life would have been like without his influence; without his presence.
We all have starting lines. We have places where the family tree begins. Certainly I’m aware that before my grandfather there were his parents and other people but I never knew any of them. For me, he is at my starting line, and while not alone there, he has always represented a huge part of my origin story.
For my kids, he was slightly more out of reach, slightly harder to understand, but they too will likely look back and view him as a presence on their starting line as well.
He is my name. Abraham Brand. His initials: A & B. The beginning.
This blog has been largely about being a dad, and a parent in a more general sense. To my kids, he has been their dad’s dad’s dad. That’s pretty far removed from their ability to comprehend the family tree. When his health took this final turn for the worse, many of the people in our family were going to visit him in the hospital and eventually in hospice. The kids have known this whole time that he was sick and not doing well but that he was comfortable and had his family around him. Each morning, for the last few days, in her normal matter-of-fact way, Chloe has asked me if Great Grandpa Abe had died yet. Julianna listens for the answer intently but doesn’t say much. One a bit more analytical and one a bit more emotional. After my previous visit, I got home around 8:30 and the girls were in bed. I heard Julianna call down the stairs to me right when I came in the house: “Dad, how is Great Grandpa doing?”
So they knew. We didn’t hide what was going on and answered any questions they had. Last night, at dinner, my wife and I were sharing funny stories about times with their Great Grandpa. She told them about the story of the first time she met him at a family dinner and how legend has it that after, in his car ride home, he expressed that he was in love for her to my father. Chloe asked, “does that mean he’s going to marry you mommy?”
Julianna then said, “He was also so kind.”
It’s hard to put my relationship with him into words. For some people, I perhaps give the impression that I’m loud. For those who know me well, you know I actually prefer quiet. Some of my best times with him were quiet ones. We didn’t need to talk. It was enough to be near by. When we were in a conversation, it was often about business. I’m not sure there are many 97 year olds who were as progressive as he was. I think my professional life was a pretty foreign concept to him at first. He started his business 64 years ago and went to work, practically, and literally up until the end. In the same 64 years, its feasible that I’ll have 32 jobs. I work in the tech startup space. Its a different world but one that over the years, Grandpa and I had lots of conversations about. I think he was troubled by the volatility of it all at first and then later, fascinated by the excitement. We had many conversations, recently, about my current job, where I’m the CTO and a Co-Founder. He was always happy to talk about work.
In the picture below, from the most recent Thanksgiving, he was holding court with his 4 great grandchildren. It might be the only time I’ve seen all four so completely engrossed in a conversation at the same time. They were discussing what they were going to be when they grew up. I think he was incredibly proud of what he created. At many of these large-family events, he would hold court in one form or another, often attempting to take credit for “creating” the entire family tree. This tree of people present would often include friends, in-laws, and a variety of people who were not at all related but it didn’t matter. The amazing thing is that he was always quiet and humble but he wore his pride on his sleeve.
Its this balance of humility, pride, and ambition, that I think I take as the greatest lesson from him. Too much pride can lead to too much ego. Too much ambition can lead to carelessness. He was the perfect balance. This balance is where I like to live my life; its where I’d like my kids to live theirs.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had him in my life for as long as I did. 97 is a fantastic run. I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the last week and a half and while he slept for almost all of it, the last time I said something to him that he responded to, in the hospital, it went like this (which if you know both of us, you might appreciate a bit more):
Me: “Hey Grandpa, I’m going to come back later and take you out drinking.”
Grandpa: [laughing] “Ok.”
Simple and perfect.
There are so many things that aren’t certain about life but here’s one that is:
While he won’t be walking among us any longer, he’ll always walk with us.