Remembering My Grandfather 30 Years Later
For the past 30 years today has been—and likely will always be—one of the saddest days of my life. On the morning of January 11, 1987 I was informed that my Grandfather was gone and he wasn't coming back. From that point on I would only have my memories and the few photos I've managed to get my hands on over the years as reminders of our brief decade together.
I had just turned 10 when this life-altering experience, which would become a lifelong scar on my soul, occurred. I was old enough to know what had happened and what it meant, but too young to fully process the gravity of the loss in its totality at the time. I remember riding in the limo while en route to the funeral thinking how "cool" it was to be in a limo like I was Arnold from Different Strokes or something. I remember thinking how much cooler it would be if Grandpa could have been there to share in this experience before the reality that Grandpa's death was the reason why I was in this car in the first place. It was an emotional mindfuck that would take several years for me to fully comprehend.
Outside of my mother, my Grandfather is the single most influential person in my life. He was/is the person who was there during my formative years while my father was being all he could be for Uncle Sam before my parents decided to split. Throughout my father's absence in the home because of his military work and eventual divorce, Grandpa was my constant. So for all intents and purposes, my Grandfather was the father my father couldn't be. He was there for those first days of school, holidays and birthdays. He was there at the kitchen table helping me with homework and going over my ABC's and 123's. He was my superhero; a man who could wipe away my tears faster than a speeding bullet, expressed love more powerful than a locomotive, and was able to hop to my rescue in a single bound. But even Superman has his kryptonite and Grandpa's was liver disease.
What happens when your heroes die? You weep.
I don't recall crying at the time of his passing—I did cry several times writing this though—but most certainly remember seeing my mother balling her eyes out at my Grandfather's funeral. I actually heard her before I saw her. Truthfully, I didn't see my mother much during that day. She was too distraught to look after me and my newborn brother, who actually turned one-month old on the day my Grandfather died.
As I held my grandmother's hand at the burial site I could hear this heavy sobbing in the distance. When I turned to see where it was coming from I discovered that it was my mom. She was a few feet away being held up by a family member or friend. I had never seen her like that before—she was broken. Everything after that is a blur and somehow I find myself here 30 years later healed but still hurting. Now that I've become a father myself; I'm reflective.
Having one of the two people you love most in the world die is traumatic enough but to witness the other person you love broken is numbing. There's nothing more I would wish for than the opportunity to wash away my mother's pain or to have just one more talk with my Grandfather; one more ride in his car; one more Wednesday where we would bond over a hot bowl of Chunky soup; one more memory of us. That doesn’t mean I’m any less grateful of the memories I have, but anyone who’s ever lost someone knows that they are never enough.
Sixteen days into my 40s and five months into fatherhood and reflecting on what today means for me, I’m more aware of my own mortality and those close to me. I’ve seen several peers lose their parents and the thought of a similar fate is something I try to avoid but I know will one day be a reality. It makes me ponder will the feelings I have about my Grandfather’s passing be the same my daughter experiences. Will she one day see me broken. Will I one day break her when I transition to the next life. These are all things many of us don’t want to think about but on a day like this I can’t help it. What will be will be, so all I can do in the time that I have left is ensure that I create the same lasting bonds that my Grandfather and I shared and cherish every waking moment with family and friends alike. Tomorrow is not promised so I won’t waste my today.
I know that 10 years can seem like a long time to get to know someone but when you're 10 years old that's only scratching the surface. Despite our limited time together, my Grandfather's impact on my life is incomparable. He instilled in me my moral compass and sense of right and wrong. He guided me on the path to being a man of integrity and someone who understands responsibility. Of course I've stumbled along the way but he continues to be my foundation and guiding light. That’s why five years ago I went through with the process of legally changing my name so that I could carry on his.
Taking on the Rocque surname was a decision that I didn’t take lightly. As a writer, I am defined by my name but deep down inside I’ve always been more Rocque than Samuel. That’s no slight to my father, who I’ve forged a cordial connection with over the past decade, but my Grandfather is the man I aspire to be. Every goal I set or accomplishment I achieve is with him in mind. Making him proud of the man and now father I am today is what drives me. My success is all he wanted and that’s what I aim for every day. I hope that whenever my Grandfather and I are reunited that he can look back on the life I led and say that I did both him and his name proud.
@iamARocque always and forever.