An ex-marine’s perspective on life

My grandfather, an ex-marine, told me a story today. He said that back in World War II when he was stationed in Hawaii, good friends that he’d spend all of his days with would go up in the air to log experience hours in planes, and sometimes an accident would happen and in a matter of minutes they were gone. Then, of course, all of the men would drink that night to honor their memory.

Marines 15

Well, one day, my grandfather was walking with his parachute over his shoulder along side the pilot to the plane when one of the other men ran up to him saying that they were switched out so that the other guy could get the four hours that he needed. Twenty minutes later, the plane crashed and that guy was gone.

You sure bet my grandfather drank a lot to honor his memory that night.

My grandparents in 1946 – one month after they started dating.

Today, my grandfather had to leave the home that he’s had for almost sixty years just three weeks after losing his wife of 64 years who gave him 3 daughters, 7 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. It broke my heart. But he said, “I got 64 more years than many of those other guys. I got a family.”

He said that after the men came back from the war, they couldn’t appreciate problems facing society. Everything seemed so trivial to the deaths they saw in the service. They knew that they had close calls themselves and it was something that they never forgot.

We may have never experienced such death, but it is important to remember and honor the lives of any who have lost theirs by appreciating the time that we have.

I hope this is something that I never forget.

“I’m Sorry For Your Loss”

This past Sunday, we celebrated the life of my grandmother who recently passed away 7 months after being diagnosed with cancer.

I like to tell myself that I knew from the day that she was diagnosed that we would have to face this day, to say goodbye, sooner than I had hoped. It is my way of coping, to remind myself that on the bright side, we knew it was coming so we were able to at least say our goodbyes.

At our open house for her (as she said “there will be no funerals for members of this house!” – referring to her and my grandfather), I had family friends and distant relatives tell me, “I’m sorry for your loss” – I had always known of the phrase as common but never thought much of it.

Suddenly I found it absurd.

This isn’t just my loss – they knew her too – it is their loss as well. It is the world’s loss. Even as an elderly woman, she was involved in a cribbage club, a caregiver’s group, a book club, a bowling league, and kept in touch with other good friends in addition to loving her family. No matter how well any of us knew her, she made an impact on all of our lives and now, she is gone.

Even as a close family member, I shared her with three great-grandchildren, six other grandchildren, her three daughters, her husband, and her cat. While I felt exceptionally close compared to the other grandchildren – living with her for a summer, calling 2-3 times a week at least – I can appreciate everyone else’s love for her as well. If anyone truly deserves to hear “I’m sorry for your loss” it is my grandfather who spent the past 64 years with her and whom she took care of in her final years.

We all lost a great woman and no one should have to tell another “I’m sorry for your loss.” Rather, it is “I’m sorry for our loss” or if it must be specified in any circumstance, “I’m sorry about your grandmother/grandfather/uncle/aunt/mom/dad/sibling/dog/etc.”

From my experience, the possession associated with “I’m sorry for your loss” is not felt as deserved as a family member grieving. Perhaps this denial of possession is to spread the grief and sadness, but I’d like to think of it as wishing to spread the joy of having known such a wonderful person to not think of it as the negative of losing the person, but the gain of having known them.

It is small things like this that we must acknowledge when looking at the world, choosing how to think, and deciding what to say. It’s the difference between a loss and a gain. It’s the difference between keeping something to yourself or sharing it with the world. It’s the difference in perspective.