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Grandpas Say the Darndest Things

The past few days have been a blur of bittersweet exhaustion and celebration. Last week, my husband’s grandfather passed away at the age of 90. We love Grandpa Westphal and we already miss his charming personality and amazing sense of humor. Every night has been a late night, spent with Jk’s parents and siblings from out-of-town. We’ve spent a lot of time at Grandpa’s house with everyone, looking at old pictures, playing games, and celebrating the life and legacy of a wonderful man.
In my family, I never spent very much time with my father’s parents before they passed away. My mother’s parents are still alive and are some of the sweetest people I’ll ever know, but they live all the way across the country. The past few years knowing Jk, I’ve been blessed to observe the sweet relationship he had with his grandfather. I warmed up to Grandpa Westphal immediately. He was friendly, generous, and welcomed me into the family right away. He was witty and straightforward, always speaking his mind and making us laugh. Like the time Jk wore a backwards baseball cap and Grandpa said, “Idiots these days don’t know how to wear a hat!” I was on the floor laughing.

One of my favorite things about Grandpa Westphal was his resilience. Back in April, Grandpa was in the hospital for a few weeks. The doctors discovered cancer in his brain and his lungs, so they needed to perform several tests and Grandpa wasn’t strong enough to return home yet. When we found out where he was staying, Jk called Grandpa’s hospital room and we were surprised to hear Grandpa’s voice answer the phone. “What’s up?” Grandpa asked, as if it were a normal day and we called to make small talk. He always had the best attitude, even when lying in a hospital bed.

Though he was visited by family, friends, and neighbors, the hospital was not where Grandpa wanted to be. He wanted to be back in his familiar home, dressing himself, shaving his own face, and taking walks around the block. In his own words he said, “I gotta get out of here and terrorize the neighborhood.” Grandpa was hilarious, strong, and independent.

His health was a roller coaster during those weeks, improving and declining every few days. All throughout his stay in the hospital, Grandpa was willing to work with the hospital staff, trusting their counsel and instructions. Nobody was more relieved than Grandpa when his health improved enough that he was released from the hospital and he was able to return home. 
For the next few weeks, Jk’s parents stayed with Grandpa, working alongside Jk’s aunts and extended family to ensure that Grandpa was well taken care of. He was eager to get back to his everyday life and expressed frustration about all the fuss. All the while, his daughters did an amazing job balancing freedom and discipline. His house remained a place for family to gather, talk and laugh, and play games. There were certain quirks that I came to expect when visiting Grandpa: the kitchen television was blasting the news; the temperature in the basement was freezing; the refrigerator was filled to the brim with food; and Grandpa was always happy to see us.

He told sweet stories about his beautiful wife, who I never had the privilege to meet but know he was reunited with beyond the veil. He gave words of wisdom including the famous advice, “Don’t peel an orange!” (given shortly after suffering from a seizure mid-orange-peeling). He bought us our favorite wedding gift—a camping tent that we use often and think of him when we do. Goodness knows that Grandpa Westphal will be missed.

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