My grandfather was fiercely independent. He lived by himself for 20 years after Grandma died, in a house way up in a woodsy, suspiciously Unibomber-like area and later in a trailer in Susanville, Calif. He bitched about almost everyone he encountered and was bluntly honest about their shortcomings.
He was also, probably, the best grandparent I had. His independence was who he was. It was a trait he passed along to me. And it didn't make him a bitter malcontent.
He slept in a trailer with my brother and I despite the torture it lashed upon his back. He was my favorite cribbage partner. He ppassed along his love of ice cream to me. He spent time with me when he saw us, and he did so willingly, with loud guffaws and heapings of "christ"s and "dammit"s.
That independence served him well for many years, as he still lived alone, in that trailer, happily, rather than waste away in a nursing home. He lived 92 years because of that.
Soon after my visit in September, a visit I'm now grateful I made, my first in at least a decade, shingles and his heart finally started to chip away at his concrete foundation. He entered the hospital and was forced to stay with my aunt. And the independence, which served him so well for so many years, was a prison.
He was miserable and slowly declined, slipping down into a life of tubes and medications and caretakers. Mom hated this for him. So did I. No one wants this for a family member. That's why we put our pets to sleep when they're on that path.
Mom called Saturday. Grandpa died. He died with my aunt by his side. Peacefully.
It will be a bit sadder without him in my life. But relief, rather than grief, fills most of my heart.