The Kindest Man I’ve Ever Known

Have you ever found yourself in awe of the level of kindness a person can have? 

I recently spoke at a celebration of life ceremony for my grandfather who passed away. People who knew him often say how nice of a man he was. I wasn’t planning on saying anything during this ceremony, but when I was asked to, I didn’t have to search my mind for something to say about my grandfather. I simply told those present how I was completely in awe of this man. That over the last year I learned that my grandfather was no ordinary nice human being. He was something extremely unique in this world.

My grandfather had many siblings and his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily. He served in the Navy in WWII and volunteered for the first night flight missions off the famous aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. He lived a full life as a husband, father, photographer, and owned a graphic and printing shop in the Seattle area. 

Growing up in Alaska, I would see my grandfather once a year or so when we would travel down to see family. Since my grandfather was a quiet, soft-spoken man, and my grandmother was a loud and lively woman, I often didn’t exchange more than a few words with my grandpa. However, you didn’t need to hear a lot from him to know what sort of man he was. Hard working, kind, curious, caring, and loving.

About a year ago, my grandfather moved from a senior living center in Seattle to one here in Boise, so that he could be in a more personalized facility, and with the added benefit of being close to family who live here in Idaho. 

I was really excited about this news as I envisioned spending some quality time with my grandfather, who I’ve always liked but have never lived close to. I knew my girls would love him too, and they had only met him briefly once before.

However, by the time my grandfather arrived in Boise his dementia had progressed to the point where every time I visited him, I was re-introducing myself as if we’d never met. By this point his mind was mostly stuck back in World War II. 

Looking back, I am still disappointed with myself for how much that frustrated me. I think it is because I was so excited about spending time with a really cool man who I called grandpa, but we could never get too far passed the introductions.

Yet each time we brought him over to our home for dinner, he complimented us on our home (because for him every visit was his first visit). He would also mention how beautiful my children were. How good the food was. How nice my car was. He was consistently nice, just as he had been throughout his life. 

The Crazy Part

When I think about it, this whole year I spent with my grandfather, he never remembered my wife, kids, or me each time we would go pick him up. Yet, even in that confusion he must have been feeling, he never once showed frustration, irritation, or annoyance. He never asked for anything. He never demanded anything of us strangers. He never got mad, angry, upset, but always stayed remarkably kind.

How in the World Did He Do That?

Even when dementia and Alzheimer’s were messing with his brain, he was always kind. I inherently believe in doing the right thing above anything else. I don’t have to force myself to do it; it’s simply what I believe. But I do get angry and upset, and I know for sure that if someday I am confused by dementia or another illness, I’m NOT going to be a nice guy ALL of the time. I didn’t think anyone could be.

I am in awe of my grandfather. He was a man of few words, but his actions have impacted me more significantly that I could have thought possible. I can see him vividly in my mind, sitting at my dining room table sipping on black coffee, quietly listening to all the crazy stories being shared around the table. I wonder what that must have been like, not knowing this younger generation of his family, and witnessing all of our good, bad, and colorful glory.  

Can You Teach Inherent Kindness?

My wife and I go out of our way to teach our kids about kindness. We don’t want to raise mean kids who will grow into mean adults. To us, that is more important than what grades they get at school, what trophies or awards they win, or what college (if any) they attend. 

When I pick up my kids from school, I often see how mean kids are to each other. It can be vicious out on that playground. We all see adults behaving badly as well. I don’t want to taint this story with examples of people pretending to be nice on the surface only to learn their true motives later. But encountering people like that just motivates me further to do my best to try to guide my own kids’ moral compass. 

I don’t know how much my girls will remember their great-grandfather, but I will always refer to him as the kindest man I’ve ever known