By Rachel, age 26, Connecticut
October is really the quintessential fall month - brisk temperatures, pumpkins, crunching leaves, and hot apple cider. The month before all of the holiday craziness begins. October for me is also a month in which myself and my family pause to remember a man who was well loved by my family, and especially by me. That man was my grandad. Grandad, or Charles William Wiltsie III, was a man whom, once you met him, you automatically liked. Grandad had a smile that stretched for days. That smile was one he always wore even in the face of adversity. My grandad was a man of strength, integrity, wisdom, kindness, and most of all perseverance, even when things looked their worst. There was never a day when I did not see my grandfather without his trademark smile.
My grandad was known throughout the county here in Connecticut where we live. Everybody knew Chuck Wiltsie and the Wiltsie name. My grandfather was on the board that founded a local and very popular community college in our area, ran two of his own dealerships, ran for town selectman in the town where he and my grandmother lived for a while, was on the board of finances at his church, and was very active in his church as well. He was a land developer by trade. My grandad was a man of many skills and talents. He was always ready and willing to help with anything that needed to be done. Charles "Chuck" Wiltsie rarely said no to anyone; he was committed to helping people.
I was blessed enough to grow up with this man as my grandfather. He may have kept himself plenty busy, but the most important thing to my grandfather was his family. There was never a time when my grandad was not around. He always made time for everything else in his life, but we as his family always came first. From the time I was a small child I was blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with my grandparents. My mother would bring my older brother and myself and eventually my younger brother (once he was born) down to my grandparents' house for dinner once or twice a week every week.
Christmas Eve was celebrated at my grandparents' home. If my parents went away on weekend getaways together my grandparents would watch us. Every visit seemed to start out the same way. We would pull up to my grandparents' house (which was gigantic) and my mother and brother would go inside, my mother to visit with my grandmother and my older brother running downstairs to the playroom. The first thing I always did was search out my grandad, who was usually in his workshop tinkering with or fixing something. I would sit with him in his workshop and visit. Sometimes it seemed like we had a million things to say to each other; other times we would just sit quietly and I would just watch him work, which was just as ok with me.
I have so many wonderful memories of the many days I spent with my grandad. He taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels. He would come and play in the pool with me and my brothers on hot summer days, always managing to impress me or make me laugh with a new stunt he had learned. Apple picking in the fall, out to the movies, out to eat ...
In the wintertime, he would put on snow gear and be the first person to jump into the snow with me and my brothers. When I think of Christmas Eve I think of Grandad and his singing light-up Christmas ties. I think of the Christmas Eve party every year at Grammy and Grandad's and how I spent the majority of the party at Grandad's side, with his arm snugly around me. I didn't want to be anywhere else. He took me with him many times on errands. He built my older brother and me a tree house in our backyard, complete with a zip line back down to the ground, despite my parents' fears. Birthdays were always special with Grandad too. The last birthday that Grandad would celebrate with me was my 16th birthday. Grandad was my sponsor for one of the most important days of my life, my confirmation in the Catholic Church. He made that occasion so special for me. That special evening would be the last milestone he would see me achieve. My most vivid memory of my grandad is the one that I will always hold close to me.
Grandad had been diagnosed with cancer around Easter of my sophomore year of high school, in 2001.Grandad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Despite his diagnosis he was determined to stay positive, to undergo the chemo and radiation necessary, and to fight until he could not anymore. Grandad battled hard for 11 months and he came out victorious. He was declared in remission on New Year's Day during my junior year of high school. That day was one full of joy.
Sadly, that joy would not last long. Five months later, in June of 2002, my grandfather began to experience very intense headaches to the point where he became very ill from them. By July, he was starting to have double vision. He saw a lot of different doctors; no one knew why he was experiencing the headaches and vision issues. In August, one doctor would figure out the cause. He had a brain tumor. It devastated all of us, except my grandad. Despite his diagnosis, my grandfather got up every day with a smile on his face and he lived each day to the fullest.
My most vivid memory involving my grandfather took place on Tuesday, October 8th, 2002. On that Tuesday my mother decided that I was going to play hooky from school and we were going to go pick up lunch and spend the afternoon with Grammy and Grandad. That day was the first day that Grandad was not in his workshop tinkering. That Tuesday would be the last time I would see my grandad alive.
My mother woke me up that morning and asked if I wanted to go to school that day. Knowing I had a math test that I was unprepared for I said no. My mother told me that we were going to go see an early movie and then we were going to go and have lunch with Grammy and Grandad, who lived in the next town over from where we live. We went to a morning showing of Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon. I couldn't tell you anything about the movie; I was too busy being excited to go and have lunch with my grandparents. After the movie, my mother and I picked up lunch at a local take out place that makes home cooked meals from scratch. We picked up pasta and salad and headed to my grandparents' house.
When we arrived at my grandparents' house I went running inside to greet them. My grandmother was in the kitchen and my grandfather was just coming down the stairs from their room. He had an eye patch on. He greeted me the same way he always had - "Hi, Beautiful!" "Beautiful" seemed to replace my name, since I can remember. I asked him why he was wearing the eye patch, and he told me it was because his vision had become worse and he was seeing double. I hugged him tighter. He told me not to worry, but I was worried, and as we would learn just three days later, justifiably so. Grandad, Grammy, Mom, and I sat down to eat the lunch that Mom and I had brought, and Grandad asked me how my college applications were coming. I cringed. I told him that I really didn't think I would be getting into any of the colleges I was applying for. I told him how utterly disheartened I was feeling. He looked at me seriously and told me, "I went to the college of HK."
I thought, "Great, I can get a scholarship based on Grandad being an alumni." I asked him what HK stood for.
He told me, "The College of HK is the College of Hard Knocks ... life," he said. "Even if you don't get into an academic college you will always be a student of HK. Life will always have just as much to teach you as any college." Grandad didn't know about any of the prior traumas in my life, but I remember thinking how right he was. He told me, "Whatever happens, whatever your experiences are, as you go forward in life promise me you will find something to learn." I made that promise. Not long after that my mother said we needed to leave. I hugged my grandad more tightly than I ever had before and I am very glad that I did.
The next five days were the toughest days of that year. Those five days I waited for the worst to happen, knowing that my grandfather was not going to make it, knowing that phone call would come. Each of those days is as clear and vivid to me as if it happened yesterday.
Two days later, on Thursday afternoon the 10th, I was home from school when I received the call from my Aunt Beth telling me that Grandad was in the hospital because the chemotherapy treatments for his brain tumor had caused his brain to swell. She told me that doctors were working to bring the swelling under control. She told me that he would be home by the following Tuesday. When I hung up the phone, a feeling that to this day I cannot explain settled over me and told me that Grandad was not going to be ok, that he was not going to make it. I tried to shake off the feeling.
The next day Friday I needed to distract myself from the thought of knowing my grandfather was going to die, so I went to school. The school day went smoothly. At the end of the day my study hall teacher ran past me and knocked into me. I asked him what his hurry was. Mr. E told me that he had to get to Hartford Hospital, that his father-in-law was in Hartford Hospital because of brain swelling due to chemotherapy. I told him that was a coincidence, that my grandad was in Hartford Hospital for the same thing. He stopped and looked at me and told me that I needed to go with him to the hospital and to say goodbye to my grandad. He told me that Grandad was not going to make it through the weekend. I knew he was right, but suddenly I did not want to believe that. I wanted to believe that Grandad would live and would be ok. I told Mr. E that he was wrong about Grandad and ran off to my after school babysitting job. In truth, I knew he was right, but I could not handle seeing Grandad hooked up to tubes and machines in the hospital, so I decided that he was going to live, and therefore I didn't have to go. Friday night was uneventful.
On Saturday the 12th I got up and went to teach my first grade CCD class. I had just returned from class when my mother called to say that Grandad was fading fast. She told me that my cousins Tito and Leni were on their way to pick me up, and to pack a night and day's worth of clothes, that I was going to stay with them and their mom for the night. My mother told me that Tito and Leni and I were going to come up that night to say goodbye to Grandad. I packed my clothes, and Tito and Leni arrived to pick me up.
The drive was quiet and somber. We went back to their mom's house and I dropped off my bag. I'm not sure even now why we didn't go up to the hospital to say goodbye to Grandad, but we didn't. Tito went off to do his own thing and Leni and I went to the movies. Leni and I saw Tuck Everlasting, based on the book. While the movie was interesting, it really made me think. The main theme of the movie is mortality vs. immortality. The question raised was: "If you found the fountain of youth and could live forever, would you? Or would still choose to die at some point?" Keep in mind, my cousin and I saw this movie that talked about life vs. death as our grandad lay in the hospital dying. We drove home to her mom's house in silence. She went back out and I stayed in, made a few phone calls, and passed out.
Sunday morning the 13th, at just after 6:00 a.m., the phone call that I knew was coming finally arrived. I was awakened at my cousins' mother's house by the phone ringing. Instinctively, I knew. I got up off the couch and stood outside the kitchen and listened to Elaine's end of the phone conversation. Once Elaine hung up I entered the kitchen. The look on my face said it all. Elaine nodded; I fought back tears. My cousin Tito was sitting on the stairs and he and I embraced. Elaine asked me to go wake up my cousin Leni and give her the news. I went up to Leni's room and gave her the news. Soon after that, Tito and Leni drove me home, where I gave my older brother the news, and he and I cried.
I won't bore you with the events of the wake and the funeral. What I will say is that the funeral proved the one thing that I already knew, that my grandad Charles William Wiltsie III was a well loved and respected man. His funeral only highlighted the fact that Grandad was a man of greatness. He was a man of great wisdom, charity, and faith, but the one thing that I will always remember about him and will always keep close to my heart is that, above all, he was a man of great love. Charles William Wiltsie III loved with all of his heart and with all of his being; he never held back. He loved everyone he met, whether they deserved it or not. The love that I had for my grandad cannot be put into words. I will love him always and forever until we meet again in Heaven.
Cancer took your life way too soon, but your life was not in vain. This month we remember you and we celebrate your life and all that you were. I love you today, tomorrow, and always, Grandad. Rest in the peace of the angels, knowing that your family will carry on your memory always. 12/13/1933 - 10/12/2002
All my love,