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Saying goodbye

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By Calen McKinney

 

I was there.

I was there when we made homemade ice cream together and sat in his swing. We swung for hours.

I was there when he taught me just how hard farming is and how we should all appreciate it.

He was there for my dance recitals, band performances, high school and college graduations, birthday celebrations, family trips and many more special occasions.

I was there when he planted and picked his prize tomatoes. I will never do it as well as he did.

I was there when we fed his baby goats. Pickles was my favorite.

I was there every summer as a child, spending two weeks with them. Those are some of the best memories of my life.

I was there less often as I got older. Life sometimes got in the way of what is truly important.

I was there when his wife died. We cried together and held each other.

I was there when he began to need help getting around. His age began to show and I got to be the one to help him.

I was there when he finally agreed that he should live at an assisted living place, a center just for veterans.

I was there after he had two strokes and doctors said he might not recover. From that point on, he didn’t always know my name.

I was there to take him outside, talk to him and show him flowers, birds and the big Army tank outside his room.

I was there to see him last Friday. He slept soundly but sometimes looked at me with a glimmer of recognition.

I was there to see his nurses take tender care of him, as if he were family, turning him every two hours and combing his hair when it was messed.

I was there on Saturday, just hours after he died. He looked peaceful, finally at rest after years of fighting for his life.

I was there when they wheeled him out of the Western Kentucky Veterans Center. After all, they said, he came in the front door and would leave that way. His body was draped in an American flag, representing the country he fought for in World War II.

I wasn’t there for it, but they had a final roll call for him on Sunday, and his fellow soldiers gave him one last salute.

I was there on Tuesday when his family and friends gathered to celebrate his life.

And I was there on Wednesday when we buried my grandfather. The flag draped over his coffin stood in honor of his service to his country — to you. His spirit was there in memory of the times I shared with him and will never forget.

I was there.

He was there to share his life with me. And I was there to soak up every minute.

He isn’t here anymore. But I got to say goodbye.