Warts and All

My maternal grandfather and I were exceptionally close during my early adulthood. He couldn’t hear very well which made talking on the phone difficult. Since we lived about a thousand miles apart we couldn’t regularly visit in person.

Instead of phone calls and visits we did things the old fashioned way; we wrote one another. I have a box filled with over a hundred letters from him. Each is at least five pages long front and back, written in his careful, scrawling handwriting. Each is signed with one variation or another of “Love, grandpa”.

My mother passed away when I was very young and my father cut off communication with her family. As a result I didn’t see my grandpa at all from the time I was five until I was twenty.

I saw him for the first time in fifteen years at a family get together. I recall that he was sitting off by himself; perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed by all of the activity or maybe even feeling a bit out of place (as I later learned was a common occurrence for him when he was with family).

Despite the lack of relationship between us at that time I knew from the very moment I laid eyes on him that I loved him dearly.

He and I talked the entire time I was at the get together. When I had to leave we exchanged addresses and promised to write one another; a promise we both kept.

My grandfather was far from perfect. He was acutely aware of his flaws and shared his deepest regrets with me. He wished he had been faithful to my grandmother. He wished he’d been a better father. He wished he’d done things he hadn’t. He wished he hadn’t done things that he had.

I accepted him as he was and in turn he accepted me as I was. He gave me something I’d longed to experience my entire life; to be loved exactly as I was. His love for me had no conditions upon it. He loved me fully and wholly; warts and all.

My grandfather liked to call himself a rolling stone, a wanderer, a restless man who needed to keep moving. In his younger years he’d traveled during the summers doing road construction. He attended trade schools when he’d come home in the winters. He liked to tell me about all of the various certificates and degrees he had.

My grandpa was the only one in my family who understood my mental illness. He told me that unless someone had lived it, unless they’d experienced it the way he and I had that they would never know what it was that we went through.

Unlike other members of my family he never shamed me for it, never told me that I just needed to trust God, never told me to stop taking my medications, never told me that it was “all in my head”, etc. He knew it was a part of me just as it was a part of him. He knew there was no cure, no magic potion. He knew it was going to require of me the same lifetime of careful management and monitoring that it had required of him.

About six months after he died I was driving when “Your Song” by Elton John came on the radio. I’d listened to it hundreds of times over the years but that day something was different. The words I’d often sung along to took on a much deeper meaning and I found myself having to pull over to the side of the road as the lyrics washed over me while I wept.

“I don’t have much money but boy, if I did I’d buy a big house where we both could live.”

“I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words how wonderful life is while you’re in the world.”

“So excuse me forgetting but these things I do. You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue. Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean, yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen.”

I miss my grandpa. I miss getting letters from him. I miss sending letters to him. I miss the bond and connection we shared.

More than anything, though, I miss being loved the way that he loved me; warts and all.

Until next time,



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