I say goodbye to someone special.
I wrote this eulogy for my grandfather. He was 85 when he died, in general good health, sitting at his kitchen counter reading the mail. His last few years were spent taking care of his wife who is living with Alzheimer's.
Brian Gilson had been part of my life for as long I've lived. From the day I came home through having children of my own, he had always been there. But the truth is, I hardly knew him. He lived a long time and was many things to many people, I was privy to knowing only a slice of what would make up his life, one version in a long evolution.
But I believe I knew the best version. My version has been wrapped in the magic of childhood experience; of countless bear hugs and doting words, of adoring gazes and hearty chuckles, of unwavering support and boundless love that only a grandfather can give. To me, he was my Papa, a man like no other.
I also know by the time our paths crossed, there was so much of him I didn't know.
I never knew the kid who left school after sixth grade to work on the family farm. Nor the young man of 16 who became part of the economic heart of this town, where he would lose his hearing, his entire youth working hard, keeping those smoke stacks puffing along the river, that eternal dragon of our paper mill. I would never know him as an impossibly young husband and father who would raise two children as he walked through life alongside a woman who was an equally impossibly young wife and mother. These versions of Brian and more would remain hidden from me, tucked in the folds of time, but known to so many others here.
What I do know is, he was protective and gentle with women, showed deep camaraderie among men, and later in life would become a ridiculous softie with small black poodles.... Even though he didn't use the biggest words or talk the most in a room, he was often the best communicator because he always said what he meant and meant what he said. Though he was insecure about his schooling, he failed to recognize the greatness of his skills that built up houses and men alike, skills of the hands and of the heart that are scarce today.
What I know was a man who did not pursue academics, or yearn for exotic lands, or chase after all that glittered in the world. Instead he found abundant treasures in the common place. His greatest joys were engaging in the simple things; being in the woods and tinkering in his pole barn, riding a tractor of most any kind, coming home to eat a meal cooked by his wife, having a child perched upon his knee.
And he took the greatest pride, not in his own accomplishments, but in his family. Having a beloved daughter who would duplicate his most esteemed value in life by creating a fine family of her own. Of having a son who was also a dedicated family man, a talented athlete and college graduate, who would grow into his true companion.
I can't say for sure, but I like to think some of his best moments were during Holiday gatherings where -- above the din of silverware against china, of laughter and bits of conversation, and all the other beautiful sounds that are part of a family -- he would silently sit at the head of the table and take measure of his life in the faces of his wife, his children and their spouses, and eventually his grand-children's children.
In quiet moments like these, that I believe he had often, he was gifted with a revelation that transformed him from plainness into someone to envy.
For he knew, that a simple man who could want for nothing, is as rich as a king.
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