My wife Sarah was only 12 years old when her dad blew his brains out in the driveway of their rural Centralia, Washington home – just as his dad had also done years earlier. Just like that, the world as Sarah knew it came crashing down.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to predict the feelings of grief that would follow. Nor the feelings of abandonment. And really, it’s the latter that created the most hurt.
As would be understandable, Sarah turned to any number of unhealthy relationships, often with members of the opposite sex, to fill that void.
Roughly three years later, her mom, also looking to stymie the feelings of abandonment and loneliness, put one of those old-fashioned personal ads in the regional newspaper that served their community – a woman-seeking-man ad. On the other end was Lloyd, a divorced man with two grown children of his own. A man whose loneliness seemed to match that of Sarah’s mom.
Destructive forces don’t just subside overnight. They certainly didn’t for Sarah. But when the two families became one, even though Sarah and her two siblings still living at home were not related by blood, the kind of grandpa Lloyd would become was evident from the beginning. He was extremely compassionate, enormously, and he taught my Sarah how to trust again. He taught her how to feel genuine and unconditional love again. And above all, he gave her and her siblings the gift of his undivided attention. There’s no doubt about it, it was Lloyd who saved Sarah.
To understand the full impact and importance of Lloyd in this story, it’s important to understand another story taking place at about the same time, in the same community. A friend of Sarah’s, living just a few miles away, was growing up in a void without any relationship with his own grandpa. That friend was me.
My late maternal grandmother was always unlucky in love. Sometimes we make our own luck, and for grandma, true love was hard to find. Let’s just say that she was looking in all the wrong places. My mom didn’t know her own dad very well, which meant that I wouldn’t know my maternal grandpa. He’s still alive somewhere, and a few years back, he tried to make an effort to grow closer to my sister and her kids. They arranged a meeting in Oregon once for a small reunion. It didn’t really go anywhere. Kudos for the attempt.
My paternal grandfather had mellowed greatly by the time I was a born and growing up. He certainly was not the same man my dad told me stories about from his youth. I always saw him as a kind man. A kind man who lived in California and didn’t really make a huge effort to visit. I’d see him every 4-5 years or so. I remember staying with him for a week in 1993. I saw him again in 1999. Once again in 2003. It was the last time I would ever see him. He died in 2007.
Between a girl who had once been abandoned, then saved, and a boy who understood the pain of never having had a grandpa, the desire for our own kids to have that figure in their life was probably stronger than most people can imagine.
Enter Grandpa Lloyd
Lloyd was that guy. He was that grandpa. First made possible by his own desire to love and be loved. But also made possible because, of all life’s many callings, “grandpa” was the one thing he cherished the most. Yes, he did have many of the corny grandpa sweatshirts.
We only have one thing in life that I consider indispensable: time. It’s sure as hell not money. We can lose everything we have, and it can produce stress, disappointment, feelings of failure, and so on. But we can dig out of that hole. Once time is gone, it’s gone. It’s not a hole you can dig out of. It’s finite and ever so fleeting.
Lloyd gave everything he had to the boys. He’d come to the house 3-4 times a week just to play with them or watch something silly on TV. He always had candy with him, too, which may have made Mom and Dad a little less pleased, but he reveled in that opportunity to chuckle about our dismay. He’d come sit on the riding lawn mower and mow our yard, even when I liked doing that, because he could put one of the grandkids on his lap and ride around. And, ah yes, the four-wheeler.
Lloyd used to take the kids for rides all the time. Their faces always had so much joy on them. And Lloyd’s was even more so, simply because of the boys. We have lots of photos of grandpa with a boy or two. But the only photo we ever got of Lloyd and all four boys together was in late September of 2012. Heading out in the Centralia countryside, Lloyd had all the boys sitting on the four-wheeler with him. At that time, we didn’t realize there wouldn’t be other opportunities.
In early October, less than two weeks later, Lloyd got the news: he had leukemia. It was fairly advanced. In those moments, the obvious next question is always: how long do I have? In those moments, the obvious next answer given by the doctors is always: it depends. Best estimate? Six months.
Less than a week later, I was in San Francisco for a conference, and got a phone call. Lloyd had taken a turn for the worse. I rushed home a day early, and headed the hour and a half from our Centralia-area home to Seattle. He was hooked up to tubes, had pneumonia, and the hospital had to bring the crash cart in once while we were there.mber leaving the hospital knowing we probably wouldn’t see Lloyd again. Before we ever got home, we got the call. I pulled the car off to the side of the freeway and was sobbing. Lloyd was one of the best men I had ever known, and he had a profound impact in my life. But only a few tears of sadness were shed for myself. The uncontrollable sobbing was because I knew our boys had lost the most amazing grandpa I had ever known. How were we going to tell them? My wife and I sat for about 10 minutes, then drove home in mostly silence, dreading how we’d break the news.
It’s still really hard for them. It’s been five years, but from time to time, the older two boys will cry and talk about grandpa. We tell them what makes sense in our head, which is that it’s better to love and lose than never love. But that’s in our head and what we feel is often said to be in our heart. And our heart hurts because Lloyd gave all of his heart to them.
What comes now?
I’ve discussed with my own dad what this loss means. I’ve explained that he’s the only grandpa these boys have now. I think it makes sense to him. And I think, in his own way, he tries to do what he thinks is best. But for me, there’s a gold standard. I know what it means to be a good grandpa because I’ve seen it. My wife knows what it means to be a good grandpa because she’s seen it, too. We still hold hope.
My oldest is 13. It’ll be awhile before I’m a grandpa. So the goal of being like Lloyd is a long-term investment. It has become apparent that to be ready for that, and do the best I can, I need to do some things now. In the last month, I have changed a lot of my diet, have walked a lot more, and overall, I feel a lot better. Motivators haven’t usually worked well for me in the past. But this one has. I can’t see the long-term fruits of my labors yet, but when the day comes that I get to be a grandpa, whether it’s for a little while, or God willing, a long time, I want to be the best. I want to be exactly as Lloyd was.
For me, Lloyd Werre is what The Grandpa Project is all about.