My grandfather, Hershel Ward, passed away this morning. He died in his recliner, coffee cup beside him, half-empty packet of tobacco sticking out of his pocket (with a wad in his mouth), watching the WVU pre-game. Heart attack — his fourth one, though first in over a decade. He was 78 years old.
He could be hilarious. He could be really hateful. We’ve always joked with my dad and my brother when they get hateful that they’re being just like HB — Hershel Brown Ward. He could cuss up a storm if the Mountaineers weren’t doing well in a game. He could cuss up a storm when he hit his head on the hanging light in the living room (as he often did, being 6’4” living in a small house with a low ceiling). He didn’t really have deep conversations, at least when I was around — the weather and the Mountaineers were his go-to topics. He liked John Wayne movies and thought Julia Roberts was ugly. When my brother and I were little, he’d always let us get away with things Mom and Dad never would. He taught my brother to spit and say “damn.” He’d actually cuddle with me and read me books.
At 78 years old, he was still working full-time. He’d retired for a while, but retirement didn’t suit him. So he went to work with my grandmother at a senior citizen’s center. Grandma is a receptionist, and he was a driver. The people he was driving around were usually younger than him. He had a good time, though — it always gave him stories to tell about how he was so old taking care of people younger than him who couldn’t wipe their chins. He was never very politically correct.
The last time I saw him was at my wedding (pictured). His birthday had been the day before, so we had my wedding cake and a birthday cake for him. I remember seeing him in the basement of the church after the ceremony (as we were going down to bustle the train on my dress), and it struck me then how much older he looked than I ever remembered — but he still looked really good for 77 (at the time). They were supposed to stay behind and help clean up, but there was a football game he didn’t want to miss. Like I said, never very politically correct.
For their 50th anniversary, the whole family went down and we had a party with family and friends. I played piano, and Dad played and sang “Time in a Bottle.” Grandma’s always been emotional, so she sat and cried the whole time Dad was singing. Papaw was never emotional, and definitely not a loving sort of fellow. But that day, he pulled a chair up behind her and held her and rocked her while she cried and they both listened to my Dad play and sing. It was nice to see that he really did have a gentle side — possibly the only time I ever really saw it enough to notice it.
I don’t know what my grandmother will do. I think it might kill me to see her tomorrow. It’s going to be so hard for her once the shock wears off. Only one of their four children lives nearby (granted, it is only five houses down). I hate living so far away.
The viewing is Monday, the funeral is Tuesday. I’ve never been to a family member’s funeral before.