Grandpa and I spent our birthdays together. We were born 7 days apart during the perfect month of August. We spent the majority of our celebrations on one of the most gorgeous lakes in Northwestern Ontario, Clearwater Lake.
One birthday I sat on grandpa’s lap for a classic photo opportunity with one of those click and crank yellow Kodak cameras. I turned and said to him, “Gramps, this year I am 6 and you are 60. Next year, I will be 7 and you will be 70. (Cue the hilarious look on his face). Wait a minute, that can’t be right!” – and that right there, ladies and gentlemen, went down in history as one of Grandpa Bill’s favourite stories. He told it EVERY YEAR, at least once. Harmless, right? But eventually it became a few times every time I saw him, then every time, and then 2 or three times in the same visit. Dementia? What is Dementia? MY GRANDPA? No way. They obviously don’t know Wild Bill like we do. He works non-stop and is so healthy. Not MY GRANDPA, that’s impossible.
At first it wasn’t too bad. I mean come on, it’s Grandpa Bill, he is going to be fine. We had good conversations and did crosswords and word searches together (you know, to keep the mind as fresh as we could). A highlight was having lunch at my grandparent’s house about 2-3 times a week when I was working in Emo. Looking back now, I am so damn thankful for those moments – of good conversations, him getting in trouble from Grandma, and giggles from us all. And I remember a conversation that was an honest check in – “How’s it going, Gramps?” “You know what, Nick? It’s getting fuzzier and fuzzier. But I will never understand how we can put a man on the moon, but no one can tell me what’s going on with my brain.” Me sitting at the table with him, with tears going down my face.
So the years go by and I go to college. My grandpa’s dementia progresses. I meet my fiance, Eric, on May 30th of 2016, at Dairy Queen for our first date. It went so well that we sat and talked for 3 hours, then went for a 45 minute walk together. It wasn’t long before I was ready to bring him home and introduce him to my family – our first trip to the lake. We planned a 5-7 day trip in July and ended up staying for 16 days.
The weather was perfect, our family was together, the water was so warm…it was just an incredible time. My family met Eric, Eric met my family – except for gramps. This trip was bittersweet for me. It was sweet because this trip, I knew I was in love with this man. It was so easy to be with Eric and my family; we had so much fun together. And it was bitter, because my grandpa was never going to meet him. Sure he might “meet” him physically, but he was never going to know him, remember him, heckle him, and love him.
A year and a half goes by, and Eric and I are at our friend Taylor’s house for breakfast and some ice cream on September 30, 2017 (we have ice cream on the 30th of every month to remember our first date and our obsession with ice cream). It seemed all casual. I was sick so I had dressed up and put makeup on to trick myself into thinking that I wasn’t really sick, but I was. Then it was the second last bite of my cone and something caught my attention – it’s hard, yuck! What kind of ice cream is this?! OMG disgusting. It has plastic in it. Eric didn’t unwrap the cone right. Now I’m sad, you know, because I’m sick and he didn’t do it right. Why is Taylor taking photos? This is awful. Wait, what the hell is this? Eric?
You know it. He got down on one knee and asked me if we could share our lives together forever. YES. YES. YES. Cue the tears… not only had I found my best friend in my partner, but this ring. Let me tell you about this ring. WOWZA!
This is for me? Are you sure? Can you believe it? This ring.
He goes on to tell me – this ring is not only mine, but my grandma Armin’s.
Well, this diamond right here is her 25th Anniversary diamond.
Okay, I recognize that one.
And all off these other little diamonds are her wedding and engagement rings. Her ring is melted down to make your band, and your wedding band is made up of more of her diamonds and rings.
Eric had asked my parents in May, conjured up a plan with my Gram and got the diamonds in August, and had a friend make this ring. Of course, I cried. I’m emotional like that. But why was I crying? My Grandpa and Grandma Mosbeck had been married for 61 years at that point. Gramps will not be at our wedding physically, but he will be with us EVERY single day leading up to and after our marriage. That is damn special to me, to us, to my grandma, and to my family. How lucky are we?
As we got closer to Christmas, we made plans to stop and visit Gramps on our way into town. My Dad and Gram would meet us there (I can’t go there alone – it hurts too much). Thank goodness, Eric will finally meet my Gramps. Of course it’s not the Gramps that I wish he knew, but it’s still him. He is in there – somewhere.
He was in such a good mood that day. We ate some lunch and it started snowing lightly outside. It was gorgeous. His conversation was fuzzy, here and there, and up and down, and never a full sentence. His facial expression looked lost but then I showed him my rings.
“Ooooooooooh,” he said with raised eyebrows and a great expression on his face. He knew. He knew those diamonds, not together, but separately he knew them. And I felt it. He was proud that I would wear their diamonds. It was short, just a moment in time, and then it was gone. He went back to looking outside, sipping water when prompted, and eating slowly. But what happened next, shook me.
My grandma came over to take his bib off. He turned and looked at her, with PURE CLARITY and a snicker out of his mouth, “Hey Boss!!” She stopped and we all laughed. It was a nickname that he had for her. There he was, my grandpa. I saw him. He saw us, well no, he only saw her, but that’s okay. It was beautiful.
Those moments, like when he is brushing his teeth in his bathroom and stops to point at the glass with his toothbrush, and says, “that guy right there, he’s my best friend.” Then turns to my grandma and says, “and you, you’re next.” Code for, “I love you. You’re my best friend.” I imagine those moments are why we hold on so dearly, because we know deep inside that he is in there. He is FULL of those moments and he is FULL of those memories. Memories of Gram, us, hunting, trapping, flying, fishing, swearing, fighting, joking, laughing, swimming (just kidding, he never swam), and watching his grandchildren grow and some of his great grandchildren grow, and living his days in those blue overalls, busy outside working on a project.
My grandpa could take apart anything and put it back together. He could plumb, dig wells, build houses, and he could wire anything. He could swear like a sailor (only the fellas knew this, not us ladies), eat apple pie and chocolate chip cookies with the best of them, and he could CHUG burning hot coffee (my dad and I still talk about this every time we drink coffee together).
And here I am, writing this, about thirty days away from our wedding. I’m gonna be a Barrett. Planning is crazy, my mother and father are saviors, and we found the right person to marry us. We have our clothes set and ready, our groomsmen and bridesmaids are ready to party, and our guests are getting excited. Cabins are booked, photographer is ready to make us look amazing, there will be a tent, and the natural beauty of the best lake on earth – Clearwater Lake. And I keep thinking about my Gramps.
I wish he could be there, sitting front and center with my Gram, holding hands and crying. I know he would cry. I am his favourite granddaughter (I am his only granddaughter – this was his favourite thing to tell me). He would see how happy I am and how good we are together. And he would see this ring.
This is life. 62 years of marriage and this family they built. He will be a part of our marriage every day and I promise to put in the work to bring these unbelievably beautiful rings through another 62 years.
Gramps, our family is kindhearted, hard working, honest, hilarious, and they love one heck of a party. In your honour, we are asking our guests to kick back, relax, and celebrate – because we know, you would if you could.
I love you Gramps and what I wouldn’t do to have you with us – a full day of clarity with the Boss (love you Gram) to celebrate the future. I know you’re there and that you’re happy for me. And I know that you love me. Thank you for shaping our lives.
Cheers to all the memories on Clearwater Lake. I promise to make this wedding another one to remember, at our special place.
Note from Lainie:
This piece was written by a close family friend, Nicki. I’ve known Nick since she was little. Our dad’s were childhood friends and both of our families grew up spending lots of time on Clearwater Lake.
This past Christmas, Nick was sharing some stories about her grandpa that were really touching. I’ve never experienced firsthand what it’s like to have a loved one with Dementia or Alzheimer’s so I recently asked Nick if she could share some stories. This one left me teary at the end.
Nick, I’m so looking forward to your wedding next month and seeing the whole Mosbeck crew. Your grandpa will be there in everything that’s around you – the lake, your family, the party, and your ring. He would be very proud of you.