Forget Me Not: Losing my step-grandfather, Winton

I woke up last Saturday morning with a voicemail from my mom. As I listened to her message, I knew something was wrong. It was the tone in her voice. She said very little and asked me to call her back.

I knew what she was going to tell me.

photo

Noelle Leavitt Riley

It was about 7:30 a.m. Slowly waking up, I dialed my parents’ number, and my mom answered the phone. Right before she spoke, I heard the words come out of her mouth.

“Winton died last night, sweetie.”

Winton was my step-grandfather. He was 92 years old, and one of the most fascinating and intelligent men I ever knew. He was a blind mathematician and used to sit in his recliner, thinking, solving complex math problems in his head.

He taught math at the Colorado School of Mines, loved good food, great conversations and — more than anything — spending time with friends and family. He was a father, a grandfather and an extremely dedicated and loving husband to my Grandma Jan.

He had a stroke a couple of months ago, putting him in a very fragile state. When I was in Denver in November, I took dinner to him and Grandma Jan. It was so good to hear his voice despite the terrible stroke he suffered. He could no longer say the words he wanted to say. What he could say was, “That’s wonderful. It’s good to see you, and I love you, too.”

How great is that? A 92-year-old man who suffered a stroke, loses physical and mental capabilities and still finds the strength to say those loving words.

It’s so difficult when our loved ones get into their 90s, fall ill and eventually die. Words of comfort from others usually fall under the lines of “he was old” or “you were expecting it, weren’t you?”

Yes, I know. It doesn’t make it any easier, though.

Others might say, “he’s out of pain now, and he can see.”

I know that, too, and I’m so grateful that he now can see and that he’s pain free. For some reason, that doesn’t console my heavy heart. I remember Winton as a vibrant man who lived his life to the fullest despite his blindness. That’s the man I grieve.

I know he was old, but anyone who has lost an elderly loved one knows that it doesn’t matter. It still hurts.

A part of me wants the ones I love to live forever — unrealistic, I know. I guess now he’ll have to remain alive in my memories. I’m so grateful that my husband and I were able to see him on Christmas Day.

It breaks my heart to know that people don’t always have an opportunity to see their elders before they pass away. If there’s anything that comes out of this column, I hope it’s a reminder to contact the senior citizens in your life.

You never know when they’re going to exit this world. Hearing their voices, or perhaps them hearing yours, is a wonderful way to provide comfort despite whatever pain they may suffer.

As for Winton, he will be missed. I know that he’s in heaven with his friends and family and that, for the first time in decades, he can see again.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the managing editor of the Craig Daily Press and the Saturday Morning Press. She and her husband, Shawn Riley, run the Forget Me Not Foundation where they take donated flowers to the elderly, letting them know they’re not forgotten by society. Contact her at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the managing editor of the Craig Daily Press and the Saturday Morning Press. She and her husband, Shawn Riley, run the Forget Me Not Foundation where they take donated flowers to the elderly, letting them know they’re not forgotten by society. Contact her at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.