Well Lived, Well Loved, Well Played

The world lost a great man last week.

My grandfather and US Navy veteran, Daniel Durant, passed away on Friday at the age of 89.   While in Chicago, I received a phone call from my mom late at night telling me to, “Raise a glass to Grandpa’s memory, Stephen.  He passed away an hour ago.”

After taking a sip of my Dewars on the rocks (his favorite drink), my first thought was, “Holy crap, this tastes like motor oil!”  My second thought was, “Wow. Grandpa lived such a great life for so long, inspired and helped so many, and left this world a better place.”

After attending his wake and laying him to rest, I wanted to share some of the lessons I was lucky enough to learn from Grandpa Dan, one of the best men I’ve ever known.

Work hard. Really hard.

Daniel J. Durant was born in 1923; his dad was a pipe fitter and his mom, a homemaker.  Always a hard worker, Grandpa Dan paid his own way through college, graduating from Boston College in 1940. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served proudly as a radarman on a battleship in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

After the Navy, Grandpa went to work as a salesman for Kohler Company, a company he stayed with for 38 YEARS, working his way up to become a district manager until he retired back in 1987.

Grandpa worked hard during the week and part-time on Saturdays to make ends meet and to provide for his family. He never expected anything in return, never felt entitled, and never asked to be taken care of; he knew those things were his responsibility.  He instilled that same work ethic in his children. My mom recalled that she was never allowed to call in sick without a truly legitimate illness.

How strong is your work work ethic? Do you constantly come up with excuses as to why you’re not getting ahead in life, or do you take a look in the mirror and understand that you’re responsible for your future?   

Now, Grandpa Dan not only worked hard to provide for his family, but he also worked incredibly hard everything in life,  When he confidently asked his future bride Ellen if he could take her out on a date, she said “No!”  He persisted, and convinced her to give him a chance.  Luckily (for me!), she eventually said yes. They were married soon after that and went on to stay married for sixty incredible years.

My grandfather was the definition of a self-made man.   He knew that he wanted to create a great life and provide for his family, so he put in the time, effort, and dedication to make it happen.

What do you want your destiny to be?  What steps are you taking today to make that happen?

Be nice to EVERYBODY that you meet

My grandfather had a unique ability to make a huge impact on anybody that he interacted with, even if it was for a few short moments.

I’m sure there are hundreds of stories that my mom, uncles, and aunts could share, but these are just a few lives he’s impacted in the past few weeks:

  • Gus, his roommate at the rehab hospital where he stayed for the last three weeks of his life: Despite being in tremendous pain, Grandpa Dan would wake up every morning and say “Good morning Gus! How ya doing!?”  Grandpa was happy to adopt Gus into our family, inviting him to join the conversation whenever any of us came to visit.  After checking out, Gus was in constant contact with my Mom over the past few weeks, checking in on Grandpa because he, “loved that little guy!”
  • A waittress at Turners, a restaurant he loved:  My mom was sitting in a drugstore a few days ago, going through photos of Grandpa to print out to bring to the funeral home.  The lady sitting next to her happened to notice the photos, recognized Grandpa, and immediately told my Mom that she loved him; he was their favorite customer, treating everybody with respect, and never stopped smiling, and always making new friends while eating oysters at the bar.
  • His nurses and care-givers at the various hospitals in which he spent the final months of his life:  A few of his nurses attended his wake and funeral; they were on a first-name basis with my mom, aunt, and uncles because simply because they loved Grandpa and his family so much.  Once he was switched over to hospice care last Thursday, he made such an impression on Tham, his Hospice R.N. (Grandpa called him “Dr. Tom”) in only two days that the he attended the funeral service as well.

Grandpa Dan treated everyone with respect, kindness, and a sense of humor.

Do you treat every interaction everyday with importance?  Remember that we’re all human and that we all deserve to be treated as such.  Say hi to people.  Smile.  Ask them how their day is going and take the time listen to their answer!

Be active in your community

Grandpa proudly served in the US Navy, and upon returning to civilian life joined practically every organization you could imagine:

  • A lifetime member of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign War) Harold F. ‘Young Post of Melrose.
  • A member, Senior Altar Server, Lector and Eucharistic Minister of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church of Wakefield.
  • A member of the Irish American Club of Malden and the Mystic Valley Canoe and Tennis Club.

Grandpa was always busy volunteering for a cause, attending services, raising money for charities, selling poppies at the local market on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, and taking an incredibly active role in his community.

He would host (and attend) dinner and holiday parties, have cocktail hour at his apartment each week, and made an effort to always know his community and neighbors.

Do you know your neighbors?   Take the time and effort to knock on their doors and invite them over for a drink!  Make the effort to knock on the door of  ONE of your neighbors and introduce yourself!  We’re social creatures, and it’s amazing how important an active community can be to your success and happiness.

On Monday night, in an incredibly powerful (and heartbreaking moment), the members of Grandpa’s VFW Post attended his wake in uniform.

We sat and watched as this group of gentlemen between the ages of 40 and 80 marched in, saluted my grandfather’s casket, and presented him with a series of gifts and commendations for his lifetime of service.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  I have no doubt Grandpa had attended dozens of funerals over the years as a member of the VFW to take pay his respects as well, and returning the favor was the least these guys could do.

I encourage you to be more like Gradpa.  Join ONE group.  Volunteer at ONE event.   Make the effort to make somebody else’s day – remember, we’re all in this together!

Be grateful, not entitled

Grandpa grew up during the depression.  He fought in a World War.  He put four children through college.  He was happily married for 60+ years before losing his wife (my Nana) to an incredibly sudden and very aggressive form of cancer last year.

Although he was saddened to find out that he would be spending the remainder of his life in a hospital bed rather than in his home, he took the news in stride and made the most of that situation by befriending every single nurse, doctor, and patient that he encountered.

He always smiled, always had fun (as referenced by the “new haircut” I gave him in the above photo), and truly loved life.

Throughout my entire existence, I don’t think I ever once heard Grandpa complain about anything.

When I was probably six or seven, my grandparents came down to watch us three kids while my folks were out of town.  My mom had left spaghetti and spaghetti sauce in the fridge for us to heat up for dinner.  My grandmother managed to grab the pasta and the giant container of salsa, instead of pasta sauce.  Upon our first bite, we kids immediately knew that something was wrong: our mouths were on fire with each bite.

Neither of my grandparents noticed or complained.  They were told to heat up and eat the spaghetti prepared by my mother, so they did!  It didn’t matter to them that the spaghetti was doused in super spicy salsa.  They ate the entire thing without a single comment!

Every time I find myself complaining, I remind myself just how freaking LUCKY I am to be alive in this day and age.  As a society we have it better than ever before, and yet many of us feel entitled and complain the second things don’t go right!  Sometimes sh** happens; it’s how we deal with it that make us who we are.

During his last days, my Uncle Danny asked Grandpa if he had any words in particular he wanted to share with folks at his funeral.  He simply smiled, and said “Nope!  Tell them all I’ll see them in Heaven!”

Be more like Grandpa

I was very fortunate enough to have all four of my grandparents for the majority of my life.  

I lost my other grandfather two years ago while traveling through Peru, and I lost one of my grandmothers while traveling through Cambodia.  I am so thankful that I was in the country for Grandpa’s passing so that I could be part of the services and celebrations of his life.

I got to see him just a week or so before he passed away, and even then I still feel like the world has been robbed of a great man. I feel lucky to have gotten a chance to know him for my entire life.  He shouted out, “Stevarino!” and had a smile on his face every time I got a chance to see him.

I hope you can learn from Grandpa Dan too:

  • Work hard for what you want.  Provide for your family.  Take care of yourself.  If you meet somebody that needs to be in your life, do everything you can to make them a part of it.  Take pride in your work!
  • Treat everybody with respect.   They’re doing their best to make their way in this world, just like you.
  • Get to know your community and your neighbors.  Join organizations.  Be part of causes greater than yourself.  Knock on your neighbor’s door and say hello.
  • Be grateful, not entitled.  Understand that you’re not entitled to other people’s successes simply for existing.  It’s YOUR responsibility, but be grateful that you have the opportunity to create a great life for yourself if you put the effort in.
  • Forget those that don’t matter and focus on those that do. At my Uncle’s birthday just a few weeks ago, Grandpa ended his toast with the Latin phrase, “Illegitimi non carborundum.”  Befuddled, his children asked what it meant.  Granpda then translated it: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Ha!
  • Have fun.   Grandpa, upon finding out that had maybe weeks to live, invited all of his kids to his hospital bedside to toast life with a shot of  Scotch with him.  Be thankful for every freaking day, understanding that things can change in the blink of an eye. Enjoy yourself.

Grandpa, thank you for raising four great children and being such an incredible grandparent to us eight grandkids.  Thank you for being so supportive of Nerd Fitness for all of these years (I know how much you loved getting “Nerd Mail from Steve” twice a week).   Thank you for always smiling and treating everybody with respect.

I hope I’ve made you proud, and will do everything in my power to live as you did.

As Uncle Danny said about Grandpa‘s life: “Well lived, well loved, well played.”

I think that’s a pretty good goal to aim for.  

-Steve

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  • Nahid

    I’m sorry for your loss. Your grandpa reminds me a lot of my grandpa, who passed away about 7 years ago. I miss him everyday, but am also very thankful for all the lessons he left behind for me to learn from. Thanks for sharing your grandpa’s life with us!

  • http://shockingfit.com/ Mario

    Very sorry for your loss man. My condolences.

  • Devon

    Beautiful article, Steve. My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family.

  • PattyRice

    Hi Kristine-maybe they knew each other from annual meetings?

  • Luciana

    Steve, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sure I speak for many, many of us in the NF community when I say your family will be in our thoughts.

  • Liz 2

    I am so sorry for your loss, Steve. Your grandpa sounds like an awesome man. He must be happy to be back with Nana now. By the way, that picture of you and him is truly awesome, it made me smile. Well played indeed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Katy-Inglis/724494269 Katy Inglis

    Steve, so sorry to hear about your granddad, but what an inspiring man. I feel humbled. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/james_zedd James Zedd

    A great way to live indeed. Thanks for sharing this Steve.

  • Matt T.

    Steve that was a great article. I actually just read this post and brought my mother in the room because she is also a Eucharistic Minister at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish and volunteers for the Melrose MA post of the VFW. My mom recognized your grandfather and said that he was a very kind man. Thank you for helping people think about people who lived life the right way.

  • http://www.stevekamb.com Steve Kamb

    Wow, Steve I’m so sorry to hear that man :( Hope all is well – email me if I can do anything for you.

    -Steve

  • http://www.stevekamb.com Steve Kamb
  • http://www.stevekamb.com Steve Kamb

    Ooops :)

  • http://twitter.com/Brazilian_Body The Brazilian Body

    Unreal article Steve. You really know how to connect with your audience and evoke some serious emotion. Keep it up!

  • @MShoneBahar

    Terrific tribute to your grandfather. Sending you and your family my condolences.

  • Ryan H.

    I’m sorry for you loss Steve. Your Grandfather sounds like he was a really great guy and a great man. This was a really nice tribute to him. Thank you for sharing his story with us.

  • steve ward

    I’m sorry to hear that last my mom last week as well

  • Rae

    Yeah, I’m not going to say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ because personally, that annoyed the HECK outta me!! My father died two years ago and my grandma eighteen months later, so I’ve had many a person come up and tell me that. But I feel for ya, man. It sucks, it really does. He sounds like an amazing person that I would have loved to meet. Keep up the good work, Steve. You’re an incredible motivation.
    -Rae

  • John

    I am really sorry for your loss, Steve.

  • gardengnome

    Steve I’m so sorry to hear about your grandpa, he sounds like he was a brilliant man and a true gentleman. I’m pretty new to the site but I gotta say this is the most inspiring article I’ve read anywhere in a long time, and I have to admit that I had tears in my eyes the whole time I was reading. All the best to you and your family and keep up the good work.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/lovelymeggie Megan Poposki

    Wow – this is an amazing article and I am touched by your narrative of your Grandfather, you have wonderful advice from him.

  • http://twitter.com/CraigOnMars Craig Oats

    A good post Steve and an inspiring one.
    I am GENUINELY sorry for your loss. I know the pain of losing a Grandparent.
    Much like you’ve said to others, you’re welcome to speak to any of us about it if you want to.

    Your Grandpa was an inspirational man. I want to be just as impacting on my own and others life as he was.

  • Ian Dawson Mackay

    Hi Steve,
    Really sorry to hear about your loss. I had three grandparents die in a years time, so I can appreciate how your feeling. Be glad you had someone like him in your life as he sounds like an awesome man, that anyone would be glad to know. Also, you are doing him proud the way you are helping others.
    Time does help the loss but its horrible advice to give and shitty to hear.
    Stay strong dude, your site is the online version of your grandpa!
    Talk soon,
    Ian

  • Vickie Cannoles

    So sorry for your loss Steve! What a great man :) You brought me back to when my own grandfather passed away… Thank you for sharing. Many great lessons in this post :)

  • Courtnie Marie

    Phew, should not have read this at a public airport! I was traveling for my grandmother’s passing so I understand how important it must’ve been for you to be at your Grandpa’s celebrations.

  • Shan

    What a beautiful tribute Steve! I can see where you get it from :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1362312724 Melissa Fuda Hedwall

    Hello Steve. I just did a search for fitness communities and found yours. This article on the front page hit home for me immediately! I’m sorry you lost your Grandpa :( My father passed away in June. I’m very young to have a Dad in World War 2. My Dad was very much like yours. Hey, do you mind if I stick around? :)

  • Dan

    I love this story. My grandmother past away a few months ago, and much of what you shared, I can relate to. They came from a generation we can learn so much from. Thanks for sharing this with us Steve. I’m sure he is very proud of his grandson!!!!

  • abukowski

    I am sorry to hear about your grandpa but I am so glad he was such a tremendous influence on your life. My grandpa (or g-pa as we call him!) is turning 80 next month and I am not-so-patiently counting the days when I can go home (they live in Ohio and I in Virginia) and see him. He is much like your grandpa and I am so blessed to have him in my life. Thank you for sharing this!

  • marissa bethoney

    What a wonderful tribute and beautiful message! Thanks for sharing you Grandpa’s story and your commitment to honoring his life by living in his example. Very inspiring!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.kilpatrick.1 Ray Kilpatrick

    My apologies for not writing this sooner, Steve. I too lost my Grandfather this past year (in April). So much of what you wrote reflects my own experiences with him. He faced life with humor and grace. Not once did I ever see him depressed or unmotivated in anything he did, as farming is not a forgiving trade. As a contrast to this, I spent many years of the past decade with no real life goal other than self-pity after having to leave a great college. My family and I found out he was going to pass away about a year ago, as doctors had said there was nothing more they could do. This among other reasons finally got me out of my slump to take control of my life and make him proud before he was gone. As a result I was able to present to him my completed Associate’s Degree and admission to a Four-year school in the month preceding his death.

    I imagine your loss was as greatly emotional to you as losing my Grandfather has been for me. Speaking for myself, the only way such feelings can be dealt with is to live every day and action in honor of him. Speaking of which, I must return to my law class reading, after I’ve dried my eyes of course.

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  • http://twitter.com/trinieats jolisa brewster

    what an awesome post! your grandpa sounded like a real gem..one of a kind type of guy. Thank you for sharing…love some of the positive nugets you threw in reminding us all to live our lives well and grounded.