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.
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.