I used to write a weekly column for Bil Browning's The Bilerico Project called Picture Tells A Story. My grandfather died suddenly this afternoon, and for whatever twist of how I manage grief, I knew that the best thing I could do for myself was go shoot the sunset and write a PTAS about grandpa, so here it is.
Grandpa Richard - Picture Tells A Story
When the sun rose on May 8th, my grandfather was alive, for all I know he even watched it. But by the time the sun set, he was gone. I took this photo standing on the dock at Camp Ellis, watching as for the first time in over ninety-four years, the sun set on a world without him in it. Everyone reacts to grief differently, and I knew that what I needed this evening was to watch and capture this sunset.
I'm fond of saying that grandpa was a rock for his family, and for so many other people. He was a point of stability, doing what he could to support, ground, and shore up the people he cared about. But at the same time, as is common with rock, flexibility wasn't often his virtue. Those he cared about too often found themselves dashed against him by the waves of life, and he could leave figurative scrapes and bruises on our spirits without ever being aware of it.
The last few years had been especially hard on my grandfather. For a man who grew up in Brooklyn having his milk delivered by horse and buggy, life in the internet age was often frustrating and alienating. To his last day, he remained sharp, independent, and engaged in life, which he first had shared with his childhood sweetheart, my grandmother, for well over fifty years, and then with his beloved companion Barbra for more than another decade.
But that sharpness came with a cost of its own. As a man who believed strongly in the American Dream and the potential for business and capitalism to be a force for social good, the Great Recession and corporate shift to seeing seeing employees as disposable, with businesses having no sense of loyalty other than to their shareholders, frustrated him to no end. Having grown up before the Second World War, in which he served in the Army, he had experienced no small amount of anti-semitism in his life. The rise of the Alt Right and the accession of Donald Trump to the presidency worried and disgusted him as an American, a Jew, and a businessman from NYC.
Beyond that though, grandpa often saw himself as the last man standing of the people who had made up so much of his life. All his childhood, and even most of his long-time adulthood friends are gone, as are his brothers, and the sister he never got to meet. My uncle was probably the person left on earth who had known my grandfather the longest. It's a strange and difficult thing to outlive one's past.
There is not enough room on the page to delve into the ways my grandfather shaped who I am today, in ways both good and not-so-good. But what I will say is that throughout my whole life, I never once doubted that he loved me. And for all his inflexibility in much of his life, he worked hard to roll with myriad challenges of loving me as his grandson. Through the development of my severe Tourette, to my coming out as queer, my polyamorous relationships, even my... less than conventional career paths, grandpa was often puzzled and dubious, but always loving.
So while the sun set on a world without him in it anymore, I take solace in knowing that I carry his love, and as long as the sun rises on I, and so many others he cared about, he continues to be part of our world.