So it goes.
These past four or five years have been hard. I remember that first injury that put him in the hospital, and the infection that put him back there, again and again. It never got better after that, only worse. Long stays in the hospital, physical weakness... and then, added to this, the slow loss of his mental faculties. He became confused, forgot his grandchildren, then his children. Eventually he was moved to a hospital, and only brought home for holidays. And he grew weaker and weaker, in body and mind, and we could see how it frustrated him. He slept more and more, and moved less and less.
We always knew this was coming. And it was so hard to watch. So crushing, to see him like that, remembering what he'd been. I did my best to show him I loved him, even if he didn't know who I was.
Now I remember my Grandpa Tom, as I knew him growing up. Sitting in his comfy armchair by the fireplace, next to his shelf of books, his lap somehow big enough to hold all of his grandchildren at once. Lurking in the shadows of family holiday gatherings, filling entire rolls of film with candid shots of the clan eating, talking, opening presents. Outside on a humid, mosquito-bitten day, wearing a banana-stained, worn and holey t-shirt proclaiming Gary Gill for Mayor, mixing cement to build his endless pathways through the jungle of his property, climbing the hillside under the bamboo in his Stairway to Heaven. Making quirky jokes in his acerbic, sarcastic way. Telling stories to us kids about the Cookie Monster eating the moon, making it smaller each night (but never explaining how it got bigger). Making breakfast on Sunday mornings, waffles and Glop, with the jars of Tabasco and Banana Sauce out on the table.
I honor the inestimable Thomas Gill, as I never knew him; I honor with pride his accomplishments and service to the Territory and State of Hawaii, and to the United States of America, in the years before I was born. Declined an officer rank and served as infantryman in WWII, fighting in the Pacific Theater and earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. After the war, a lawyer, then a politician. Helped to bring about the Democratic Revolution of 1954, ousting the Republicans from power in the Territorial government (Hawaii has been fiercely Democratic since then). Served in the Territorial House of Representatives, then the Hawaii State Legislature. Elected U.S. Congressman in 1962; served only one term but staunchly supported liberal causes, authoring Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Elected Hawaii's Lt. Governor in 1966; ran for Governor twice on a campaign of reform. He has received awards and honors from PFLAG-Oahu and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Coalition-Hawaii for his civil rights work.
The news of his passing has spread fast. Within hours I found his Wikipedia page has been updated, and the Honolulu Advertiser had had posted an article commemorating him, to which several people have posted with touching comments. It is comforting to have so many friends, known and unknown, mourning with us.
I loved my Grandpa as soon as I was born, and was fiercely proud of him as soon as I was old enough to comprehend what he has done, and what he has meant to so many people. He has been an example and an inspiration to his children, my mother and her five brothers; he is an inspiration to me, and I can only hope to live up to his legacy.
Grandpa Tom, I respect you, I honor you, I miss you, I love you.