My Grandfather, Merle Bradley, passed away on August 22nd. I wanted to share the tribute I wrote to him. He was a wonderful man.
How do you say goodbye to one of your favorite people?
After having Grandpa all my life, it feels almost impossibly confusing that he is gone now. Almost all of my friends knew him- except for those in WA. You all knew him as Grandpa, he was the campus Grandpa at my university and hundreds of my friends have called him Grandpa over the years. He was present at all the defining moments of my life and it feels bizarre to know that won’t happen again. He and Grandma were what kept us in Colorado for so long and what made leaving so hard.
What I keep hearing from friends and family is he was “one of a kind.” And he certainly was. I could talk about his military and masonic achievements but so can everyone else. What I want to tell you about is Merle Bradley as my Grandpa, and what made him one of my favorite people.
Grandpa never knew a stranger. As a kid I used to think he was the Mayor or a celebrity because everywhere we went he knew everyone. I remember when we used to go to the mall I would guess before we left how many people Grandpa would see that he knew. I still think he knew almost the entire city of Topeka when he was in his prime. And I felt like a celebrity being with him- “this is my favorite Granddaughter” he would tell people. Of course, I was his only Granddaughter but it still made me feel special to be called his favorite.
Making people feel special was one of Grandpa’s specialties. He possessed the remarkable ability to make sure everyone he encountered felt seen, loved, valued, and cherished. It was impossible to be lonely around him. He had this uncanny ability to gravitate towards the people who needed loved most. When he would hang out with me & my friends he would be drawn to the kid who had been bullied, the kid whose parents were going through a divorce, or the kid who was upset about a bad test score at school. Without having any idea they needed extra love, he was always drawn to them and it amazed me. God gave him the ability to know who needed to feel love and he brought them the love of God when they needed it most.
Then he’d begin his classic Grandpa antics of talking in funny cartoon voices- Donald Duck being his specialty, wiggling his ears, arm wrestling, or crossing his eyes. Whatever was bothering you would melt away and we’d dissolve into laughter- even well into adulthood. Heck, he was doing these things from his hospice bed in his final weeks to make my son and I laugh! Grandpa was the one who was always there to cheer you up and always there to cheer you on.
I got to see the soft, tender and gentle side of Grandpa too. The side of him who wanted me to hold his hand whenever I was around. The side of him who would smooth my hair on the back of my head every single time he hugged me and tell me he loved me more than I could ever know. The Grandpa who let Grandma and I turn his office into a play zone every time I came out to visit as a little girl. The Grandpa who tried to protect me from anything that could ever hurt me. The man who my husband was more intimidated by than my dad when we first started dating because he was so fiercely protective of his family. The Grandpa who never missed a chance to tell me he loved me and to show me love. Who even with severe injuries came and helped me move every single year in college even though he was in extreme pain- and then helped my roommates move too. Who would slip $20 bills into my pockets, books, and luggage when I came to visit- and would sneak them in my friend’s bags too. The man who worked on my car, and my friend’s cars, well past the age he *should* have been doing those types of things. Because that’s who he was, one to always show love to his neighbor and help out if he could.
He loved his family with such fierce love and pride that I never once doubted his love. He looked at Grandma with tender eyes and held her hand with care even until his final days. Their commitment to each other for 70 years of marriage has been a greater marriage lesson than any book or class count ever teach me. My mind literally can’t grasp the idea of Grandma without Grandpa- not yet…
And I’ve cherished watching him as Great-grandpa with my son. J, for the last 10 years. I remember the smile of utter joy and delight when I put that tiny little newborn boy in his arms. These two have had a special relationship and it’s been a joy to watch them together. J brought out another side of Grandpa that had been away for a while. Grandpa drove with Grandma all the way up to Estes Park for his 4th birthday party and got out and played mini golf and explored the YMCA in spite of his increasing pain and decreasing mobility. When we came out to visit last summer, J wanted to play pool. Grandpa amazed us all, Grandma most of all, by getting out of his wheelchair to help teach J and shot several perfect shots like he was 20-something again and hadn’t missed a day of playing. He just wanted to bring joy to people and show his family how much he loved them. Even in his final days he was arm wrestling with J, wiggling his ears, and being silly with him just like always- helping to calm him down and let him know Great Grandpa was still the same person.
In our final moments with him he gave J that exact same mile of joy and pride that he’d given him as a newborn baby. He told us he loved us and was proud of us and said goodbye with a giant smile on his face. Down to his very last days he was a man who took delight in bringing joy to others and in making sure every single person he encountered felt seen, known, loved, and welcome. He did this with the hospice staff, doctors, and his family all the same.
Grandpa showed the love of God to the world. He was one of the first people to teach me about God and one of the greatest examples of God’s love I could imagine. I take great joy knowing he’s seeing the God who he loved and faithfully served all his life face-to-face now. He was a man who took great comfort and joy in his faith and strove to honor God in all he did. I think God showed him a smile of utter joy and delight like he showed to my boy and told him how proud he was of him. And he’ll be waiting for me with a hug and a smile one day too.
How do you say goodbye to one of your very favorite people? Maybe you don’t have to, maybe you say that you’ll see them again and trust that they’re still with you for as long as you have breath until you’re reunited again.
I love you Grandpa and I’m so proud of you and proud to have been your only Granddaughter. I will miss you every day for the rest of my life. Thank you for always loving me and making me feel special. Please stay close by me until we’re together again.