Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grandpa's Killer

By CJ West, author Addicted To Love

I’ve killed a lot of people, fictionally speaking, with guns, knives, ropes, chemicals, explosives, and even a wine bottle. These killings tend to be spectacular and the killers usually get punished in the end. What would be more insidious is a real life killing that has gone unpunished. I’m going to tell you the story of a sweet old man who died before his time and I’ll let you decide who was to blame.

My grandfather, Lefty, was a people pleaser. The kind of guy that would do one hundred favors for you and never ask for one in return. He would shovel snow in a blizzard with a spoon before he’d ask to borrow a shovel. As I grew older I understood that our personalities were incredibly similar.  We are both very quiet by nature and take great pleasure in doing things for other people. As I watched my grandfather age, I believed he measured himself by the things he did for others. I saw my future in him, and understood the root of some of my behaviors by watching his.

Everyone who knew my grandfather loved him. How could you not love a guy who’d give you his left arm if he could figure out how to attach it for you one-handed?

You might expect a sweet guy like my grandfather to end up with a doting wife, each taking great care of the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. My grandmother was domineering to the point of absurdity. I was often embarrassed for my grandfather as I watched him being ordered around by a woman who didn’t leave her chair. He was a smart man, but very often was pushed into unwise decisions because he couldn’t refuse my grandmother’s wishes. I don’t think my grandmother was evil, but she was certainly self-centered and one of the least self-aware people I’ve known.

When I watched them I saw my poor grandfather being bullied, but it was also clear they were very much in love. They needed each other. Grandpa needed to serve. Grandma needed to be firmly in charge. I wondered as the years went on if my grandmother had always been so self-centered or if my grandfather’s doting had raised her expectations to unsustainable heights. And when I create characters I think about how our psychological makeup may bind us to people who may not seem like the obvious choice, but serve our “invisible” needs and bring us peace in a way that is hard to understand.

When my grandparents were in their mid 80’s, my grandmother’s health began to fail. My grandfather did everything for her, driving himself to his physical limit, until he finally asked for help. The family knew it was serious because Grandpa never asked for anything. My aunts and uncles prepared to bring in a fulltime nurse to take care of my grandmother, but she refused to have a woman in the house because she thought my 85 year old grandfather would run off with her.

Grandpa worked on. My grandmother demanded to be cared for day and night and Grandpa could not keep up. He washed bedclothes twice a day. He cleaned. He cooked meals. All at an age where many people, my grandmother included, couldn’t take care of themselves, never mind someone completely dependent for everything.

Grandpa literally worked himself to death. He had a massive heart attack and died several years sooner than he should have. It has been years since. My grandmother has also passed and no one misses my grandfather more than my dad. I wonder why this happened. Should the children have stepped in and forced my grandmother to accept in-home care or move into a home? Should my grandfather have finally stood his ground and refused to serve her every need?

Since this is a blog about crime, chime in and tell me who you think Grandpa’s killer was and what punishment (if any) they deserve.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story. Some of the best crime stories have ambiguous endings that leave readers uncertain. This may be one of those.

    In dealing with my own family members, I've learned that you can't force anyone to do the right thing and you can only protect people to a certain point.

    Your grandfather sounds like a good man who lived, and died, by his own decisions.

  2. We can never truly know another person. And we can only guess at what goes on behind closed doors in real life.

    People make choices, and even if (to others) those choices seem horrible, they make those choices freely. If they continue to make the same choice, it's probably because they get something out of it we can't see.

    Your grandfather was loved. What a rich life he had.

  3. LJ,

    He was a great man and I loved him very much. I wish the end had been different. Strangely I saw myself heading down the same path and recently slammed on the brakes and changed course. So far I've been much happier for it.


  4. Very interesting post, CJ. My mother was also quite domineering, and that always bothered me, even though Dad asserted himself from time to time in a passive agressive way. When Mom died first, after 66 years of marriage, Dad was genuinely devastated by the loss, and often lamented how much he missed her. Somehow their relationship worked for them, it seems, maybe partly because Dad was freed from the burden of having to make many of the decisions... Who knows?

  5. Boy, this is a tough one. I knew a couple, the man passive and likable, the woman a complete harriden. When she died first, I thought "Finally, he'll have some peace." Then he died just six days later! I felt so badly for him. She was his lifeline - I don't understand it. All I know is, you need to pass off your guilt. Your grandfather made his own choices. Your grandmother never relented. I would suspect whatever drove both of them - they are at peace now.


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