My Pop died on Tuesday.
I wrote about my grandfather a few months ago, detailing his losing battle with dementia. Well, I saw him earlier this month. It was the first time I’d visited him since Christmas. I couldn’t believe how different he was in just that short amount time. He was basically confined to his bed, unable to move without help. He didn’t seem to recognize anyone. I knew that he was deteriorating as the dementia got worse, but I was completely unprepared for how much it had ravaged his body and mind in just six months. It finally won on Tuesday, and he passed away.
But I don’t want to dwell on dementia, or on this incredible sadness that will now become a part of me. Instead, I want to post the eulogy I read at his viewing. Really, this sums up everything I’ve been feeling about him. And I’ll also throw in the video tribute I made too.
Hello. For those of you that may not know me, my name is Chris. I am one of Dave’s countless grandchildren. Many of you are here to honor a man that you know as a friend, a neighbor, an ally, a soldier… or the “Garbage Man.” Others remember him best as a loving father and husband. But for us – his grandchildren and great-grandchildren – Dave was simply known as Pop-Pop… or Pop, for short.
The last thing I said to Pop was, “I’ll see you soon, Pop.” I remember it because I always said some kind of variation of that when I’d leave his house. He’d ask me, “When are you coming back?” or “When can you come and help me take the boat out?” I’d always tell him not to worry, because I’d see him soon. For almost my entire life, Pop has been the only grandfather I’ve ever known. I’ve been so lucky to have as much time with him as I’ve had. But even so, I find myself wishing that I’d lived my life a little faster. That he could have had the opportunity to see me start my own family. But I know that, if he had, he would tell me the same thing he always told me when I would visit him: You’re a good man.
It is an honor to stand here before you today and an absolute pleasure to share some stories of this unparalleled man. It’s a daunting task, though, to talk about a man who spent 93 years on this planet. I can’t tell you about what Pop was like as a child, growing up in Baltimore. I don’t know the horrors he faced during World War II, or when he watched atomic bombs devastate Bikini Atoll. I can’t tell you what he was like when he married a 17-year-old Hawaiian girl, or what he was like as a father, a real estate agent, or even what he was like as the Garbage Man. But I, along with my cousins and siblings, have had the greatest of luck to be his grandchildren. And we CAN tell you what it was like to know David Hartlove as a grandfather.
Pop has taught each and every one of us about love. I’m pretty sure everyone in this room has heard his favorite saying, “Never go to bed angry.” That sentiment is something that Pop has always lived. In fact, it perfectly sums up the constantly cheery attitude he always had. Pop was a man who knew that arguments were ephemeral. He didn’t waste time being angry, because it got in the way of his love. And I have never seen anyone love another person the way that Pop loved his wife, Eileen. Or as I call her, Grandma. When I would go to the grocery store with him, he’d always be sure to bring a flower home for her. There was no doubt about it – Grandma was his everything. Pop knew that life was fleeting, and going to bed angry one time could lead to a mistake that could never be taken back. That kind of selfless devotion, for him to put aside his own anger or frustrations (no matter how justified he may have felt), is a kind of devotion that most can only dream of obtaining. It’s a peaceful state of mind, and Pop was truly the definition of a peaceful man.
For as long as he was able, I always knew Pop to live each day to the fullest. When I would visit Pop as a little kid, he was always the first one out of bed. If I was lucky, I’d wake up to him shuffling around in the kitchen, whistling a tune. If I was unlucky, the creak of the floor outside my door would wake me up just in time for Pop to barge into the room and bellow, “Get your butt out of bed!” It was both delightful and frightening at the same time, and I loved him for it. Even as we both grew older, he never lost that love of rising early. He may have needed a cane in his later years, but he just adapted just fine. You see, as a teenager, I began to sleep more soundly. The morning whistling and creaking floorboards no longer woke me up. But I have no doubt that Pop loved taking advantage of that, using it as an opportunity to wake me up with a poke from his cane. I’ll never forget how he’d laugh, always in such good spirits. It takes me at least three cups of coffee to reach the level of happiness that he started each day with.
Without a doubt, Pop was also one of the bravest people I’ve ever known. And I’m not just saying that because he survived a five-way bypass, or because he lived with diabetes for decades – although both feats certainly showcase his bravery. He even joined the Navy without knowing what the future would bring. Pop lived his entire life as an example of how someone can be brave. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Pop as a brave man. We had been out in Waldorf, riding in his old pickup truck – you know, the one with the windows that had to be manually rolled down and the radio that only played country stations? I was just a little kid, still in the single digits. And I had a loose tooth. There was nothing Pop seemed to love more than pulling out teeth. I’m pretty sure that every cousin of mine can regale you all with stories about the teeth that he pulled out. We always seemed to flock to him when they needed pulling, and he was always ready and willing to rid us of our teeth. So there I was, riding in the passenger seat of Pop’s truck. It was night outside, and just starting to rain. And as most kids seem to do, I was passing the time by playing with my loose tooth and complaining about it. Little did I know, I was about to have my first tooth-pulling experience by Pop. It happened fast, but I still remember it clearly. Pop was driving, and suddenly asked me to open my mouth. When I complied, he reached over and, with a single tug, pulled the tooth out. While never taking his eyes of the road. That, to me, was the epitome of bravery. And at 25 years of age, I still think it’s brave to be the designated tooth-puller of a family his size.
To Pop, there were never any problems. Pop approached everything with an, “I can do it” attitude. It’s how he became a real estate agent, even though he had no real estate training. It’s why he decided to raise his own chickens for meat, and why he tried to fertilize his yard with rabbit manure. And I always knew Pop to be a stubborn man, too. The good kind of stubborn, mind you. You see, Pop didn’t have any limits. If someone didn’t do something, he would get it done. Period. It’s a rare trait in people today, but it was a code that Pop lived by. Sometimes, it meant that he’d fall off the pier after testing for loose boards by placing his entire weight on each board. Sometimes, it meant pulling me aside to give me some words of wisdom that I desperately needed and didn’t even know – about love and family. Throughout his life, Pop showed his friends and family that he could always be counted on to get something done – and that nothing would stand in his way.
I’ve often wondered if Pop had any idea how his future would unfold. Standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, under the starry night sky of the Pacific Ocean, did Pop imagine that a hula-dancing young woman with an infectious laugh would soon become his wife?
Did he ever imagine that he would have six healthy children, who would take his morals and life lessons to heart when they began raising their own wonderful families?
Did he imagine that he would become a respected leader in his community? That he would reinvent himself as a sailor, a real estate agent, and even a political figure?
Did he have any idea that his family would be so huge, with so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren that it is now practically bursting at the seams? That he would have enough love in his heart for all of us, even though none of the grandchildren joined the Navy?
Could he have possibly imagined that he would live a life so long and storied? That, in the last years of his life, he would still live in his home with his wife, blessed with a large family that still visited him regularly? That some of his greatest joys would be listening to his grandchildren regale him with stories of their own lives, or attending their plays, or listening to them play music?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But if I had to guess, I’d say that the reality of Pop’s life was greater than anything he could have ever imagined so long ago.
And even with everything that Pop accomplished in his life, his single greatest achievement is seated here today. There is no better testament to Pop’s character than his family. We are his legacy. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
We love you, Pop. I hope you’re resting peacefully. You deserve it.